What it means to be a ‘Pakistani’

Published: March 23, 2014

For each individual within this country, the feeling of being Pakistani is unique and different yet collective. PHOTO: AFP

For each individual within this country, the feeling of being Pakistani is unique and different yet collective. PHOTO: GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS For each individual within this country, the feeling of being Pakistani is unique and different yet collective. PHOTO: AFP For each individual within this country, the feeling of being Pakistani is unique and different yet collective. PHOTO: AFP For each individual within this country, the feeling of being Pakistani is unique and different yet collective. PHOTO: AFP

A few days ago a good friend of mine, living abroad, asked me a question:

“What do you think Pakistani means?”

The question threw me aback, partly because it was unexpected and partly because I couldn’t think of an immediate answer. A myriad of images flew around in my head in an instant; from the hustle and bustle of Karachi’s Empress Market, to the textures of the Anarkali bazaar in Lahore. But my friend’s question went deeper than just images and feelings. I found myself trying to truly explore what the concept of being Pakistani’ entails.


Looking at it purely from a logical standpoint, ‘Pakistani’ can be defined ideologically, culturally or emotionally.

Ideologically, ‘Pakistanis’ belong to a nation that was borne of sacrifice, to the tune of the emancipation of a way of life. It was to be a haven for the Muslim minority in the larger Indian Subcontinent, a place where they could discover their own identity and make a life for themselves and their children.


The country did not simply begin its existence for one religion’s freedom.

On the contrary, it was a result of years and years of suffering and a culmination of hope that one group of people could build a nation based on unity, faith and discipline, on tolerance and acceptance of religious, regional and ethnical differences, far removed from the persecution that led to the revolution itself.

It was to be the country that would create a fine example of prosperity through unity of diversity, of the sum of its people being bigger than the individuals themselves. The Pakistan flag itself is perhaps the greatest symbol of what this country was supposed to be – a progressive nation based on the ideals of Islam and committed to the importance of all within, the minorities and the majority.

From a cultural standpoint, Pakistan is blessed with an amazingly intricate diversity stemming from the differing origins of its people. Different parts of the country are populated by the region’s indigenous people, mixed with immigrants from other parts of the country as well as India.

Perhaps the greatest illustration of this diversity is the coastal metropolis of Karachi, home to more than 12 million Pakistanis hailing from everywhere and anywhere, having different religious beliefs and differing viewpoints. The wonder of such diversity is the richly layered set of traditions, customs and culture that they can call their own.

The concept of being Pakistani’ is what should ideally sum together the individual groups within the country, with the constitution and the government creating an environment where people belonging to any religion or ethnicity would have an equal chance to make a prosperous life for themselves and collectively for the country. Such a system would celebrate the concept of one nation inhabited by ‘Pakistanis’, where individual differences on language, region, religion and ethnicity would be overridden.

Digressing for an instance, a good analogy to the above is the stance of most successful corporations in the world with respect to diversity (in terms of sex, age, experience and background). Companies largely look for diversity in the workplace, for they believe it fosters new ideas and new ways of looking at things, creativity, mutually beneficial competition, entrepreneurship and adaptability, all intended to achieve company objectives and profitability. Managers tie in diverse groups of people by fostering collaboration under the company’s banner and obtain mutually beneficial goals.

Similarly, all the individuals within the country should be ‘Pakistani’, excited by the potential that their diversity can prosper the future of the country. At a very basic level, even a frank exchange of ideas across differing groups of people can lead to better understanding, acceptance and exposure.

In terms of emotionality, being ‘Pakistani’ is all about what connects us to our home and how we are tied to our roots. During the conversation, which I mentioned in the beginning, my friend pointed out that being ‘Pakistani’ was all about the strength of our bonds with our family, and how that keeps our feet grounded firmly on the ground. Our families provide us a sane tether and support structure in various forms. This is one major way in which we connect with our roots.

It can also be said that every generation of ‘Pakistanis’ has, perhaps implicitly, tried to look for things in common with each other on which to build a concept of patriotism and nationalism over. Across the years, these  moments have perhaps been about sports victories, wars or more recently, about having an Oscar winner to name a few. The commonality within all these is the fact that for periods of time, in celebration of such moments (fine or otherwise), individuals considered themselves proud of their ‘Pakistani’ identity rather than their individual identity. The media narrative is a massive factor in this regards.

