Jan 5, 2009 - Uncategorized    61 Comments

Ten myths about Pakistan

Avaran from India has pointed out this link to me. As I am a huge fan of Mohd Hanif (if he was a rock star, I would have been the most loyal groupie), I decided to paste the article here on my blog. Although I would like to point out that most of us Pakistanis are grateful for the fact that Zardari will never have the kind of control that Musharraf had and this piece is obviously written for an Indian audience, most of it is spot on.

Ten myths about Pakistan

By Mohammed Hanif

Living in Pakistan and reading about it in the Indian press can sometimes be quite a disorienting experience: one wonders what place on earth they’re talking about? I wouldn’t be surprised if an Indian reader going through Pakistani papers has asked the same question in recent days. Here are some common assumptions about Pakistan and its citizens that I have come across in the Indian media.

Pakistan controls the jihadis:

Or Pakistan’s government controls the jihadis. Or Pakistan Army controls the jihadis. Or ISI controls the jihadis. Or some rogue elements from the ISI control the Jihadis. Nobody knows the whole truth but increasingly it’s the tail that wags the dog. We must remember that the ISI-Jihadi alliance was a marriage of convenience, which has broken down irrevocably. Pakistan army has lost more soldiers at the hands of these jihadis than it ever did fighting India.

Musharraf was in control, Zardari is not:

Let’s not forget that General Musharraf seized power after he was fired from his job as the army chief by an elected prime minister. Musharraf first appeased jihadis, then bombed them, and then appeased them again. The country he left behind has become a very dangerous place, above all for its own citizens.

There is a latent hankering in sections of the Indian middle class for a strongman. Give Manmohan Singh a military uniform, put all the armed forces under his direct command, make his word the law of the land, and he too will go around thumping his chest saying that it’s his destiny to save India from Indians. Zardari will never have the kind of control that Musharraf had. But Pakistanis do not want another Musharraf.

Pakistan, which Pakistan?

For a small country, Pakistan is very diverse, not only ethnically but politically as well. General Musharraf’s government bombed Pashtuns in the north for being Islamists and close to the Taliban and at the same time it bombed Balochs in the South for NOT being Islamists and for subscribing to some kind of retro-socialist, anti Taliban ethos. You have probably heard the joke about other countries having armies but Pakistan’s army having a country. Nobody in Pakistan finds it funny.

Pakistan and its loose nukes:

Pakistan’s nuclear programme is under a sophisticated command and control system, no more under threat than India or Israel’s nuclear assets are threatened by Hindu or Jewish extremists. For a long time Pakistan’s security establishment’s other strategic asset was jihadi organisations, which in the last couple of years have become its biggest liability.

Pakistan is a failed state:

If it is, then Pakistanis have not noticed. Or they have lived in it for such a long time that they have become used to its dysfunctional aspects. Trains are late but they turn up, there are more VJs, DJs, theatre festivals, melas, and fashion models than a failed state can accommodate. To borrow a phrase from President Zardari, there are lots of non-state actors like Abdul Sattar Edhi who provide emergency health services, orphanages and shelters for sick animals.

It is a deeply religious country:

Every half-decent election in this country has proved otherwise. Religious parties have never won more than a fraction of popular vote. Last year Pakistan witnessed the largest civil rights movements in the history of this region. It was spontaneous, secular and entirely peaceful. But since people weren’t raising anti-India or anti-America slogans, nobody outside Pakistan took much notice.

All Pakistanis hate India:

Three out of four provinces in Pakistan — Sindh, Baluchistan, NWFP — have never had any popular anti-India sentiment ever. Punjabis who did impose India as enemy-in-chief on Pakistan are now more interested in selling potatoes to India than destroying it. There is a new breed of al-Qaida inspired jihadis who hate a woman walking on the streets of Karachi as much as they hate a woman driving a car on the streets of Delhi. In fact there is not much that they do not hate: they hate America, Denmark, China CDs, barbers, DVDs , television, even football. Imran Khan recently said that these jihadis will never attack a cricket match but nobody takes him seriously.

