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سلام Salaam (Hello) and Welcome to our Guide to Pakistani Culture, Customs & Etiquette

The word ‘Pakistan’ is derived from the word ‘Pak’ – a Persian word denoting pure or clean and ‘Istan’ – a  Hindi word which refers to place.  As such, Pakistan means the ‘Pure Place’ or ‘Pure Land’.

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Pakistan as we know it today is situated in a part of the world that was previously home to the ancient ‘Indus Valley’ civilisation which dates to the Bronze age. When the civilisation started to collapse, circa 1,900AD, the area became subject to ongoing invasions by groups such as the Arabs, Parthians, Kushans, White Huns, Greeks, Persians and Turks.

The modern history of Pakistan was shaped by the British who arrived as traders with the British East India company in the 18th century. This period of imperialism was a time of great violence and gave way to Indian Uprisings against the British oppressors. Demands were made for both independence and the creation of a Muslim state, to which Britain acceded prior to their withdrawal in 1947.  The process of departure was not straightforward however and the ensuing bloodshed was greatly due to the poor management of the carving up of the region in to India and Pakistan by a UK based civil servant who had never previously visited the region.



  • Location:   Southern Asia, bordering Afghanistan 2,430 km, China 523 km, India 2,912 km, Iran 909 km
  • Capital:  Islamabad, located in North-eastern Pakistan
  • National anthem:  ‘Qaumi Taranah’ which translates as ‘The Sacred Land’.  The music was composed by Ahmad Chagla in 1949 and the lyrics were written by Hafeez Jullundhri in 1952.  It was adopted as the official national anthem for Pakistan in 1954.
  • Ethnic Make-up: Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtun (Pathan), Baloch, Muhajir (immigrants from India at the time of partition and their descendants)
  • Population:  201,995,540 (July 2016 est.)
  • Population growth rate:  1.45% (2016 est.)
  • Climate:  Although there are some distinct climatic differences depending on where you are in Pakistan, the climate is generally temperate and consists of three seasons which include Summer, Winter and Monsoon. The extremes of these seasons vary depending on location. If visiting, avoid the Monsoon period as the rain can play havoc with the local infrastructure and prevent you getting around as easily as you might wish. It is typically dry and hot in the south of the country and mild in the northern parts of the country.
  • Time Zone: Pakistan is UTC +5 hours with no daylight saving.
  • Currency: The Rupee
  • Government: Pakistan is a federal parliamentary republic. The government serves on a five-year term basis and is headed by the President (the official Head of State) and the Prime Minister.  There are 342 members of the National Assembly, 79% of whom are elected to their positions on the basis of popular vote.  Of these seats, 22% are reserved for women. The four provinces of Pakistan have their own legislative assembly and members are again elected by popular vote.
  • Internet penetration: At 18% (est. 2016), Pakistan has one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world.


[Wazir Mosque - Lahore, Pakistan. Mosques play a very central role in Pakistani community life]



Although Urdu is the only official language of Pakistan, English is the lingua franca of the Pakistani elite and most of the government ministries, so it is not uncommon for companies to use English as their internal business language. 

Urdu is closely related to Hindi but is written in an extended Arabic alphabet rather than in Devanagari. Urdu also has more loans from Arabic and Persian than Hindi has.

Many other languages are spoken in Pakistan, including Punjabi, Siraiki, Sindhi, Pashtu, Balochi, Hindko, Brahui, Burushaski, Balti, Khawar, Gujrati and other languages with smaller numbers of speakers.


WARNING! Remember this is only a very basic level introduction to Pakistani culture and the people; it can not account for the diversity within Pakistani society and is not meant in any way to stereotype all Pakistanis you may meet!



Religion & Beliefs

  • Muslim 97% (Sunni 77%, Shi'a 20%), Christian, Hindu, and other (inc. Sikh) 3%
  • Islam is practised by the majority of Pakistanis and governs their personal, political, economic and legal lives.
  • Among certain obligations for Muslims are to pray five times a day - at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening.
  • Friday is the Muslim holy day. Everything is closed.
  • During the holy month of Ramadan all Muslims must fast from dawn to dusk and are only permitted to work six hours per day. Fasting includes no eating, drinking, cigarette smoking, or gum chewing.


