Saturday, March 31, 2007

Viewpoint – Should Westerners Visit Pakistan?

The country has unleashed an ambitious "Destination Pakistan 2007" tourist campaign, but is the place safe?

[By Mayank Austen Soofi; picture courtesy - Ryan Schmidt]

Even as Pakistan launches an ambitious campaign to lure tourists - "a journey of unbridled joy" - the U.S. Department of State continues to warn its citizens. Don't go there unless you have to.

Similarly, Britain's Foreign Office warns of a "high threat from terrorism and sectarian violence throughout Pakistan." Canada advises "against non-essential travel to Pakistan" while Australia advises reconsidering your need because of "the unpredictable security situation."

These warnings sharply contrast with the optimism of Pakistan Tourism: "We invite you to a journey of unbridled joy and beauty. From the mountains of the Himalayas and the Karakorum, to the rich hospitality of Lahore and the breathtakingly stark beauty of the Thar Desert, Pakistan offers you a spectrum of experiences that will leave you breathless."

"Breathless or without the breath", the perennially sarcastic may smirk. Eminent Pakistani columnist Irfan Husain called Tourism Ministry’s "Destination Pakistan 2007" campaign to attract one million foreign tourists as another instance "when the antics of our rulers assume surreal proportions." Not to be outdone, Karachi’s first citizen Ardeshir Cowsajee, once Managing Director of Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC), gave his own Ardeshique slogan to the marketing campaign – "Come and pray"!

Pakistan’s troublesome international profile is a real speed-breaker. What does the credit card-laden tourist imagine when he glances at Pakistan on the world map? Does he confuse the breathtaking Karakorum cliff drops for Osama bin Laden hideouts? Does he ignore the vibrancy of Karachi’s cosmopolitanism in favor of its reputation as journalist Daniel Pearl’s death trap?

Put simply: Is this country swarming with terrorists? Are women showing their skin pelted with stones?

Well, no. There are equal chances of being stabbed in a Karachi slum as in a Washington DC suburb. Partially naked woman are more prone to endure a hail of stones in Jerusalem's Meah Sheraim neighborhood than in Peshawar’s Qissa Khawani bazaar.

But what if the tourist is a Yank? Is there credibility in the State Department's warning?

Lahore-based photographer Usman Ahmed doesn't think so. His sister-in-law is a white American. "While she is noticed for her different looks, no one is ever hostile," he says. "The instant people realize she is an American, they are extra nice to her." So there goes Pakistan-hate-Americans myth. "People do have strong opinions against the American government, but the disgust does not trickle down to individual Americans."

In the same vein, novelist Mohsin Hamid wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times that the vast majority of Pakistanis want nothing to do with violence. When thousands of cricket fans from archenemy India wandered about Pakistan for days in 2004, not one was abducted or killed. "At my own wedding two years ago, a dozen Americans came, disregarding State Department warnings. They, too, spent their time in Pakistan without incident."

Mr. Hamid is not being patriotic, just honest. And in my own case, as an Indian Hindu, I visited Pakistan in 2006. I was on my own in Karachi, with no fellow countrymen for company and no friends in the city. But every time Pakistanis came to know about my nationality, doors opened and smiles flashed in hotels, railway reservation counters, and roadside biryani stalls. Even the Karachi police, infamous for its brutalities, proved to be exceptionally polite and helpful.

The reality is that Pakistan is a rather "normal" nation. Like any destination, a sensible tourist should avoid disreputable nooks and respect the local ethos and social courtesies. He'll return home with a lifetime of Lonely Planet memories.

Really, do escape to the magic of Pakistan in 2007. Else, remain a loser.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Basant Photo Essay: Kat Gayi, Kat Gayi…Patang Kat Gayi!

Lahore went rangeela with Basant but debate continues on the festival’s legitimacy in Pakistan.

[Pictures by Usman Ahmed; Viewpoint by Maryam Arif; Views expressed are independent of the photographer.]

The spring festivities of Basant are over. Kites no longer colour the sky. Boys no longer spend evenings on rooftops. But some questions linger on. Like who owns this festival?

Is it the Hindus?

How many of you Pakistanis have heard that Basant is an un-Islamic festival because it supposedly traces its origin to Hinduism? Now, how many of you know that Basant was celebrated primarily in the Muslim-dominated areas of the Indian-subcontinent? (Of course there is the Sufi connection.)