At the very basic core, the emotionality is all about the feelings and imagery associated with being ‘Pakistani’. The colourful busses and trucks, listening to Noor Jehan in a rickshaw in Multan, crabbing eating at Burns Road in Karachi, the Badshahi Mosque and Butt’s karhai in Lahore, the greenery of Punjab, the Fawara chowk in Bahawalpur, the horse and cattle show, the barrages in Sukkur, Makli, Ziarat, Keenjhar Lake, and so many more.

The Badshahi Mosque's construction was ordered by Mughl Emperor Aurangzheb. PHOTO: UMER IMAM UD DIN



These are but some of the images that come to mind when defining ‘Pakistani’. There are countless others, and for each individual within this country, those moments and feelings will be unique and different.


Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that great nations are not born, but made, and made they are on the strength of their people. The question is whether the individuals within this country can truly be who they were meant to be, a diverse group of people working for their prosperity and the country’s prosperity, rather than fighting with each other for petty individuality.

The only way to achieve that is to transform our way of thinking and not to forget why we came to be and that we are Pakistanis first and foremost.

Umair Naeem

Umair Naeem

A marketer by profession and the author of novel 'Drowning Shadows'. He balances his time between freelance writing, travelling, amateur photography and his love for Pakistan Cricket and Arsenal. He tweets @umairn (twitter.com/umairn)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • RD Sultan

    Where I’m from, I’ve meet many Pakistanis who masquerade as Afghans, Bengalis or Indians since they are ashamed of their Pakistani identity. Recommend

  • Rahul

    Umair, you should try your hand at fiction! You have a natural talent.Recommend

  • p r sharma

    Pakistani means having origin from a country having one blast every day on average.Recommend

  • Sid

    @Umair Naeem:

    Dear Umair, this is in context to this one line in your article …”far removed from the persecution that led to the revolution itself.” ….Prosecution????….from Who ???

    I will summarize the above monologue as a “great delusion”. I have raised this question in various other blogs and no Pakistani has so far answered me this. Not a single one. Please help me understand this. Indian Sub continent had been ruled by British Raj who were christian and oppressed both Hindus and Muslims of the sub continents. Before them there were Mughals who were muslims who oppressed Hindus pretty cruely and this is fact not fiction. Only exception being Akbar who preached secularism. Before those Mughals India and Indians were ruled by all Hindu Kings and there were no muslims in this sub continent. So where does this grand delusion came from that Muslims were oppressed by Hindus in this sub continent pre partition ?

    Please don’t justify by pointing the conditions of Muslims in India post partition which is the by product of the partition and not the pre-existing condition as every Pakistanis are brain washed to believe.Recommend

  • Rps Hundal

    What it means to be a ‘Pakistani’ in the West, that he or she is an Indian, as majority of Pakistanis identify themselves as Indians while applying for jobs, refugees’ status or for that matter mortgages.Recommend

  • loki

    I live in Pakistan, in Karachi. Its pretty bad, mostly cause people are not nice.Recommend

  • pk

    They do that here in pakistan as well.Recommend

  • paki

    Your simplifying it. The indian subcontinent is huge and its history is very complex.Its ignorant to think of certain parts of india as all of india. British Raj was colonial, Moguls integrated, Hindu and Sikh rulers were limited to localities,the Ancient Buddhist rulers established a vast empire building road, currency and adminstration. India was never a mono-entity is vast with many small different regions. The best solution is a system similar to EU, at the same time accepting that no one people can dominate another.Recommend

  • Aseem

    Its really sad that after 67 years of its existence Pakistanis are still wondering who they are and whats their raison d’etre. This is the only nation on the earth which was baptized before it was born. The issue is that Pakistanis are still searching and researching to make a sense of Pakistan instead of accepting the truths. Teaching false history or no history won’t change the history. For Pakistanis, the history begins since invasion of Mohd bin kasim, they consider themselves to be descendents of Arabs, Afghans and Iranians rather than being sons of soil who accepted Islam as their faith. They falsely assume to be persecuted by the hindus and refuse to accept the fact that their language and most basic cultural traits are pre-islamic or to be more precise hindu. Pakistan adopted Urdu as its national language which has no roots in its soil. How will Pakistan discover its identity if it belies its roots, its history, its language and its culture? Recommend