Major Celebrations/Secular Celebrations

In addition to the declaration of national holidays when Pakistan wins key international cricket matches, Pakistan also has 6 formal national holidays which fall on:

  • 23rd March (Pakistan Day), 1st May (May Day), August 14th (Independence Day), 6th September (Defence of Pakistan Day), 11th September (Death of Ali Jinnah) and 15th December (Birthday of Ali Jinnah)
  • The most famous festival in Pakistan is undoubtedly the seasonal kite flying festival of ‘Basant’which marks the beginning of Spring and falls late January or early February. Unfortunately however, this festival has been banned in many areas for the immediate future due to accidents and deaths associated with the festival. It is hoped that the implementation of relevant safety measures will enable this much loved festival to resume. 
  • Another much loved festival is the annual ‘Utchal’festival which is held on the 15th – 16th July to celebrate the harvesting of wheat and barley.
  • The national Horse and Cattle Show is a five day festival held in Lahore during the third week of November.  This is an exciting pageant of Pakistani culture and involves activities such as folk dancing, music, folk games and activities, cattle racing and cattle dancing.  With lots to do for children and adults alike, it is a much adored festival. 


The Family

  • The extended family is the basis of the social structure and individual identity.
  • It includes the nuclear family, immediate relatives, distant relatives, tribe members, friends, and neighbours.
  • Loyalty to the family comes before all other social relationships, even business.
  • Nepotism is viewed positively, since it guarantees hiring people who can be trusted, which is crucial in a country where working with people one knows and trusts is of primary importance.
  • The family is more private than in many other cultures.
  • Female relatives are protected from outside influences. It is considered inappropriate to ask questions about a Pakistani's wife or other female relatives.
  • Families are quite large by western standards, often having up to 6 children.


[Cricket is by far the most popular sport in Pakistan. Once the sun starts to go down it is very common to see adults and children alike playing the game until dark]


Social Stratification

Although there is no caste system in Pakistan, Shi’as, Baluchis and Pashtuns are more likely to live in poverty due to their ethnic and religious differences.

Gender Roles

  • Traditional gender roles in Pakistan are fairly marked in that women are far more likely to stay in the home than go out to work.
  • Although women have the right to work in any profession or to manage their own businesses, the majority that do work are typically employed in roles such as nursing or teaching.
  • It is worth noting that women are very well represented in government as demonstrated by the appointment of Benazir Bhutto to prime minister in 1988. Women are also represented as ministers and ambassadors and a number of female judges preside within the high courts. Pakistani women also have the same rights to vote and receive an education as men. 
  • Unfortunately, crimes against women appear to be on the increase but government interventions are being put in place to try and reverse this issue.


  • The mother is the  main caregiver for any children and they will typically spend the  majority of time with her.
  • The extended family also play a key role in a child’s socialisation and will support the child’s care.
  • Islamic understanding, observing Islamic duties (such as prayer and ablution), respect for elders and gender roles are imbued from early childhood.



Although there are many staple dishes in Pakistan, cuisine can vary greatly depending on geography. Meat is halal and has been slaughtered in line with Islamic requirements.  Pork is forbidden in Islam and, as such, you are unlikely to come across it during your travels.

The majority of Pakistanis eat breakfast, lunch and a large evening meal which is shared as a family. Breakfast usually includes bread, tea, fruits, eggs and other items such as honey and nuts. Lunch is typically rice and a meat based curry.

Dinner is very much a family affair and it typically incorporates one or more of the following dishes:

  • Kofte– Meat kebab.
  • Korma – Meat or vegetables, cooked in yoghurt and spices.
  • Biryani – An aromatic rice dish cooked with vegetables or meat and containing s little gravy.
  • Pulao – Very similar to Biryani.  The differences between Biryani and Pulao are often debated but it’s generally agreed that Pulao is slightly blander with less cooking time and spice.
  • Lentils– Lentils are a very important addition to Asian cooking and are prepared in a number of different ways – usually with spices and a gravy
  • Roti or Naan – Both roti and naan are flatbreads, but naan takes longer to make and is often made with yeast and refined flour, while roti is made with unrefined flour and far thinner and easier to digest.  The naan is sometimes flavoured with spices, fruit or nuts.