We Pakistanis are a deeply religious people who like to compartmentalize things in perfectly neat boxes. Fortunately, some traditions refuse to be contained and Basant is a good example. It overflows religious boundaries, merging with nature’s seasons. Any problems?

Do wealthy people own Basant?

In Lahore, it is wondered if the rich has hijacked the festival. Corporations have done their best to claim the celebrations with their advertisements, sponsorships and high-class functions. Rooftops of five star hotels are booked in advance for celebrities and the economically well-off. But what about the ordinary people of the walled city? What about the poor with their humble kites and eager smiles? Indeed, their celebration and enjoyment of the event is as real as anyone’s.

Do men own Basant?

When it comes to Basant, men do not own it any more than women. Perhaps it is the only time of year when it is acceptable for girls to be seen with boys- flying kites, blowing whistles, laughing and rejoicing, even exchanging glances with neighbors. It is one festival where men and women come together to share the excitement.

Does General Musharraf own Basant?

What then of those who lose their lives to Basant? Every year during the kite-flying festivities, several people are killed by glass-coated or metal kite strings. Metal or glass-coated strings help cut the strings of rival kites - the main objective of the sport. But they also catch unsuspecting bikers across the throat, at times with fatal consequences.

In our joy and excitement we forget the heavy price some innocent souls have to pay. Isn’t that why General Musharraf wanted to ban the festival? Perhaps the General owns Basant if he reserves the right to ban or curtail it. At least he feels so!

But let’s not allow anyone steal our Basant from us. It is a festival of all of us Pakistanis. We’ll be more responsible and cautious but we will celebrate Basant next year, and next year too, and the year after too and then again...

These pictures are by Lahore-based photographer Usman Ahmed.

Let's Spot a Patang

Only One Patang for Me?

Let's Fly the Patang - Carefully!

Patangbaaz of Lahore

Fly But Don't Fall Down!

Basant De Lahore

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Interview with Ardeshir Cowasjee - The Grand Old Man of Karachi

One of Pakistan’s most respected citizens spills it out – about his beloved city of Karachi.

[Interview by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Ardeshir Cowasjee is a renowned newspaper columnist of Pakistan. His weekly columns appear in the country's oldest English language daily newspaper Dawn. A man of very few words (as the reader will discover), Mr. Cowasjee is Chairman of the Cowasjee Group and is engaged in several philanthropic activities.

I'm pleased to welcome Mr. Ardeshir Cowasjee. Sir, you are a living landmark of Karachi. This must be a city dear to your heart?

“Living landmark . . .”? You are presumptuous. “….dear to your heart”? Yes.

You served as Managing Director of Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation way back in 1973. Will it be a tough job now?

What could I tell the world? “Come and pray”?

Mr. Cowasjee, you were arrested by then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1976. What was the reason? Besides, I understand you were imprisoned in a barrack that once had Mahatma Gandhi. How was that like?

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto told me he would tell me the ‘reason’ at the right time. He went down without letting me know. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s rooms were less than comfortable.

You have been critical about various Prime Ministers. You have called the present regime an "unthinking, muddled government that speaks with forked tongues". But Mr. Cowasjee, isn't this risky? Has any regime ever tried to create problems for you in your shipping business?

No government has liked what I say. My shipping business: it was nationalized by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on January 1 1974.

The Parsi Links

There are not many Parsis in Pakistan and concentrated chiefly in Karachi. The late Parsee gentleman Jamshed Nusserwanjee Mehta was Karachi's first mayor. Today another Parsee uses his pen to expose the corruption, nepotism and municipal sham of the city. How deep is the bond between the city and the community?

2.000 Parsis live in Pakistan. 1,980 in Karachi. Tolerate it.

Mr. Cowasjee, you are very particular about Pakistan's founder Mr. Jinnah's fundamental principle "that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State". It is no secret that Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis have often been at the receiving end of intolerant regimes. How different has been the Parsi experience in Pakistan?

Thank the good Lord, no one worries about us and our views.

Maximum City Karachi

You were born here in 1926. Please share some memory of the time when Pakistan was newly created. How was the city like? How has it changed?

Completely different. Then a good clean city. Now dirty and overcrowded.

In 1973, the then President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had asked the Sindh Government that the "development of Karachi should take place in a planned way and no effort should be spared to ensure recreational facilities for the people of Karachi." We are now in 2007. How successful have been the efforts of various administrations?


Due to the recurring sectarian violence, Karachi is sometimes referred to as the Beirut of Pakistan. But its cosmopolitan character and business-centric pulse tempts some to call it the country's New York City. So, what is the truth?