Training camps:

There are militant sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan but definitely not in Muzaffarabad or Muridke, two favourite targets for Indian journalists, probably because those are the cities they have ever been allowed to visit. After all how much training do you need if you are going to shoot at random civilians or blow yourself up in a crowded bazaar? So if anyone thinks a few missiles targeted at Muzaffarabad will teach anyone a lesson, they should switch off their TV and try to locate it on the map.

RAW would never do what ISI does:

Both the agencies have had a brilliant record of creating mayhem in the neighbouring countries. Both have a dismal record when it comes to protecting their own people. There is a simple reason that ISI is a bigger, more notorious brand name: It was CIA’s franchise during the jihad against the Soviets. And now it’s busy doing jihad against those very jihadis.

Pakistan is poor, India is rich:

Pakistanis visiting India till the mid-eighties came back very smug. They told us about India’s slums, and that there was nothing to buy except handicrafts and saris. Then Pakistanis could say with justifiable pride that nobody slept hungry in their country. But now, not only do people sleep hungry in both the countries, they also commit suicide because they see nothing but a lifetime of hunger ahead. A debt-ridden farmer contemplating suicide in Maharashtra and a mother who abandons her children in Karachi because she can’t feed them: this is what we have achieved in our mutual desire to teach each other a lesson.

Image courtesy Nicholson cartoons

Clip to Evernote


  • can pakistan gift zardari to india – as a good will gesture? (im just asking)

  • it was published in ydy’s edition of TOI
    the only article i read in the whole paper

  • How different things look when you try to see other person’s perspective.

  • That’s a superb cartoon! Well said.

  • Pieces like these, removing misconceptions are needed; however, I am not a big fan of the apologetic tone.

  • i enjoyed this article and the humor while being informative. one part reminded me of the philippines, the one about Pakistan as a failed state. Our transport system is also not quite on time, rather crazy but it comes. and all that other stuff.

    am eager to read a good book on Pakistan. If you could recommend one, i would be most grateful:)

  • Ah, misconceptions… Interesting article, though… 🙂

  • I wish we could hear more about how Pakistan really is in the US. There’s such a confused view of it. So many places we only start hearing about when there’s some news there, and that’s what stays in the memory after the trouble passes.

  • hemlock,

    Not only Zardari but all his progeny as well. Not just to India but any country that wants them. Be it Zimbabwe or Lithuania. Anyone who wants our “financially minded president”, please take him off our hands.


    I couldn’t agree more, but like i said it is for Indian audience, it has a slight apologetic tone to it. I think I am going to do a subsequent post about my own experience as a Pakistani in India which would definitely not be apologetic.

  • Very well. It is true that Indian media has been behaving very irrational lately, adding fuel to very little fire and a lot of pent up anger that exists. However, most of us peacenik types already know whats behind the print. The 10 points were not a revelation as Pakistani media would have you believe. But then all the Pakistani peacenik types can read between the lines of their own perverted media as well. Now tell us more about the civil rights movement, s’il vous plait?

  • Hallo Tazeen,

    Now I could comment. Great.


  • Definitely do that, Tazeen.

  • Have you lived in India at any point or did you just go as a tourist?

  • I’m so happy you came to visit me because I’m looking forward to reading your blog. Great post!

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  • Taken and planted this piece in my blog with due credit to you. If you mind or plan to sue..let me know 😉

    Have a great ’09! Cheers!

  • Frankly, Mohammed Hanif does try too hard but the slip shows. Not all the 10 points listed are ‘myths’but I won’t hold it against him. I enjoyed reading his book ‘The case of exploding mangoes.’One thing I can’t help pointing out is the seemingly widespread sodomy in the PAF. Is it a ‘myth’ or a ‘fact’?

    Munna Bhai

  • I think it’s not just Indians, but many Pakistanis entertain different myths about Pakistan in their minds too.

  • Question I have then is that through all the myths and what not – why is it that Pakistan/Pakistanis end up electing trolls such as BB, Nawaz Sharif, and now, felonious Zardari?

