One of the consequences of living in a newsworthy country like Pakistan is that people always want to know what it’s really like. The media is at least partly responsible for this interest: people see images of bomb attacks, drone attacks, protests and other events in Pakistan, then remember that they have a friend living in that same country, and immediately want to know how things seem from our perspective.
Answering this question takes more time than they usually want to spare for the simple reason that Pakistan is a complex country. Everyday life defies simple explanations, which is what people usually want. Contrasts exist in Pakistan like nowhere else I’ve experienced. I’ve seen camels strolling casually down a major city street, side by side with brand-new Land Cruisers and Corollas. I’ve seen brand-new frozen yoghurt shops that seem to have come straight from California – and penniless Afghan orphans sitting outside, sifting through rubbish to earn a crust of bread. In major cities here you can eat imported American cheeseburgers alongside Pakistanis wearing designer clothing and taking pictures of each other on iPhones, and then walk outside to see homeless casual labourers dressed in rags waiting for work.
The simple answer is that there are lots of different Pakistans. A very religious Pakistan, and a largely secular Pakistan. A rich Pakistan and a poor Pakistan. A safe Pakistan and a dangerous Pakistan. A Pakistan of startling beauty and a shockingly ugly Pakistan.
So, in an attempt to answer this question, I’ll write a series of blogs about this wonderful, perplexing, bizarre country, in an attempt to provide a more rounded and realistic impression of Pakistan than one tends to get from the news outlets. Stay tuned!