Who compared it to NYC? Would like to meet the guy.

Sir, you once noted that under the British Raj, law and order ruled in Karachi, but things fell apart after Mr. Jinnah's death. Now it is generally agreed that Karachi is one of the most dangerous cities in the country. In fact, one of the slums here is called "Golimar", meaning "to shoot" in Urdu. What does it say about the city's character?

Apt. Rotten.

Mr.Cowasjee, you are a business magnate, a crusading columnist, and a non-Muslim – ideal candidate to attract the discomfort of many in this city, so used to kidnappings and killings. Do you feel unsafe every time you leave home?


To foreigners, Karachi is a dangerous city where Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and killed. Yet I, an Indian visiting Karachi for the first time in 2006, had a different experience. I was on my own. I did not know the bus numbers. I could not read Urdu. I had no sense of directions. But I spent a pleasant week. Is it that journalists, including you, can be particularly harsh on this city?

No. Realistic.

Mr. Cowasjee, in your opinion, which of these historical milestones primarily shaped the present destiny of Karachi – its abandonment as country's capital in 1958, Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, or the accidental death of Bushra Zaidi, a Mohajir student, by a Pakhtoon truck driver in 1985?

Probably the last.

City Plans

Many of your columns express horror at the general civic disorder. But you never write on the good things about the city. Who so negative, always?

Am still searching for “good things”.

In 1999, you said that "the people of Karachi should know that all the commercial and residential high-rises are unsafe and dangerous to live in." Now fast-forward to 2006 when the Karachi Building Control Authority (KBCA) declared only 161 buildings are unsafe to inhabit. Did things improve?

No. Dishonesty and scams on the massive increase.

Do you share the disappointment of Karachites that their city is the source of 40% of Pakistan's revenues yet gets very little in return?


What basic overhauling, you feel, can make Karachi not only more livable but also an aesthetic place pleasing to the senses?

An honest government with the will and intent to do good.

Mr. Cowasjee, according to you, which is Pakistan's greatest metropolis – Lahore or Karachi?


Final Quote

In your columns you regularly point out specific instances where the city is being ravaged by the government – trees being chopped, parks being razed, open spaces being encroached, and other horrifying deeds being done to "beautify the city". Has your writing ever helped in stopping the disasters or they are merely the last song of despair before the inevitable?

Yes, on the odd occasion.

Mr. Cowasjee, thank-you for your time.

My pleasure. Good luck to you.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Editorial - Outrage and Unrest in Pakistan

Sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad ChaudhryMr. Musharraf fires a judge and falls in trouble. Here is what he should do next.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi; picture by Farooq Naeem]

What on earth is happening in Pakistan? People protesting in the streets; TV channel office attacked; and a sacked judge being portrayed as the new Martin Luther King!

It all started on March 9, 2007, when Mr. Musharraf sacked Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, after charging him with “misconduct and abuse of power”. He was put into a virtual house arrest, his telephone connection was cut off, and newspapers were stopped from reaching him. (Restrictions on his movement have now been lifted.)

The government-sponsored story suggested that the suspended judge had used his influence to get a job for his son in the police department, besides accepting a BMW as bribe. But the real reason behind Mr. Chaudhry’s dismissal could be more serious. The Supreme Court bench under him had directed the government to trace missing people, a growing phenomenon where men and women, too demanding for the establishment, are being abducted, imprisoned and sometimes tortured (allegedly) by the country's all-powerful intelligence agencies . The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has counted 400 cases since 2002.

Other than this, two extremely sensitive cases were to be heard in the Supreme Court in the coming months: the first concerned the dual nationality of the Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz that could threaten his eligibility to be Prime Minister. The second, and the more important, was whether or not Mr. Musharraf could run in the election for the next Presidency term.

With Mr. Chaudhry proving to be a man with a mind of his own, President Musharraf decided to dispose him so that he could be "pleased to appoint the most senior judge available, Justice Javed Iqbal, to act as acting chief justice of Pakistan."

The plan backfired.

Poor Mr. Musharraf had calculated that the predictable uproar would settle down following a couple of outraged newspaper editorials and television talk shows. He never expected that Mr. Chaudhry would refuse to tender his resignation, lawyers would strike, apolitical people would throng the streets, and the so-called fundamentalist parties would join forces with the so-called moderate forces in support of Mr. Chowdhry. But all of this took place. And worse may happen.

