Pakistan’s image is quite different to the reality on ground. For the one who has not visited the country, Pakistan is a backward leaning country with women roaming around in burqas, bearded men brandishing swords, AKs and KKs at every nook and corner. On his visit to Islamabad, Shafkat Raina finds it a distinctive place–progressive, cumulative and liberal, quite opposite what he had been fed with from his childhood. He believes that it is the bad marketing that has projected the country in poor light.
Perception Vs Reality
By Shafkat Raina
Pakistan has been my subject of interest ever since I became familiar with the name in my childhood. Though I don’t exactly remember when I first heard the name of Pakistan but I understand that with first word I learnt and understood as an infant, Pakistan would have been the next. For the conflict we are born in and brought up, Pakistan is in our psyche. In our childhood we used to hear interesting stories—good and bad—about Pakistan. Most of these stories were false and manufactured aimed at projecting the country in poor light. One of the stories that still resonates in my childhood memory card is the “inauguration of a band-saw mill by the Prime Minister of Pakistan”. Though the channels of media were those days quite limited—Radio and a few newspapers—the street media, gossip and hearsay, would leave behind every outlet of information and communication. The “band-saw” story was the most common, narrated in every household, barber-shop, street corner, and fish market and community hall. This had ingrained a very negative image of Pakistan in my mind. I used to look at Pakistan (in my imagination) as a country of dark days. With eruption of militancy in late 80s of the previous century, my image of Pakistan got further shady as media and other official channels would project it as ‘small-minded’, ‘impoverished’ and ‘exhausted’ country. I heard how Shahab Nama of Qudratullah Shahab (a diplomat, bureaucrat and writer) was circulated and distributed in Kashmir. The book, in essence, is autobiography of Shahab in which he unveils important historical events according to his own interpretation and understanding that cast questions on the reputation of the country.
Shah Faisal Masjid Islamabad
I, by nature, am quite inquisitive, and always want to see and experience things in person. And that made me curious for visiting Pakistan. On a fluky day, in 2017, my quest for visiting the country, finally, got realized. As I crossed the Atari and entered the Pakistan side, which is known as Waga, a huge Pakistani flag with green dominance hit my gaze. The monolithic flag hurls at the height of 400 ft welcoming every visitor who crosses from this side of the border. It reminded me of the green flags being waved in protest demonstrations and mourning processions of the rebels in my homeland. As I entered the Pakistani immigration office and fell in a queue for verification and authentication of my travel documents, a Pakistani official called me out from the queue and checked my passport and said in a chaste urdu (aap jayeah), you can go. The special attention I got, in fact every visiting Kashmiri gets, had a sanguine effect on me, and I little realized that I was in a foreign country. I exchanged my currency notes outside the immigration office with the local currency exchangers and got a hefty amount of Pakistani currency in exchange with Indian currency as the value of Indian currency is higher than the Pakistani Rupee. I boarded an imported Mitsubishi 8 seater van for onward journey to Lahore. The surrounding scene was somewhat strange—sparsely populated and under-developed. “Due to regular firing and skirmishes and fear of war, these areas have been left out of the development”, explained the driver. The driver showed me a police station which was attacked by the TTP terrorists just few years back. As we were leaving behind, the underdeveloped border areas, the views of the upcoming localities started to change up gradually. As we started to enter the outskirts of Lahore city, new things came up, hustle and bustle of markets; children were coming out of their schools. The locally made Rickshaw Chingchi is a popular means of transport in which most of the school kids are transported.
Pic: Pakistan Monument
With residents in their traditional attire and appearance, one naturally gets feelings of a Muslim culture and society. Passing few yards, a beautiful veiled woman in high heels got down from her Toyota white Etios and was arguing with another male driver on some traffic issue. Moving ahead at a tool post, I saw an Eight door long Mercedes for the first time. In Delhi I have worked for nearly two years but I have never seen such a beautiful vehicle during those years no doubt even India has more vehicles than Pakistan. As the new things were revealing in front of my eyes the negative notions about Pakistan build on false information since our childhood started to get erased from my mind. On reaching Lahore city, I offered prayers in a mosque adjacent to bus stand. The best thing about Pakistan is that, there is a mosque in every market, bus stands, hospitals, university, hotel and hostel. I had my lunch at a local hotel near the bus stand. In terms of hygiene and quality, the Pakistani food is far better than the food which is being served in the hotels of Kashmir and India.
I boarded a bus for Islamabad which is almost 400 kms from the Lahore city. I travelled through a private bus operator Faisal movers which has a fleet of luxury buses. They have two variants of buses, economy and business class. The ticket for economy class was 700 Rupees per head and the Business class was 1400 Rupees per person. I booked the economy class. Travelling by such a luxury bus was comfortable and economical in all aspects. Bus was air conditioned; a big led TV was kept in the front of bus for general viewing and mini touch led’s are kept for individual viewing in front of each seat with separate head phones for each passenger. The mini touch-led consists a lot of varieties like Quran, Naats, Indian and Pakistani serials, Hollywood,Bollywood and Tollywood movies, cartoon for kids and many other things as well but no obscene scenes or nudity could be seen in those movies or serials as such things have been edited before installation.