    Also, yes, there MAY not be training camps in Muridkay and Muzzafarabad, however, the camps in FATA MAY house more than a handful misguided youth recruits from Muridkay and Muzzafarabad.

    I recently had an interesting “drawing room” conversation with an ex-resident of FATA who had encountered several such youths during a bus ride back to his village…

    In the end, whether one, Pakistani or an India, is apologetic or not, the fact remains that Pakistan needs to do all that is possible to clean up the mess that it currently finds itself in the middle of, and to also ensure to prevent the future generations from succumbing to shameless acts perpetrated upon its people by the likes of Zia, Sharif, and BB…

  • that was a really nice article…its always nice to see a perspective different from our own.

  • good to see the situation from the other perspective. and very apt cartoon.

  • Oh I didn’t even read the whole thing… It has come from a sick mind from India definitely BUT we must not consider the whole India like this… Good and bad people are everywhere… there are quite enlightened people there as well..
    and btw this article seems to be written by the writer only for enhancing up the readership and nothing else… a perfect example of yellow journalism…
    the proof…. see you have posted it in your blog too… coz it is really funny for us at least… so i guess the original writer has got one more point… his readership has increased 🙂 [JUST MY OWN POINT OF VIEW]

    n btw i loved the “hemlock” offer… I would defintely bid on that… lol

  • hemlock: i am most curious to know what you’d make such a (kind, generous and MOST WELCOME) offer of taking Mr Z off of our hands. and before you change your mind, i say yes, yes, YES, by golly, yes – take him!

  • Yes, that was a nice article.

    Here’s another interesting article (that I loved): http://www.dawn.net/wps/wcm/connect/Dawn%20Content%20Library/dawn/in-paper-magazine/images/blow+daddy

    A nation than can satirise itself is a nation that is very much alive, in my opinion.

    Also, as it so happens, even I’ve mentioned Md. Hanif in my latest post-same pinch.

  • I loved this piece. Have bookmarked you and will be back for more

  • Saadia,

    Work related repeated visits to Delhi, Bombay, UP and Hyderabad between 2004 and 2006. I left that job in 2006, otherwise the number of visits could be a lot more.

    Munna bhai,
    that’s his list. You can have your own list if you want to.


    Though i love Mohammed Hanif as a fiction writer, I have my reservations about his naive perspective that democracy is the panacea to all ills, we have miles to go …


    meray bhai, Hanif is as hard core Pakistani as one can be. He is born is Okara and is a Karachiite by choice.


    That’s NFP, he is a former colleague and has been part of a brilliant tv show called ‘News, Views and Confused’ you should check it out on youtube.

  • well i dont think i should comment on your post as i feel that being a pakistani you know better than me…

  • Thank you!

    Articles like these should be made a mandatory read for the Indian masses.

    Kisses, LM

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  • Thank you so much for stopping by my blog! I’ll be back soon to catch up on your very interesting posts.

  • I think a lot of Indians do think that Pakistan is poor, but I cant think of many that think India is ‘rich’. I think lately Indians tend to compare themselves more with China on that metric. Although our analysis usually ends with, yeah we are not doing as well as China is, so what we have democracy or that okay, we need a dictatorship.

    I think the cartoon at the end is also rather ignorant, the starving kid and suicidal farmer would probably still be there if the country’s were not in perpetual conflict. That has more to do with problems within their societies than outside them. Such emotional tugging/patronizing is not going to lead to the solution of the issues the country’s have with each other.

  • I have a few perceptions of Pakistanis that you might care to dispel/confirm.

    1) The Pakistani military/political elite think that they are/have to be India’s geo-political equals. The reasoning behind this is basically goes like ‘Muslims ruled India for 1000 years’.

    2) Most Pakistanis assume, India=Hindu.

    3) Indians (esp. the women) are generally morally corrupted.

    4) Indians have darker skin than Pakistanis.

    5) India’s democracy is not valid since it’s electorate is not literate enough.

    6) South India is an alien planet and all of North East India is in a permanent state of rebellion.

  • Wow to the article and wow to Vikram’s comment above.