At best, the agitation would stretch out for a few more days before fizzling out. At worst, it may pick up further momentum and even threaten the regime.

Clearly, Mr. Musharraf is in trouble. But he has a way out. He must do what he did to Geo TV news channel after the Punjab Police stormed its Islamabad office for broadcasting the ongoing street unrest.

Say sorry and reinstate the judge.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lahore & Karachi – A Tale of Two Cities

Two cities both alike in dignity, in fair Pakistan where we lay our scene.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

This is a tale of two cities, so different and far apart.

It is old. It is new. It blooms in the heart of green fields. It sprawls out of a sandy desert. It is in the land of five rivers. It is in the land of one river. It has the canal. It has the sea. It has the gardens. It has the beaches. It is the citadel of culture. It is the bastion of business. It has the heritage of Mughals. It has the heritage of British. It is the fiefdom of Shariefs. It is the fiefdom of Bhuttos. It is home to Asma Jehangir, Pakistan's Gloria Steinem. It is home to Abdul Sattar Edhi, Pakistan's Mother Theresa. Its pleasure-house is in Heera Mandi. Its pleasure-house is in Napier Road. It has the grave of legendary courtesan Anarkali. It has the grave of legendary singer Noor Jehan. It is the film city. It is the port city. It has relics of the past. It has a promise of the future. It is Lahore. It is Karachi.

Lahore, Lahore Hai

Lahore. That is La Whore. That is Paris of the Orient.

John Milton praised it in Paradise Lost. Rudyard Kipling's opened Kim outside its old Ajaib Ghar (the museum). Bapsi Sidhwa began Cracking India in its Jail Road.

However, Kipling is not the only Nobel connection of the city. Nobel laureate Dr. Abdus Salam once taught Mathematics in its Government College. Nobel laureate Har Gobind Khorana once studied in its Punjab University.

Besides, history has been witness to its glittering grandeur. It was the capital of Akbar – the greatest Mughal emperor. It was the capital of Ranjit Singh – the greatest Sikh ruler.

It is also a gourmet jannat. Nihari is relished at Bhati Gate. Payas are ordered in Hira Mandi. Halwa Puri is devoured in Railway Road. Kheer is savored in Gawalamandi. Sheeshas are smoked in Cooco's Den.

To this day, it remains one of the most boisterous cities of the world. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had called its people 'Zinda Dillan-i-Punjab'. Muhammad Ali Jinnah had called it the 'Heart of Pakistan.'

Indeed, from Café Zouk to Crow Eaters' Cafe, from Tollington Market to Liberty Market, from Mall Road to Alam Road, from Shahi Qila to Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore is Lahore.

But Karachi Karachi Hai

It was the city Pakistan's founder Muhamamd Ali Jinnah chose to live in after founding his nation. It was Quaid-e-Azam's birthplace and also his burial ground. It was the first capital of the Islamic republic.

It was the place where Alexander the Great set his camps. It was the place from where Muhammad Bin Qasim led his invading army into the heart of Hindustan. It was the magnet that attracted Indian Muslim refugees with dreams of a better future. It is the magnet that attracts people from all over Pakistan with dreams of a better future.

It is a city that had many firsts. British India's first telegraphic message was sent from here. British India's first tramway system was set up here. British India's first scheduled airline service was started from here.

Today, it is the New York of Pakistan – the Islamic republic's multi-ethnic melting pot with its multitudes of Muhajirs, Pakhtoons, Sindhis and Baluchis. It is the nation's commercial capital – its money bank with the largest stock exchange and the largest airport.

It has many centuries co-existing next to each other. Its waters are navigated by uniformed sailors as well as bare-chested fishermen. Its crowd is both cosmopolitan and tribal. It has the old-world Saddar and the new-world Zamzama. It offers discounts in malls and bargains in bazaars.

It is really a city with two cities – beautiful and ugly. Beautiful Karachi - rich, sexy, fast, pulsating and dynamic. Ugly Karachi – poor, uncouth, violent, unplanned, and dangerous. It is the worst nightmare of Pakistan. It is the best hope of Pakistan.

Karachi Paindabad. Lahore Paindabad. Pakistan Paindabad.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Wagah Photo Essay - Spying in Pakistan

When an Indian, armed with a secret digicam, crossed into Pakistan.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

Wagah post, a road crossing dividing India and Pakistan, is one of the most-watched high-security border zones in the world. It falls between the historical city of Lahore in Pakistan and the Sikh holy town of Amritsar in India. The distance between the two cities is a mere 35 miles.

