Pakistan: Breaking down the stereotypes
An economy growing at an average of 7 percent for six years now with a construction and consumer boom, a rising middle-class that has just voted out a government, a free press, a thriving fashion scene. Another emerging market star?
Yes, but this is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, better known these days for its suicide bombings, a nuclear arsenal and labelled as the epicentre of Islamist extremism including perhaps the last redoubt of Osama bin Laden in the lands straddling the Afghan border. “Jihadistan” as one reader wrote on this blog.
What is the reality ? Are there two Pakistans? Is it really Pakistan: Now or Never ? Or is the image of Pakistan clouded by TV pictures of blood and gore in its streets, feeding insecurities while shutting out the important political, economic and social transformations that are underway in a nation of 150 million people.
Author William Dalrymple travels through the harsh scrublands of Sindh, home to Kalashnikov-wielding landlords and honour killings, and then back up the Punjab and he doesn’t find a country flirting with state failure or anything even approaching the “most dangerous country in the world” as it has been so commonly branded in recent months, right down to a group by that name on Facebook.
Instead, as he writes in the New York Review of Books, he found a countryside that “was no less peaceful and prosperous than that on the other side of the Indian border”, and a far cry from the violent instability of post-occupation Iraq or Afghanistan. Pakistan’s cities are changing beyond recognition with shopping malls, expensive cars, and a burgeoning fashion scene with gay designers and amazingly beautiful women, he says.
And capping all this is a middle class that grew almost out of nowhere in a country once famously known as the land of 22 big feudal families, one of them the Bhuttos, for the absolute political and economic power they wielded. And it is this enriched and empowered urban middle class that has finally moved from their “living rooms onto the steets, from dinner parties to political parties,” Dalrymple writes, leading a lawyers’ movement that swelled into a full-scale pro-democracy campaign that has arguably seen off a military dictatorship
Shades of India, the world’s most populous democracy? No, this is Pakistan, but then the world prefers its stereotypes simple. India successful, secular and forward-looking; Islamic Pakistan, a failure. Are they really different, is it time to break down the stereotypes then?