International food is also a growing trend in Pakistan and food outlets are becoming more diverse in their offerings

The Economy

  • Pakistan is a developing economy which is listed as one of the ‘Next 11’.  The ‘Next 11’ is a list of countries which have been assessed as having the potential to become leading financial powers in the 21st century. These eleven countries are in addition to BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
  • Pakistan is the 24th largest global economic country and GDP places it in 143rd position.


The Arts

Pakistan has a rich culture of arts and crafts which have in some cases been traced back to the artistic culture of the Indus Valley civilization.  Some examples of Pakistani love for arts are as follows:

  • Arabic calligraphy – This beautiful art form, which takes years of dedication to learn, has its roots in Islam.  Arabic calligraphy can be found adorning most celebrated places such as mosques and important buildings. Most families will have calligraphy displayed in their homes. This art form also extends to calligraphy on copper pieces, which are widely used as ornaments in homes and public buildings.
  • Naqashi  - This art form is essentially a form of papier mache, which was much loved by the Mughal Emperors.  Naqashi artisans are typically use a fine and intricate form of decoration which is said to impact vision in the long term if practiced over too long a time scale. This use of fine detail is also replicated in the crafting of camel skin in lamp shade making.  The lamp shades are unique and much sought after.
  • Glass Chooriyan is another popular and much loved art form in Pakistan which involves the use of glass and other materials to produce beautifully adorned bangles.
  • Pottery – The production of handcrafted and artistically decorated pottery is just one of the arts with its roots in the Indus Valley civilization. Blue Pottery is a specialist craft which is particularly influenced by Kashgar in China and celebrated for being a unique and unparalleled art form.


['Truck art' is a huge phenomenon in Pakistan where drivers treat their trucks like moving works of art]



Naming conventions

Where possible, the paternal grandfather is asked to name a new born child. The new born child is also swaddled in a piece of clothing that once belonged to the grandfather. Following Islamic tradition, once a name has been given, the child’s head is shaved and the weight of the hair is used to determine an equal weight in gold or silver which is then given as a charitable contribution.

Meeting & Greeting

  • Greetings are often between members of the same sex; however, when dealing with people in the middle class, greetings may be across gender lines.
  • Men shake hands with each other. Once a relationship is developed, they may hug as well as shake hands.
  • Women generally hug and kiss. Pakistanis take their time during greetings and ask about the person's health, family, and business success.

Communication style

  • Third-party introductions are a necessity in this relationship-driven culture.
  • Pakistanis prefer to work with people they know and trust and will spend a great deal of time on the getting-to-know-you part of relationship building.
  • You must not appear frustrated by what may appear to be purely social conversation. Pakistanis are hospitable and enjoy hosting foreign guests.
  • Relationships take time to grow and must be nurtured. This may require several visits.
  • Pakistanis often ask personal questions as a way to get to know you as a person.
  • If possible, it is best to answer these questions.
  • Pakistanis are generally indirect communicators.
  • Always demonstrate deference to the most senior person in the group.
  • In general, Pakistanis speak in a roundabout or circuitous fashion. Direct statements are made only to those with whom they have a long-standing personal relationship. They also use a great deal of hyperbole and similes, and go out of their way to find something to praise.
  • Be prepared to flatter and be flattered.
  • Pakistanis prefer to converse in a non-controversial manner, so they will say they "will try" rather than admit that they cannot or will not be able to do something.
  • Therefore, it is important to ask questions in several ways so you can be certain what was meant by a vague response. Silence is often used as a communication tool.
  • Pakistanis prefer to do business in person. They see the telephone as too impersonal a medium for business communication.

Personal Space

Pakistanis do not require as much personal space as most western cultures. As such, they will stand close to you while conversing and you may feel as if your personal space has been violated. Do not back away.

Gift Giving

  • If invited to a Pakistani's home, bring the hostess a small gift such as flowers or good quality chocolates.
  • Men should avoid giving flowers to women.
  • Do not give white flowers as they are used at weddings.
  • If a man must give a gift to a woman, he should say that it is from his wife, mother, sister, or some other female relative.
  • Do not give alcohol.
  • Gifts are not opened when received.
  • Gifts are given with two hands.