With both the countries pretending peace-talks, Wagah is becoming a tourist destination where people flock to see the comical performance of a particularly hostile ceremony between the Indian and Pakistani soldiers. This entertaining ritual, where the guards of both the nations express mock disgust for each other, takes place every evening just before the gates are to be shut down for the day.

Interestingly, the climactic scenes of Veer Zaara, a 2005 Bollywood blockbuster about a love affair between an Indian boy and a Pakistani girl, were shot at this border post.

View From the Indian Side - Looking at the 'Enemy'

Pakistan Paindabad

Both Indians and Pakistanis flock to the border gates and wonder what lies on the other side. One Lahore gentleman joked to this photographer that the border gates were actually doing a good deed since it tempts people from both sides to travel into each other's country. In the absence of the border gates, the gentleman confessed, the secret that there is hardly any difference between the two nations would be out and then nobody would care to travel.

Coolies Employed in the International Business

Pakistan Paindabad

Despite volatile relations between the two traditional rivals, which have led to abysmal business relations, some items are still legally imported and exported. In the above picture, crates of tomatoes are being taken into Pakistan and packages of raisins are being shipped to India.

Heavy Stuff, Cheap Labor

Pakistan Paindabad

Blue uniforms are for Indian coolies while green is for the Pakistanis. These coolies work hard under the harsh glare of the sun and are not paid handsomely for their labors, a trait not uncommon in both the nations.

The Face of India; The Pride of India

Pakistan Paindabad

It is a source of heated debate as to which country's border guards are more handsome, well-built, and virile. Pakistanis claim the honor since they boast of being great meat-eaters. They feel superior to the 'grass-eating Hindu vegetarians' of India. Indians do not agree.

Entering Pakistan - Checked by their Border Guards

Pakistan Paindabad

Both Pakistani and Indian guards stationed at the border gates who record the passport details of the travelers are polite, smiling, and well-groomed. These personnel are rigorous in their duties, professional in their attitude, and do not bother themselves with the more eager promptings of their respective countrymen.

If Indian guards are particularly nice to children, Pakistanis do not fail to offer water and chairs, especially to older people.

Doorway to the Land of the Holy

Pakistan Paindabad

This imposing entrance is called Bab-e-Azadi - 'Gateway to Freedom' in Urdu. This is ironic since Pakistan happens to be ruled by a dictator. Note that the entrance has a unique Islamic design in contrast to the Indian gate which is so secular in architecture that it is quite dull and unimpressionable.

The First Greetings

Pakistan Paindabad

This is a hoarding by the Pakistan Tourist Development Corporation. PTDC runs a restaurant in Wagah, a charming relic from the British times. With gentle comforts of cushioned chairs and ceiling fans, it relaxes the weary traveler with tea and cookies served by uniformed waiters.

Interestingly, the Indian side of the border, though more entrepreneurial with its Sikh cabbies and cheap eateries, has no equally comfortable resting place. Pakistan wins here.

Long Live Pakistan

Pakistan Paindabad

The Pakistani flag flies valiantly in the afternoon wind, atop the custom office. The flag was designed by Mr Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of the nation. The green color symbolizes Islam, while the white strip represents non-Muslim and other minority groups of the country.

Unfortunately, in spite of Mr Jinnah's commitment to establishing a modern secular nation, and despite the narrow white strip in the flag, Pakistan has failed to respect and protect its minority. In a Pakistani court of law, a Christian man's testimony is worth half of a Muslim man's and a Christian woman's testimony is worth only a quarter.

The Mysteries Inside a Custom Office

Pakistan Paindabad

Though both Indian and Pakistani customs offices radiate a gloomy and forlorn look in their own unique ways, the Pakistani customs office is decidedly more eerie. India's customs office is darkly lit but is modern and staffed with clerks wearing shirts and trousers.

The Pakistani office, on the other hand, appears to be older and is served by officials wearing gray shalwar kameeze. But it is brighter with open corridors, sun-lit rooms and a lush garden beyond.

If an Indian visitor looks harmless and is not carrying suspicious materials, chances are that the customs formalities would be processed quickly. If you are a white Westerner, the process is faster.

A Rare Sighting

Pakistan Paindabad

A lady walks without any male escort in a customs office corridor. She was one of the few women encountered on the Pakistani side of the border. Women dressed in shalwar kameeze, their heads covered with dupatta, are a common sight in Pakistan. They are not an uncommon sight in India, either.

