Pakistan: Separating Fact from Fiction

When we think of Pakistan, what immediately springs to mind? Let’s address the elephant in the room: terrorism. Add on ‘extremism’, ‘rogue state’ and ‘dangerous’, and we have the media-built stereotype of Pakistan as a place which isn’t exactly something out of a fairytale. All of this couldn’t be further from the truth, and indeed my experience.

‘Pakistan’ literally means the “Land of the Pure”. Bordering China, India and Afghanistan, it was born from partition in 1947. Its culture is more diverse than one may initially think, comprising of over 8 ethnicities. It is one of the very few countries that experiences four seasons in a year. This diverse culture and a variety of seasons, coupled with its scrumptious food and its people’s incredible hospitality make it no less than heaven for the many who visit Pakistan as tourists, to meet family, or even to settle down.

Pakistan is grossly misunderstood and the perception needs to change.

There is no denial that terrorists have found haven in parts of Pakistan, but this must be understood in the context of the Cold War. It’s easy to forget the fact that US President Richard Nixon, to counter Communist Russia’s influence, first conceived plans of inspiring militancy from Islamic countries and arming the rebels. Following Russia’s defeat, America abandoned Pakistan and assumed the radical militancy would solve itself. It only got worse; bruising Pakistan, further destabilising the South Asia and leaving behind a long-lasting legacy of terror and hatred. A country which was previously ‘friend’ became ‘foe’ as the US put Pakistan on the Financial Action Terrorist Financing watch-list.

We have the media-built stereotype of Pakistan as a place which isn’t exactly something out of a fairytale

The fact that Pakistan even survives amidst a hostile range of neighbours is surprising. But more importantly, Pakistan has been at the forefront of funding the anti-terrorism battle, sacrificing over 60,000 civilians and 40,000 soldiers in fighting terror. Despite the fact that the country’s infrastructure requires signficiant investment and poverty is still a major issue, it was spent over $124bn in the war against terror, receiving only $18.8bn in financial aid. Imagine where Pakistan would be today if it could spend all of that money on its own development. It would have enough to give other countries financial aid!

But somehow that’s not enough, and Pakistan need to “do more”. It will “do more”, but its about time world powers supported that effort instead of demanding Pakistan to solve their own problems as if they’re entirely disconnected from global events and international relations. One place foreign powers can begin: start to trust Pakistan.

Economically, Pakistan fares well considering its historical and contemporary challenges. Its growth rate of 5.7%, its status as an emerging economy, its burgeoning middle-class population – all of this points to progress. It is even seen as ‘Next Eleven’, and according to BRICS, Pakistan has the potential to become one of the largest economies of the 21st century.

Isn’t Pakistan an ultra-conservative nation run by the all-powerful clergy? Again, this is a distortion of reality. The clergy certainly does have a (dwindling) grip on power, but not outright control. Their status is more like a pressure group. In fact, Pakistan was the first Muslim nation to elect a female head of government and that is a powerful indicator of the nation’s potentially progressive future.

According to BRICS, Pakistan has the potential to become one of the largest economies of the 21st century

The country is no doubt going through difficult times but it has stood up to the challenges it has been facing. Pakistan has the 26th largest economy in the world, sixth largest armed forces, nuclear status, and even provides the largest number of troops to UN peacekeeping.

In the last few years Pakistan has seen significant improvement. Areas like Swat, previously no-go zones, is becoming peaceful once again as Pakistan’s flag flies high and proud. Things will only get better.

Travelling in Pakistan

The British Backpacker Society has recently ranked Pakistan as the top travelling destination of 2018. As unbelievable as it sounds, Pakistan is different to common perceptions. Annual tourist arrival to Pakistan has tripled since 2013 to 1.75 million and domestic tourists to 38.3 million according to Bloomberg Politics. Pakistan has got some of the world’s greatest tourist spots where the beauty is inexpressible from K2, the world’s second highest mountain. Pakistan has also got the world 2nd largest salt mine – Khewra salt mine – named after the city. It has the world’s 2nd largest coal reserves. It is also the forth-largest cotton producer in the world and the third largest consumer of it.

The Gwadar port is the world’s largest deep-sea port in the world. Pakistan has the world’s highest Polo Ground called the Shandur top, located 3700m above sea level. The world’s largest irrigation system is also in Pakistan. It has also got the 4th largest broadband internet system in the world.

The British Backpacker Society has recently ranked Pakistan as the top travelling destination of 2018

As a Pakistani student studying International Politics in London with people from around the globe, this is my attempt to showcase Pakistan as it really is – beyond the drama of the media, beyond the hatred of extremist agendas. It has seen good times, it has seen bad times but now it is rising again. A lot has been achieved, by Pakistan’s army in keeping the people safe, by investment (of which Pakistan needs more), but clearly there is a lot that needs to be done. Visit Pakistan for yourself and you’ll realise it a nation with a great future. Who knows, you may end up liking it so much that you feel like staying!

Swat Valley

Pakistan is no less than any country in the world. It has some of the most beautiful tourist destinations imaginable. It isn’t Switzerland in developmental terms, but it can be just as picturesque and serene – you can swim away with the clouds, experience quiet tranquility, and even take a selfie whilst you’re at it!

Lahore

Lahore is synonymous with culture and history. You’ll never forget the delicious street food which it has to offer. As the saying go, the people of Lahore have big tummies and bigger hearts!

Islamabad

Islamabad is recognised as one of the most beautiful capitals in the world. This is where the big decisions are made, be it developmental or anti-terror related.

Karachi

Karachi, the financial hub of Pakistan and former capital city, contributed $113bn to the overall GDP and is estimated to reach $195bn at the current growth rate. Ranking the highest amongst its neighbor’s according to the UN report on the Happiness Index, it is also a beautiful city which showcases the best of Pakistan.