Dining & Food

  • In more rural areas, it is still common to eat meals from a knee-high round table while sitting on the floor.
  • Many people in urban areas do not use eating utensils, although more westernized families do.
  • When in doubt, watch what others are doing and emulate their behaviour.
  • Guests are served first. Then the oldest, continuing in some rough approximation of age order until the youngest is served.
  • Do not start eating until the oldest person at the table begins.
  • You will be urged to take second and even third helpings. Saying "I'm full" will be taken as a polite gesture and not accepted at face value.
  • Eat only with the right hand.

Visiting a home

  • If invited to a home, you will most likely have to remove your shoes. Check to see if the host is wearing shoes. If not, remove yours at the door.
  • Dress conservatively.
  • Arrive approximately 15 minutes later than the stipulated time when invited to dinner or a small gathering.
  • You may arrive up to one hour later than the stipulated time when invited to a party.
  • Show respect for the elders by greeting them first.


There are a number of subjects that we suggest you don’t touch upon when in the company of Pakistanis that you do not have a close relationship with:

  • Sex
  • Homosexuality
  • Dating
  • Challenging Islamic beliefs
  • Alcohol

[Pakistan is very much a 'marketplace' culture. This has also heavily influenced modern-day business practices.]



What to wear?

  • Pakistanis dress formally and in line with Islamic requirements. 
  • Although women may not cover their hair, they are most likely to wear conservative outfits which do not leave their bare arms or legs exposed. Outfits are also loose in nature and do not overtly display the figure.
  • For women travelling to the region, we advise that you dress conservatively and adhere to the key principles of covering where possible.  It is generally not necessary for you to cover your hair.
  • Since, Pakistan men are Islamically obligated to cover anything between the navel and the knee, then we advise that anyone travelling there adheres to this principle.  
  • Within the workplace, we advise that both male and females wear smart suits.



  • Pakistani names often include a name that denotes a person's class, tribe, occupation, or other status indicator.
  • They may also include two names that have a specific meaning when used together, and the meaning is lost if the names are separated. It is best to ask a person how they wish to be addressed.
  • In general, this is not a culture where first names are commonly used, except among close friends.
  • Titles are very important and denote respect. It is expected that you will use a person's title and their surname until invited to use their first name.


Business cards

  • Business cards are exchanged after the initial introduction.
  • Include any advanced university degrees or professional honours on your card, as they denote status.
  • Business cards are exchanged using the right hand only or with two hands.
  • Make a point of studying any business card you receive before putting into your business card holder



  • Appointments are necessary and should be made, in writing, 3 to 4 weeks in advance, although meetings with private companies can often be arranged with less notice.
  • The best time to schedule meetings is in the late morning or early afternoon.
  • If at all possible, try not to schedule meetings during Ramadan. The workday is shortened, and since Muslims fast, they could not offer you tea, which is a sign of hospitality.
  • You should arrive at meetings on time and be prepared to be kept waiting.
  • Pakistanis in the private sector who are accustomed to working with international companies often strive for punctuality, but are not always successful.
  • It is not uncommon to have a meeting cancelled at the last minute or even once you have arrived.
  • In general, Pakistanis have an open-door policy, even when they are in a meeting. This means there may be frequent interruptions. Other people may wander into the room and start a different discussion.
  • Meetings are formal.
  • Business meetings start after prolonged inquiries about health, family, etc.
  • During the first several meetings, business may not be discussed at all as the relationship is still being developed.
  • Maintain indirect eye contact while speaking.



  • Companies are hierarchical. Decisions are made by the highest-ranking person.
  • Decisions are reached slowly. If you try to rush things, you will give offense and jeopardize your business relationship.
  • The society is extremely bureaucratic. Most decisions require several layers of approval.
  • It often takes several visits to accomplish simple tasks.
  • If you change negotiators, negotiations will have to start over since relationships are to the person and not the company that they represent.
  • Pakistanis are highly skilled negotiators.
  • Price is often a determining factor in closing a deal.
  • Pakistanis strive for win-win outcomes.
  • Maintain indirect eye contact while speaking.
  • Do not use high-pressure tactics.
  • Pakistanis can become highly emotional during negotiations. Discussions may become heated and even revert to Urdu (the national language). It is imperative that you remain calm.