    We, the people who have access to newspapers and the internet and can understand English well: we have no excuse for any myths other than just not being bothered.

  • Vikram,

    lets start with what you think are Pakistani’s assumptions about India.

    1) The Pakistani military/political elite think that they are/have to be India’s geo-political equals. The reasoning behind this is basically goes like ‘Muslims ruled India for 1000 years’.

    I don’t know, some American dude pointed out in the 1980s that Pakistan is not big/powerful enough to actually do any damage to India, but it is big enough to bug them. In my opinion, India is to be blamed for that. India should have picked someone their own size to play the arms race with. They are doing it now with China (in terms of economy) but they should have done that sixty years ago. Things would have been different, at least for us.

    2) Most Pakistanis assume, India=Hindu.

    Yes, majority of Pakistanis think that, esp the uneducated people. Their image of India is that of a trishul wielding RSS senak out to kill the Muslims in general and Pakistanis in particular. You have to admit that people like Bal Thakrey who get a lot of media space tend to fuel this sentiment.

    3) Indians (esp. the women) are generally morally corrupted.

    I dont think that way, but then I dont think women are morally corrupted anywhere in the world. They just have a different set of morality. I think Pakistani men would be more suitable to answer that, but then Pakistani men think that any woman who is not their sister or mom is morally corrupted.

    4) Indians have darker skin than Pakistanis.

    Oh yes, Pakistanis in general think that way.

    5) India’s democracy is not valid since it’s electorate is not literate enough.

    On the contrary, apart from Bollywood, what Pakistani people are most enamored about India is Indian democracy. An Indian academic from JNU was astonished beyond belief when she heard all Pakistani academics citing examples of Indian democracy. She said she has never experienced this perfect form of democracy, what part of India does it exist in. Well, it exists in Pakistani minds.

    6) South India is an alien planet and all of North East India is in a permanent state of rebellion.

    No, not at all. Most Pakistanis do not know much about South India beyond kanjivaram sarees and Masala dosa.

  • There are so many misconceptions in the minds of both the people of the country that we need a million blog posts to dispel them!! And I’m sure new ones would be coming up everyday. Our countries have so much baggage with each other that we carry in everything we do with each other. And it clouds our judgment. Whether it’s a cricket match or a UN resolution.

    Though I don’t share Vikram’s misconceptions, I am surprised to say to find that some of them are true.

    The thing is that the media in both countries always show the fundamentalists on television. It happens the world over.

    For eg: The images we get to see of the people in Pakistan is of them dressed in sixth century garb accusing India of various crimes, wishing for it’s demise and then going to watch a bollywood matinee.

  • err… sidrah, im a pakistani. through and through.

  • hemlock,

    I knew it, i even checked out your location but turned out to be UAE. No Indian would be crazy enough to take Zardari off our hands.

    Over Rated,

    I agree with you to some extent but I think Indians are more ignorant about Pakistan probably because our television channels are banned in India while we can watch Indian tv. Although they do not depict real India as well, at least there is a level of familiarity with India amongst tv watching Pakistanis, but Indians do look at Pakistanis as if we are aliens. I have been to India enough times to know that feeling very well.

  • Tazeen, this is Mohd. Hanif’s view and he is a smart writer who knows how to appeal to his audience. What we’d be more interested in is your views as a normal citizen of Pakistan. I really think that whatever we see on PTV might not exactly be representative of mass opinion in Pakistan.

    And yes, Just one more question, What do people in Pakistan think about Kasab – the captured terrorist? Do they believe the entire conspiracy theory that this was done by Hindu Zionists or do they actually believe he is a Pakistani? Just read that Pakistan dismissed the proof given by India citing it as ‘not credible’ enough. Wonder what the educated people of Pakistan think.

  • I generally find Pakistanis open-minded to all possibilities. These elements have hurt our own people more than any other, so if they’re around us, we want them out.

    I think the Indian government has a very hawkish stance towards Pakistan – and that is what the public is fed. We are quite open to all possibilities, on the other hand.

