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Vying for Pakistan’s Two Worlds

A majority of Pakistanis are moderate, but the world media seem to focus on extremists

By Hassan Siddiq Created: February 7, 2013 Last Updated: February 7, 2013
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Activists of Jamiat-e-Ulma Islam protest in Karachi on Feb. 1, 2013, against the killing of seminary clerics in the city. (Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images)

Activists of Jamiat-e-Ulma Islam protest in Karachi on Feb. 1, 2013, against the killing of seminary clerics in the city. (Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images)

To witness two realities in one country, one needs go no further than a suburban coffee shop in the cultural capital of Pakistan. Among the fashionably dressed men and women sitting there, the news that some radical Muslim has shot a young girl named Malala Yousafzai for the sin of attending school sounds incomprehensible, as if from another world.

The dissonance between the two Pakistans is even more dramatic as the globalized world reports more on Malala than media does in the stable, educated part of the country.

If either side succeeds, Pakistan may become a stable society, without internal cultural conflict, mirroring either Turkey or Saudi Arabia.

Since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, Pakistan has evolved to become one country with two disparate cultures. Former President Pervez Musharraf deregulated state control over media, and ever since thousands of local and international channels have opened up in the country, exposing Pakistanis to a plethora of issues, new cultures, and hip urban lifestyles of global cities.

Urban middle-class youth are quick to adapt their lifestyles to those of peers in Western cities. Yet the Islamic revivalism wave has not left Pakistan untouched, and various traditional and religious organizations have taken it upon themselves to resist influence of foreign cultures in the country, often in unfortunate and violent ways that get plenty of coverage in international media.

The young urban middle class of Pakistan, mostly neglected in international media, is well wired into the world of Internet and satellite channels. Managers at multinational corporations, software engineers, or customer relation officers by profession, a good number ultimately work for clients and bosses sitting in London, New York, and other global hubs.

An even larger number of Pakistani professionals maintain active profiles on international freelancing websites, offering services ranging from content writing to iPhone applications development. As a result, Pakistan has been consistently ranked among the top Asian contractors on oDesk, a freelancing website that pays hired workers by the hour. Thousands of young adults who have studied or worked abroad in the Middle East and the United Kingdom returned home to join companies here.

Financially independent, the young Pakistani professionals aspire to a modern lifestyle seen on television or experienced abroad. Until a few years ago, the workday’s end would mean changing into baggy shalwar kameez, traditional dress for men and women, catching an hourlong episode of a family-centric sitcom like Alpha Bravo Charlie on national television and eating a roti dinner before heading to bed.

Nowadays a night out could entail going out, dressed in famous Spanish Mango styles, catching Salman Khan in a Bollywood action thriller at the cinema and eating a hamburger at Hardee’s followed by a frozen yogurt at Tutti Frutti.

Foreign Influence

The impact of foreign channels has altered the very fabric of traditional society, challenging the norm of gender segregation and the institution of marriage. “Having watched Bollywood love stories, everyone wants to date and find their own soul-mate,” says Mobeen Khan, a native of Lahore a supply-chain manager at a grocery chain in Saudi Arabia.

Most young professionals have studied in coeducational institutions where they inevitably end up dating and subsequently marrying classmates. Dating, long considered immoral, has become the norm among the urban middle class, and liberal parents accept it. “Most of my friends in college were dating each other, and are now happily married with their parental consent,” observed a student of Lahore School of Economics, a top coeducation university.





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