  • The workplace is hierarchical in Pakistan and, as such relations are typically formal. Although Pakistani managers have a fairly autocratic manner, they can be equally paternalistic which enables staff members to consult with them in respect to more personal issues.
  • Employees defer to those in more senior positions and treat with them respect.
  • Status is important within Pakistan – if the opportunity arises in which you can flatter your colleagues / peers therefore, then the effort will be positively received.
  • Staff expect their managers to give them advice and guidance.  They do not expect to be asked for their opinions and they do not expect to shape strategy or direction.
  • Managers who try to ‘befriend’ their employees and behave as a peer will, in likelihood, lose the respect of their team.
  • For more information read Being a Manager in Pakistan.

Thank you for reading our guide to Pakistan. We hope you found it useful. If you have anything to add to our country profile please contact us as we are keen to ensure accuracy.


Quiz: Now Test Your Knowledge of Pakistan!


Take the Culture Vulture's Quiz on Pakistan and see how much you have learnt about the country, its people and culture.

If you can score above 85% then you know your stuff!

It was August 11, 1947, three days before the Indian subcontinent was hastily divided by the departing British Raj.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the dapper barrister who led a movement for Pakistan's independence in the name of India’s Muslims, had just been sworn in as Pakistan's governor-general. In his first address to the newly formed constituent assembly in the new capital of the new country he had helped to will into existence, Jinnah set out his vision for the country to be carved out of the jewel in the crown of Britain’s empire.

A long freedom struggle by Indian nationalists, who were mostly secularist Hindus had become an inevitability after the Second World War had exhausted Britain — and seen more than 2.5 million Indian troops fight on its behalf.

Jinnah and his All India Muslim League party had rallied Muslim elites behind a movement that first sought a federal India with semi-autonomy ensuring the rights of Muslims. The Indian Congress Party rejected this power-sharing idea, and eventually it was agreed to partition the subcontinent into two states — one larger country made up of Hindu-majority territories, and the other of provinces to the east and west where Muslims were more numerous.

PICTURES: Pakistan marks 70 years of independence

COMMENT: Pakistan independence: 'we have every reason to look to tomorrow with optimism'

CELEBRATIONS:Pakistan marks 70 years of independence with gun salutes and festivities

Planning by British authorities and the mapping of borders was quick and sloppy, and, for example, left the overwhelmingly Muslim territories of Jammu and Kashmir under Indian control, a decision that has plagued the two countries ever since, and deferred self-determination for Kashmiris indefinitely.

India inherited the well-functioning apparatus of the colonial state, along with the wealth of state coffers, and a military. Jinnah was left to scramble for money, the basic components of a military, and the acquiescence of royal houses who owned the territory necessary for the creation of Pakistan.

After all this, on the cusp of nationhood, Jinnah had come to Karachi to be sworn in as Pakistan’s first leader. While Hindu-Muslim violence had flared over the previous year, there were no plans for minorities on either side to migrate. Indeed, both the Congress and Jinnah had sought political backing from minorities, and a Hindu official who would go on to become Pakistan's labour minister presided over the swearing-in.

Jinnah himself was a minority within the subcontinent’s Muslim multitudes, who were mostly Sunni, and predominantly Punjabi, Pushtun and Bengali. He was an Ismaili Shia from Gujarat, anglicised and liberal, much like his Congress counterpart, Nehru.

“In course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community — because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on — will vanish,” Jinnah said in his first speech as Pakistan’s leader.

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan … Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus, and Muslims would cease to be Muslims - not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State,” he continued.

His utopian vision proved, sadly, to be just that and a year later, Jinnah died. As successive regimes tried, to varying degrees, to subsume deep divisions beneath an Islamic identity, Jinnah's first address was largely scrubbed from official narratives.

Within days of official independence, violence broke out on both sides of the new borders. More than six million Muslims and five million Hindus and Sikhs left their ancestral home and at least a million people were slaughtered in the process.