  • I really liked your post. But I loved the comments!!!
    Wow great job encouraging dialogue, maybe they should put u in charge of the peace dialogue between Pakistan and India

  • //India should have picked someone their own size to play the arms race with.//

    i thought india’s problem was that it imagined it could exist peacefully with some underperforming arms which wudnt spark off a race… remember, in 1965 china attacked india wen our secretary was preaching ‘india-cheeni bhai bhai’ … and has india ever attacked pakistan without provocation? conversely, like pranab mukherjee pointed out recently, has pakistan ever attacked any country other than india? i mean…. no not to pull u into a diplomatic argument, but i really dont see why india shud have th blame after all this!

  • Everyone has opinions, so have you.
    OK here I go:

    1.Pakistan is a failed state
    As much as Mohammed Hanif tries to deny the fact but Pakistan is indeed in trouble in terms of governance. The political undercurrents between the elected government and the Army keeps Pakistan in a state of perennial instability. Many nations go through these kind of phases, India did too in the ’70s. What remains to be seen is how quickly can the nation arrest the downward spiral and return back to a strong democratic setup. Hope it happens sooner rather than later.
    By the way, the VJs, DJs, theatre festivals, melas, and fashion models are there inspite of the ruling parties and not because of them.

    2.All Pakistanis hate India
    Apparantly Hanif came across this assumption about Pakistan and its citizens in the Indian media. I wonder which media group’s publication was he reading. I have a sneaking feeling it was the Times of India. Because not a single self-respecting soul believes in this kind of drivel. With the kind of popularity that Pakistani artists and cricketers have in India this myth has long been dispelled. As an aside, for our college fest, we invited Jal and Strings on successive years.

    PS: Your blog title reminds me of the very talented Mohsin Hamid.

  • its a great article. i had linked it as well on my post.

    i don’t think its apologetic, because i don’t see a point in nationalist posturing when we the populace still have a warped idea of our own identity. i felt it was just as enlightening for a pakistani audience that seems to lose sight of who they are in order to fantasize about who they pretend to be.

    the aftermath of mumbai has at least made clear that we don’t seem to have an idea of our identity we can all agree upon, nor one that we can understand to be true.

  • Tazeen,

    I agree with you to some extent but I think Indians are more ignorant about Pakistan probably because our television channels are banned in India while we can watch Indian tv

    While the first part might be true, the part about Paki channels being banned in India, isn’t.

    I, for one, distinctly remember receiving PTV. Also, Indian TV channels regularly channel feed from Pakistani TV channels, which in my opinion would not be feasible if the channels were banned.

    The two countries had banned each other’s movies after, I think, the ’65 war and India had for a short time during Kargil banned PTV, but otherwise it’s been pretty hunky-dory as far as TV is concerned.

    References: http://www.hinduonnet.com/2003/02/10/stories/2003021001430800.htm


    P.S: However, more than Pakistan, I, personally, am more concerned about Russians being freely allowed to air their channels. The banning of TB6 by Shushmaji deeply scarred me as an 18 year old and has made me a life-long opposer of govt censorship.

  • Guys, I dont know if my comment above came across in the wrong sense. From my limited knowledge and even more limited intelligence I had tried to piece together some perceptions I thought the common Pakistani might have about India. Thank you Tazeen, for your reply.

    Btw, you said, “Most Pakistanis do not know much about South India beyond kanjivaram sarees and Masala dosa.”

    I doubt many North Indians know much more about South India beyond those two things. 🙂

  • ‘One thing I can’t help pointing out is the seemingly widespread sodomy in the PAF

    In my opinion, India is to be blamed for that. India should have picked someone their own size to play the arms race with

    I think the Indian government has a very hawkish stance towards Pakistan – and that is what the public is fed. We (Pakistanis) are quite open to all possibilities, on the other hand.

    …has india ever attacked pakistan without provocation?

    Oooh! I see people are taking their positions. What a fun!


    am eager to read a good book on Pakistan. If you could recommend one, i would be most grateful:)

    Do read a book called Ice-Candy man by Bapsi Sidhwa. In a way it’s a book about both Pakistan and India. It’s set in Lahore during the birth of the two countries.