Overview of Islamabad
As the bus moved ahead, at first we were served with the mineral water by Bus- hostesses, who were very kind, mannered and polite. Afterwards they served us soft drinks and gave us a box which contained cookies, Daal and potato chips. I asked my co-passenger for internet service which he provided all the way for 400 kms and the internet worked finely without losing any network contrary to our daily back home experience. I made a number of video calls to my family members and friends and showed them the finest bus in which I was travelling. The co-passenger was gracious enough to allow me use the internet. Having female bus hostesses in Pakistan shows how much women are safe and respected there. No one dares to stare at them. One female passenger was watching Dangal movie all along the way and nobody among the passengers dared to look at her or asked her what she was watching. In Pakistan the right to privacy is not only respected but is also strictly adhered to. The Business class buses have more good looking hostesses than the Economy class. For 700 rupees we got a service worth to be remembered. The 400 kms distance from Lahore to Islamabad was covered just within four hours besides having tea break at one beautiful spot, there was also a beautiful small mosque, where passengers offered Magrib(Evening) prayers. The Islamabad surroundings remind one of the our Pir panchal range. The topography of Islamabad matches a lot with that of Srinagar particularly with the mountainous range of Zabarwan.
Islamabad is really a beautiful city and worth to visit. Lusty green path ways all along the roads adds more beauty to its surrounding green areas. The parliament enclave, the Supreme Court and the Faisal mosque are among the best places and worth to visit. The metro bus service runs from Secretariat Islamabad to sadder market Rawalpindi is one of the finest rides which one can have
The 43-storeyed Centaurus shopping mall in Islamabad is one of the biggest malls of Pakistan. It’s a great place for family shopping. While I was buying an Ittar(essential Oil) a Chinese lady came and asked about the rental charges in that mall. The shop owner answered all her queries in a decent way. In the beginning I was surprised to see the prices of the goods when compared them to the Indian prices but gradually I understood that prices appear higher due to less value of Pakistani currency. But cost of many other items like cloth, leather, sandals and shoes are cheaper. The cost of tribune newspaper is Rs 50 but the quantity and quality of pages are good enough.
Due to the terrorist activities, many lanes and alleys in Islamabad are closed with the barbed wires. The CCTV cameras are mostly installed around the capital Islamabad due to security reasons. The mosque at the radio station Pakistan was adjacent to my hotel. Looking at the radio station Pakistan, reminded me the times of 90’s when most of the people in Kashmir used to listen to radio Pakistan regularly. When I left Islamabad, I saw a young lady smoking cigarette openly while walking on the road but no-one was telling her anything except few pathans from fATA region looking at her and giggling under their sleeves. I got a bit upset but on the other hand a young man who dropped me at the bus station was fasting to overcome his physical desires as he was young but unmarried, So both scenes were interesting aspects of Pakistan.
One can compare Delhi with Lahore, Karachi with Mumbai but there is no such place in India which could be compared with Islamabad. After staying in Islamabad, i visited Lahore. In Lahore there are a plenty of places worth to visit. The smell of Food Street in Lahore was mouth watering and the quality and taste of the food was resplendent.
Flyover Azadi Chowk Lahore
In Lahore and Islamabad, there are led advertisement boards hanging with the electric poles. In the evening time when ads are played on those Led boards it gives the view of some European country. Here it also shows that how much disciplined people are there as costly led boards remain there throughout the night with no fear of theft. One can little imagine of such things here. Due to fear of terrorism, the mosques remain open only during the prayers time and rest of the times mosques remain closed. The people of India and Kashmir know just one Fawad khan but in Pakistan there are thousands of men like Fawad khan. But in Pakistan I saw every second or third person a Fawad Khan, even better of him. Both Pakistani men and woman are very beautiful. Their culture and chaste Urdu further adds to their charm and resplendent looks. The burly and brawny Pakistani army men are also very fair and handsome. Most of them are 6 feet in height with muscular body shapes or you can say it’s a good race. Seeing the number of imported vehicles in Pakistan one can say that, it’s the capital of the imported cars. When I was crossing back at wagah border, I was looking at a seven feet tall Pakistani Ranger; he smiled back and said, “We are always in battle gear”.
Sometimes I wonder that had I not visited Pakistan, my notions of falsehood and lies about the country would have never gone.
( Shafkat Raina is a freelance writer and can be mailed at Shafkatraina@gmail.com. Views expressed are his own)