My grandfather supported the idea of Pakistan, but he never imagined a life there. In the First World War, his father fought for Britain against Germany in the trenches of France, and then against his fellow Muslims in the tribal areas abutting Afghanistan. My grandfather followed his father, joining Military College Jehlum, an academy for potential Muslim officers. But a sense of injustice at the treatment meted out by his British commanders drove him away and he eventually became a civil engineer. He worked for the colonial state in the United Provinces of north India, and as momentum gathered for independence, he was made aide de camp for the Nawab of the Loharu princely state.

He recalled that after August 14, confusion reigned supreme. He saw his former neighbours act in ways he could not comprehend. He is still shaken, 70 years later.

Poorer Muslims suffered the most in my grandfather's town. One day he took a jeep and a contingent of soldiers sent by a neighbouring Hindu royal to protect the Nawab. Seeing the soldiers, a local butcher told them his daughter had been kidnapped by neighbours and took them to the house. My grandfather said they found the girl, who had been raped repeatedly.

Later, my grandfather and the Nawab’s sons organised the evacuation by train of Muslims to Pakistan. Some made it across the border, others did not. He moved with the Nawab back and forth between Pakistan and India many times in those months. One night on the Pakistani side, they encountered a group of Sikh men, badly beaten and terrified. They were being held by a Pushtun tribal militia, who planned to execute them. The Nawab pulled rank, loaded the Sikhs into his jeeps and set off toward India. As soon as they crossed the border, the men jumped out of the moving vehicles and ran.

Other moments are unforgettable for different reasons. At the end of the evacuation, my grandfather and the Nawab were probably the only Muslims left in the town, and it happened to be Eid day. Alone, they went to the Eidgah to pray. One of the soldiers protecting the Nawab, a Hindu, did salat with them, a profoundly moving act of solidarity, and perhaps a warning to bystanders.

The Nawab moved to Jaipur, and my grandfather and his young wife with him. But it only delayed his inevitable move to Pakistan to rejoin his parents. The train stopped a mile from the border and he and my grandmother, who desperately wanted to stay in India, walked the rest of the way. Gangs of young men were waiting, and took whatever valuables the refugees carried as Indian security forces looked on. In a twist of fate, one of the Indian soldiers recognised my grandfather and my grandmother's jewellery was returned to her. My grandparents walked on, to start their lives again in Karachi.


Seventy years and three or four generations later, it is unclear what lessons Partition still holds. While Pakistan and India have evolved along very different paths, the outcomes don’t look particularly different.

The intolerance that fuelled the bloodshed in 1947 is still there, clearly in the DNA of both sides. In New Delhi, a populist Hindu nationalist party has replaced a dynastic party that ruled for decades. Mob attacks and lynchings of minorities and low-caste Indians have become a near-daily outrage.

Pakistan is no less troubled. Politics is infused with the anger and resentment of a growing middle class. Though religious parties lose out in elections to large provincial parties run by elites promising patronage to largely impoverished voters, it hardly matters. Society at large has moved steadily rightwards, particularly as those middle-classes exert greater influence in politics.

A decade of war against jihadist groups that turned on their former patrons in the Pakistani establishment has led to a drastic reduction in the terrorist attacks that took nearly 50,000 civilian lives since 2006. While Pakistan's war on terrorism has vastly reduced - though probably not ended - the use of such groups as proxies in regional conflicts, this legacy has left an indelible mark on society. Minorities, especially Shia Muslims, who make up a quarter of the population, bear the brunt of attacks that occur less frequently but still regularly.

But Pakistan’s economy has grown steadily over the past decade and its fitful democratic system has taken root, with a second consecutive transfer of power via national elections due next year.. The military still plays an outsize role in politics and dominates foreign and security policy that is constitutionally the purview of the government, but the prospect of another period of military rule is diminished.

Parliament has secured crucial advances, such as the empowerment of provincial governments, and the recently-ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif has done a decent job of managing the economy. The growing urban middle classes mistrust politicians, regarding them as corrupt and venal, and a vibrant and chaotic national media reflects and amplifies their views. They also largely ignore the needs and desires of the majority of poor Pakistanis. But it is those classes that now feed the increasingly independent judiciary and the military. The youth of Pakistan — two-thirds of the country's 200 million are under 30 — are the most politically-engaged generation since the early 1970s.


