Sunday, May 28, 2017


A few years ago now, I started following the blog Humans of New York. What started out as a photo project taking pictures of people from New York and captioning it with a quote or short story from their life has now developed into a couple of books and travels to 20 different countries. When I started reading it, it was around the time he went to Pakistan. The whole point of the project is to show people as they are. I went back and re-read his series on Pakistan: I smiled, and I cried. To paraphrase from one of the quotes, Pakistan often gets discussed on the backdrop of violence. And yes, there is a serious problem with violence in the country. But there is also the everyday life the people go through. So, this will perhaps be an eye-opener for some as to what the country is really like and their culture.

The name was originally coined in 1933 as Pakstan. It is used as an acronym for the regions that make up the country: Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh, and Baluchistan. (The –i- in the middle was added to make it easier to pronounce.) It also ended up being a play on words because the word pak in Urdu and Persian means “pure”; the ending –stanmeans “land of.”

Pakistan is located in Asia, often considered part of the Indian subcontinent. It shares borders with Iran to the west, Afghanistan to the northwest, India to the east, and it has a significant shoreline on the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. There are two provinces in the northern Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir, that are areas of dispute between Pakistan and India. These provinces actually border China and Tibet. The northern part of the country is highly mountainous—actually, Pakistan has five mountains that are over 8000m (26,250 ft)! The country also has deserts, rivers, and lakes that wind their way and dot the landscape. The southern part of the country ranges from temperate to tropical and is subject to a rainy/monsoon season.

The Indus River Valley is home to some of the world’s oldest civilizations. The beginnings of the Hindu religion were founded in this area during the Vedic Civilization (Buddhism also got its foundation in this region as well). In the early 700s AD, Arab conquerors began to move into the area and brought with them Islam. Afterwards, there were several Muslim groups who made their way into this area, including the Sufis and the Mughals. Arab and Persian literature and culture took a foothold, but by the 18th century, European conquerors were also making their way into the area. The British East India Company began establishing outposts, including some along the Pakistani coast. The British military spread out across Pakistan and India to Bangladesh and beyond. A major rift in India between Hindus and Muslims really stepped off a conflict that led to violence, revolts, and resistance. A Muslim League was established to come to the aid of underrepresented Muslims in India at the time (which current-day Pakistan was a part of). Muhammad Ali Jinnah was one of the key politicians who pushed for a two-country solution to the differences in religious coexistence. After quite a bit of debating and developing plans, Pakistan officially gained its independence in 1947. As Pakistan was created as a Muslim state, there were 6.5 million Muslims who moved there from India, and 4.7 million Hindus and Sikhs who moved out and into India; it was one of the largest human migrations in history. The rest of the 20th century saw periods of immense change. They went through a period of military rule, only to have their first democratic elections in 1970. This military/democracy period shifts would happen several times on into the 21st century. Even Pakistan has elected a female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. However, I remember watching the news in 2007 and being saddened at hearing about her assassination. 

The capital city is the northern Pakistani city of Islamabad. Although people have been living there for centuries upon centuries, it wasn’t until after Pakistan gained its independence when they reconstructed it as a center for government and moved the capital from the coastal city of Karachi to Islamabad. Today, the city is one of the safest cities in the country. It’s the center of government, but also functions as a center for higher education as well. Many of the residents are middle and upper middle class citizens.

Mosque inside the Knewra Salt Mine
Pakistan is included in the N-11 countries (or Next Eleven), which are the next countries after the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) that economists feel have the potential to be leading economies in the 21st century. Although they’ve had periods of instability, Pakistan took measures to invest in its infrastructure, and it went through several economic reforms. A significant portion of their economic drivers includes agricultural products like cotton, sugarcane, and milk. They also depend on salt mining, textiles, electronics, cement, telecom and IT, energy, and tourism.
The Faisal Mosque is one of the biggest mosques in Southeast Asia.
The vast majority of Pakistanis are Muslim (about 97% of the population). This makes them the second largest Muslim country in the world, after Indonesia. Of these, the majority are Sunni Muslims, with a smaller portion being Suni. There’s been a history of violence between the two sects, but in recent years, protestors from both sides have called to end this ridiculousness. Of the minority religions, there is still a smaller following in Hindus in Pakistan, followed by Christianity and a number of other smaller religions.

Pakistan is a multi-lingual country. In fact, there are around 60 languages spoken here. However, Urdu is used as a lingua franca throughout the country and considered an official language. It’s also a language that is identified with Islam and their national unity. Along with Urdu, English is also an official language. However, in terms of the numbers of speakers, the most spoken first language is Punjabi, followed by Sindhi, Saraiki, Pashto, Urdu, and then Balochi.

Pakistan has one of the world’s largest groups of scientists and engineers. You can see evidence of this in a number of ways: 1) They boast the highest paved international highway that connects Pakistan and China, along with the highest railway station, 2) They are the only Muslim country with nuclear power, 3) Dr. Abdus Salam won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979, 4) Pakistan has one of the largest broadband Internet networks in the world, and there are a growing number of tech-related jobs, 5) The largest earth-filled dam is Tarbela Dam. There’s far more to Pakistan than meets the eye, and there are some really cool things that are happening here.  

Up next: art and literature

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