While Pakistani fans of Brandon Stanton were posting warm and welcoming comments on the Humans of New York (HONY) Facebook page, the power of pre-conceived notions and assumptions about Pakistan was evident in the contrasting rude and dismissive comments. Some of them called Pakistan “that wretched country” and threatened to give up on being fans of Brandon if he visited Pakistan.
And so it has been. Pakistan, a beautiful country, inhabited by a vibrant nation, is often seen globally as a monolithic entity in which only extremists and bigots live, and where only bad things happen. It is seen as not just the land of the 2005 earthquake, the 2010 floods and the 2015 heat wave, but the land where these natural disasters could not be handled and too many precious lives were lost. It is seen as the land of the patriarchal man who throws acid at the woman who rejects him, and the country where schools are bombed. This is how Pakistan is seen by many who have a simplistic and, unfortunately, a binary world view. They have seen that side of Pakistan that makes headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Pakistanis, thus, find themselves in a situation where people of the world are not willing to visit it, and they cannot really be blamed. Who would want to plunge into danger knowingly? If at all they do, there are very typical places they will visit, amid caution, fear and high security. They will experience the beautiful but sterile (parts of the) federal capital, Islamabad, and take selfies at the Mughal and colonial architectural sites in Lahore. They will give a talk at a university campus, eat at Cuckoo’s Den, and rush back home at the earliest. In doing so, very few visitors of non-Pakistani origin really get a flavour of what the real Pakistan is. Karachiites, in particular, have even forgotten what a non-Pakistani taking a walk on the streets of Karachi looks like.
In such a situation, while as Pakistanis we are grateful that brave and unprejudiced visitors like Brandon and the players of the Zimbabwe cricket team took the risk and cared enough to see what Pakistan actually is, a part of us is saddened. Our excitement and hash tags like #cricketcomeshome or #HONYcomestoPakistan express how starved we are for such cultural interactions. We wish that it was just a given that people from all over the world would visit Pakistan for its natural beauty, its cultural diversity, and as one of the most interesting places in the world.
So proud! #Pakistan
To Brandon Stanton, we say thank you, for sharing stories of the people of Pakistan as they really are. Thank you for telling us about the little boy who says the best thing about his sister is her happiness, about the young girl who wants to grow up to be a chef, about the woman who wanted to be a singer, about the boy who gives us a deeper insight into battling our fears, and the shepherd from Hunza who says his goat is called…well…a goat!
What defines our country are its people, who comprise a proud, hospitable, charitable, and resilient nation. The average Pakistani goes through the same struggles and cherishes the same joys as anyone anywhere in the world. It is time that people stop seeing Pakistan through the lens of its challenges. And even if they do, we must remember that the more the challenges, the more the opportunities of brighter tomorrows.