As in other regional democracies, such as Turkey and India, the middle classes and the institutions they dominate do not value liberal democracy as an end in itself. Mr Sharif was disqualified from office by a technicality linked to Islamic “morality” provisions, which were inserted into the constitution by the dictator Zia Ul-Haq.

An ambitious deal with China will see around $56 billion invested in energy and transport infrastructure that will establish Pakistan as the link between China and the Arabian Sea and make Pakistan a keystone in Beijng's long-term economic plans. But other indicators reveal a fragile economy. External debt is rising, exports are falling, as are the remittances from dwindling jobs in the Gulf. They may no longer be enough to cover the budget deficit and there is not the growth needed at home to provide enough jobs for young Pakistanis, even if cities like Karachi and Lahore, and the quickly expanding provincial towns feel flush with cash and entrepreneurial energy.

Instability is also increasing across the region, with no end in sight for the conflict in Afghanistan, increased tension with India and now the crisis among Pakistan's long-time partners in the GCC. As Pakistan begins it's eighth decade, its most consequential years are still ahead.


The Partition of the subcontinent and the creation of Pakistan were mired in violence, brutality and hardship. Here, three people who lived through that time give their stories.

Saleem Murtaza Qureshi, 84, was born in Simla, (now Shimla, capital of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh), the summer capital of the British government, where his father Ghulam Murtaza Querishi was stationed for 30 years as civilian personnel with the Indian Army.

“At the time of Partition, there were two options for Muslim military officers: either to join the Indian or the Pakistan army. My father opted for Pakistan. My brothers and I attended the prestigious St. Edward’s School, and most of my friends were Hindus. One of my class-mates, Satish Kumar, was from a conservative Hindu family who did not allow him even to eat eggs. We used to exchange our food and I would give him egg omelettes with achar [pickles].

After partition, my family stayed in Shimla and we also celebrated Eid Al Adha in September, sacrificing two goats. It was our last Eid there.

“A few days later, we were having lunch at home, when our neighbour, a Sikh magistrate, came to our father, informing him that a Sikh mob was coming to the area to kill Muslims. Without delaying, my father asked everyone to start packing and get ready. My mother collected only her jewelry, cash and some valuables and walked hurriedly to a hotel, where arrangements had already been made by families of around 20 Muslim military officers..

For more than 15 days we lived in that army-run hotel compound, guarded by he Indian and British military, but in constant fear of attack by Sikhs. I witnessed several horrifying scenes - Sikhs attacking Muslims with swords. The memories still keep me awake at night.

We marched to the railway station and, under military guard, we travelled taken to Kalka (in Haryana). We couldn't go to Lahore directly because the security situation was even worse. Our train took a long route and took two weeks to reach Bombay (now Mumbai) via Agra.

“Because of our military affiliation, we had guards from the Indian and British armies on our trains. Two other trains, which left three and four days after ours bringing Muslim civilians to Pakistan were attacked and a large number of Muslims were massacred in Patiala (in Indian Punjab) by Sikh mobs.

We stayed in Mumbai at the Kalyaan military camp for a week and finally reached Karachi after a three-day voyage on the Vesoa. The journey from Simla had taken seven weeks. When the ship docked in the port of Karachi, passengers started kissing the ground.

After four days in a makeshift camp near Napier Road in Karachi we took the train to Rawalpindi where the Pakistan army was headquartered. My family was allotted accommodation and my father resumed work with the army.

“Our life was happier before the partition. But after seeing today life, I think Partition was the right decision but the violence that surrounded it could have been prevented.”


Muhammad Nehal, aged around 78, was born in the Patna area of Bihar, north India, the eldest of four children. His father worked as a civilian watchman for the British and then in a locomotive factory

“I am among those hundreds of thousands of people who suffered twice from the Partition, first in 1947 and then in the partition of Pakistan in 1971.

I was around seven or eight in 1947. While most of the Muslims from Indian provinces, such as Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, moved to West Pakistan, my family decided to move to East Bengal (then part of East Pakistan and now part of Bangladesh), because it was nearer. West Pakistan was very far from Bihar. In East Pakistan, our people came to be known as Biharis and in Pakistan they still call us Biharis today.