It must be mentioned here that while these pictures were being clicked, the customs office was suffused with the fragrance of freshly cooked Mutton Biryani. Perhaps it was lunch time.

Inside Pakistan - First Impression

Pakistan Paindabad

There was a stark difference between the Indian and Pakistani sides of the border. India was more colorful and was crowded with smelly dhabas, irritating touts, and boisterous tourists - mostly from the surrounding villages.

Pakistani side looked abandoned. There was no business and no bargaining. Consequently,the military presence, in absence of the civilians, was quite overwhelming.

Spying the 'Enemy'

Pakistan Paindabad

The highway that connects Wagah to Lahore was littered with aggressive-looking and very visible army camps like these. This was not so in the Indian side where the army presence was more subdued. It was unmistakable one had entered in a military-ruled country. After all this was Pakistan - the cantonment of General Pervez Musharraf.

[The author traveled to Pakistan in September, 2006]

Monday, March 05, 2007

Rang De Red - Spring Time in Pakistan

Love and longing in the time of "Enlightened Moderation"

[Poetry by Ajit Shenoy, pictures by Usman Ahmed]

Spring has come to Karachi
'Tis the season to talk of the bird and the bee
But nary a lover can you see
In the gardens of this city by the sea

What, then, of the ancient city of Lahore
Heart of lusty Punjab, now puritan to the core
Life itself is now a bore
Did they bury romance too here with Anarkali of yore

In Hindustan, they hail him as the King of Romance
Shahrukh Khan, with all his millions of fans
But his ancestral Peshawar is sunk in a trance
With girls' murmurs drowning in a clatter of pots and pans

The young lovers of Pakistan are sunk in woe
For all their ardour they have little to show
Separated is the lady fair from her beau
With romance to be found only on HBO

Pakistan, they say, means 'Land of the Pure'
I quibble not with that, to be sure
But how much longer must young romantics endure
For sundered hearts, is there no cure?

Love in Lahore* - Too Many Hearts

Love in Lahore - Romance on Sale

Love in Lahore - Buy One, Get One Free

Love in Lahore - Will She, Won't She?

Love in Lahore - Love, Fast-food Style

*These pictures were taken during the Valentine's Day morning at Lahore.


Saturday, March 03, 2007

Editorial – The Changing Face of Pakistan

Is it merely skin-deep?

[By Mayank Austen Soofi; picture by Juan Blazquez]

The St. Valentine's Special Series Dating Scene in Pakistan has ended. This feature was launched on February 14th to investigate how it is like to be a young person in today's Pakistan. There were many queries in the begining. Doesn't Islam come in the way of lovers? Isn't this country deeply conservative and its people intolerant? Is not Pakistan a place where a rape victim could be lashed for being raped? Is not having sex before marriage a punishable crime?

Pakistan Paindabad was privileged to have eloquent Pakistanis agreeing to share their views with it. Mr. Raza Rumi, a Lahore native working in South East Asia, said that "platonic interaction and meeting (between boys and girls) is not un-Islamic." Mr. Usman, a young man from Karachi, observed how Indian films with their "song-and-dance spectacles of love, dating, and longing leaves a deep impression on youngsters." Mr. Tehman Lall, a Lahore-based MBA student, talked of "complete strangers getting to know each other in music stores."

Certainly, these are interesting times. But how was it twenty years back? A gentleman, who does not wish to disclose his name, recalled his young days when it was difficult to be friendly with "good girls supposed to be modest and chaste." The Karachi native now lives in North America. If he returns, he will not recognize his country. Ask Ms. Maryam Arif, a young woman in Boston, who decided to retain her cultural identity by wearing dupattas and parandas. However, on a visit back home in Lahore, she discovered "the locals were bold in their fashion statements."

Just how "bold" is the society? Acclaimed photographer Mr. Usman Ahmed described the phenomenon of couples driving in "cars with black mirrors" all around Lahore – so "no one can see inside."

Indeed, reading Dating in Pakistan tempts one to believe we may be a conservative society but transition is in progress. But such a conclusion would be misleading. Pakistan is more than Lahore-Karachi and our six participants from these two cities belong to a miniscule 6.3 percent of the country's population that has access to internet. Of course, their perspectives have helped in understanding the nation better but it cannot present a complete picture.

We must remember there is another Pakistan too. Not far from Lahore's glitter lies a village called Donga Bonga. In January this year two people, in their 40s, were stoned to death. Their crime – they were having an affair.