    For non-fiction you could check out Breaking the Curfew by, I think, Emma Duncan. Although the book is 20 years old or so it’s a brilliant book. I do, however, lag behind in this sphere.

    One book I would not recommend is Benazir Bhutto’s autobiography (or any politician’s autobiography written while he/she was active, for that matter).

    P.S: I am not Pakistani.


  • hey tazeen.. i linked to this post.

  • Where were you all my blogging life?
    I love this.

  • now THAT is an awesome article! thanks for sharing! 😉

  • hemlock, i’m sorry i didnt figure that out 🙂 just the joy of your proposal (i.e. getting rid of Mr. Z); i plead temporary insanity!

  • hades, i sincerely hope india gets other pakistani channels besides PTV! heck, even pakistanis dont watch PTV anymore!

  • Good show!!

    I recently started a blog of mine. I would love it if you would add me to your blog roll and vice verse. http://luscious69.blogspot.com

  • Thanks for visiting my blog and your lovely comment:)

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  • South India is four states including Kerala, which has many firsts in the Third Worls scenario. Here in Kerala, we read two to three newspapers a day, bathe twice daily, are into reading latin American authors, Pakistan is as far away as the moon, though Muslims are not in the minority here. I live in a district, where Muslims are in the majority. Social indices over here are on par with the first world, but India being India, gender bias still rules! A Communist goverment is in power, I believe the onle Left bastion that remains in power, except perhaps in West Bengal. And yes, North India knows only as much or as little about the South as do Pakistan or any other nation or state. Except that we receive more tourists than all states put together.
    This is a MUST see state on this planet.

  • Here in Kerala, we read two to three newspapers a day, bathe twice daily, are into reading latin American authors, Pakistan is as far away as the moon, though Muslims are not in the minority here.

    You read Marquez and bathe twice on a daily basis!

    Hygiene and erudition–the ads were right! It is God’s own country!

  • Shoaib, thats bad. Mallus have as much right to be proud of God’s own land as Punjabis.

    Chandini ji,

    unlike other Pakistanis, I have traveled extensively in India and know quite a lot about Kerala. I did some serious research on socialist governments and did a comparative analysis representative budgeting of Porto Alegre and Kerala. My former boss was also a Mallu who was chuddy buddy with the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad, they both would speak in Malyali and all the visa hassles would be over. Perhaps that explains my multiple visits to your country.

    I can also speak some Tamil – having worked in North Eastern Sri Lanka (Baticaloa and Trincomale) – and Sinhalese. Guess I am less provincial of Pakistanis and busted yet another myth.

  • Tazeen,


    Umm, actually the ‘country’ in ‘God’s own country’ refers to Kerala not India. It’s the catch line for Kerala tourism–taken from a lovely little story in Indian Mythology.

    My bad for referring to an Indian ad campaign without warning.


  • A ‘comment’ for a reply to the conversation would not make justicce to my current chain of thought. The media is partly responsible for this fiasco – I think the media created a huge hype when Vajpayee went to Lahore in that bus. The indian media was singing paens of glory abou the Lahori hospitality. Now after the Mumbai attacks they are doing this ‘Tandav’.

    I would not agree when someone compares Pakistans ethnic diversity to that of India. It is way too diverse for any non indian to believe or imagine.

    It has always been a fight between the typical and the atypical. People are made fun of in India for being typical – Mallu, Gujju, Bong and all the hundreds of other classifications. But when it comes to making fun of someone using for their religion it becomes a huge issue beccause that is the sort of news the media wants. And it is this very point that our extremists know would fuel the eternal flame !

  • Anon,

    India is definitely more diverse than Pakistan, but then you guys have over 1 billion people.

  • swwy, girl haven’t had much time to be on the Blogs…will come soon. I came across an interesting blog today…chk link


    I dunno if all u say are myths…at the end of the day some religious group from that side * DiD* get trigger happy in my land…

    And I am not very forgiving abt that … !


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