“My parents used to tell us that there was exemplary communal harmony in our village in Bihar between Muslims and Hindus. But with Partition came rumours of Hindus looting and killing Muslims fleeing to Pakistan. Because of that, we left our homes with just the clothes on our backs. We walked to the border at Birol and reached it unharmed.

In East Pakistan, our family set up makeshift houses in Parbatipur and my father got work in a jute mill. We had some relatives left in Bihar, so we used to visit each other regularly by train and without visas, but that ended in 1965 when war broke out between India and Pakistan.

My parents missed Bihar very much.The graves of their grandparents were there. But after 15 years in East Pakistan, the situation was worsening for Urdu-speaking non-Bengalis, especially on the issue of language, and Bengali nationalist parties in East Pakistan started a hate campaign against the dominance of West Pakistan .

“In our village, we used to study in Urdu-medium Jinnah schools. We learned to speak and understand Bengali but not to write it.

In the 1970 general election, Biharis supported the pro-West Pakistan political party rather than the Bengali nationalist party, the Awami League. After that, Bengali nationalist groups started a separatist movement for East Pakistan and they began attacking Biharis for supporting West Pakistan.

“I joined the Pakistani army in 1968 and fought for nine months in the 1971 war between India and Pakistan. I was one of 93,000 Pakistani army personnel who were taken prisoner by the Indian Army. At that time, I did not even know the whereabouts of my family. My father later told me a number of our close relatives were killed by Bengalis in the insurgency.

After my release, I moved to Lahore in 1974 and went back to being a soldier in Punjab and later Karachi. But in 1986 we suffered more ethnic violence when armed Pashtuns attacked our neighbourhood and torched most of the huts.

And now my community is facing more discrimination in Pakistan. The government is blocking citizenship for people who migrated before or after 1970 from East Pakistan. They ask for documents issued between 1970 and 1979, such as the repatriation certificate and ration card, but most of the community never received these documents.

Without Computerised National Identity Cards we can’t get jobs or education opportunities and all the other benefits of Pakistani citizenship. We can’t open bank accounts or buy any property, It is extremely unfair because we are true Pakistanis who made huge sacrifices for the country. We did double migration, left our homes twice and still in Pakistan, we are facing discrimination and difficulties.


Hasan Bano, is 80 or 81. She was born in Amroha, a small town in Uttar Pradesh, India.

“I was around 14 years old when I arrived in Karachi by plane. The partition had happened a year or two before we came here, and I must be honest, unlocking those memories is not easy.

“Many of my cousins were working in Delhi at that time, and the city saw a lot of bloodshed as all the different groups charged at one another. Amroha isn’t far from Delhi but no one turned up in our area, perhaps out of reverence for the Saint Hazrat Sharfuddin Shahwilayat (whose shrine is in Amroha).

But we heard terrible reports of trains arriving in Pakistan piled up with bodies, and that instilled fear in the community: One of my friends was supposed to get married, and she had gone away to Pakistan while her husband-to-be was still in Delhi. The wedding was postponed due to the unrest, and we still don’t know how the bridegroom got to Pakistan. We heard he managed to hide in a tonga (a horse-drawn cart) /because he was very slim. Another friend of mine arrived by camel cart and had a terrible time with motion sickness.

“Apart from not knowing if we would stay alive, there was an air of insecurity regarding jobs. My brother was teaching at a school which was taken over by the Hindus. He was paid 25 rupees per month, which was meagre compared to what the Hindus were paid. .

My mother had passed away when I was young and my father was ill most of the time, so when my brother went to the other side, to Pakistan, I had no reason to stay back. My father asked a relative who was taking his daugher to take me along. My father followed on shortly after.

My great-grandfather had lands under his name in India but all was left behind.

I had never been on a plane. My relative’s daughter kept throwing up in the bag they gave us but I sat near the window seat and watched the houses grow smaller, unaware that it was the last time I would see them.

“My finances didn’t permit it, but I would have loved to go back and see how the house where I grew up had evolved. But then, it didn’t hold the best memories for me because life was tough there and it didn’t get any better here until a few decades ago. Class is indeed something which determines the course of lives anywhere perhaps, but yes, Hindustan is home because I was born there, and life would have been easier if Partition hadn’t happened, because then there would have been no question of leaving, would there?

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