  • Hozurr

    Lofty statements with high sounding wishful thinning.To be Pakistani means to be a Sunni and others have no place except as second class citizens!Recommend

  • genesis

    They were wondering before and they are perplexed now!Recommend

  • N.Kaji

    Pakistan could not have been created without slandering and villifying Hindus and glorifying the turks and arabs and muslim invaders, rapists and looters. Even Jinnah occasionally resorted to this trick. He lied or manipulated like any lawyer does in order to get his case successful. These lies are the life-supporting system of Pakistan
    A Pakistani must question this part of the anti-hindu and hindu-hating and arab-turk-bootlicking history taught to him.
    Have you done that? Can you dare to do it in Pakistan openly and publicly?Recommend

  • Ammar

    U r absolutely wrong…ur comment being an Indian is biased…

    We are proud what we are…

    Infact the South people in India say them as Keralas and hate India…similarly Hyderabadi, Ahmadabadi, Kashmiri, Assami,Sikhs, Etc are proud of their ethnicity rather calling themselves Indians…
    As a matter of fact there more than 18 freedom movements going on In India right now…

    So first keep a check upon urself before trolling Pakistanis…Recommend

  • Ammar

    For Jinnah…its a matter of shame for the then present Hindu Lobby that they could not prevent their country from a weak Lawyer(even a Liar according to U)…so b ashamed being a part of Loser Nation…

    Anti Hindu or Anti Indian sentiments are Lower here in Pakistan than anti Pakistan sentiments in India …for example… Read all the comments above, u will find how much the Hindus and Indian hate and are afraid of Pakistan…

    So once again be ashamed on ur sick mentality being an Indian Hindu Troll…

    Hope ET posts this comment..:) Recommend

  • singh

    Arabs dont consider indian & paki muslims as their descendents. Islam was imposed on them.Recommend

  • Adil Uddin

    @ Indians who are saying that overseas Pakistanis masquerade as Indians
    My instinct already told me that many prejudiced Indians will jump to such blogs in order to spread the (mis)information and garbage they read on Times Of India and other outlets of their country. I am also a Pakistani living in Canada and neither me, my parents, brothers nor any of my fellow Pakistani friends ever identified himself as Indian. Did you guys ever notice Pakistan Day Parade in Toronto, London and Houston?
    I have got friends and colleagues from other backgrounds too including Indians. I don’t hide my Pakistani background and have never been attacked , assaulted or arrested by anyone due to that. We overseas Pakistanis love our nation the same way as you or anyone else could, many amongst us update ourselves with news from back home. Yes, cultural similarity with Indians is one thing but that doesn’t mean that we beg to get identified as Indians. Let me tell you something, the world DOESN’T end at Times of India, please read other news outlets too before making such claims over here.Recommend

  • KB

    I would rather be known as a Pathan, Baluch etc Recommend

  • Rama Ratnam

    I was greatly confused on reading this article because I was not sure which country the author is referring to (the one which, according to the author, came into being after “years and years of suffering… far removed from the persecution that led to the revolution…”). I first thought it may be Soviet Russia, then I thought it was Israel, but I discovered that the author is talking about Pakistan.

    The author appears to be confusing the freedom struggle of colonial Indians from British rule with the demand for Pakistan. They are not the same thing. Historically all colonial subjects suffered and were persecuted by the British, and this includes not just innocent Muslims but also Hindus (dastardly, vile, and devious as they were). The author’s reference is grotesque because the creation of Pakistan was not about the freedom of Pakistani Muslims from British rule. It was about freedom from a hypothetical subjugation by Hindus in the future. That is the recorded truth. Contrary to the author’s belief, there was “no suffering or persecution” that led to the creation of Pakistan. Muslims in British India were hardly suffering under the jackboot of the Hindu, vile and despicable though he may have been. So, let us be more honest about history.

    The article highlights two tragedies about modern day Pakistan: a misconception in the minds of modern Pakistanis about the events that led to the creation of Pakistan, and a continuing confusion about what is Pakistan and what it means to be Pakistani. No Indian suffers this kind of dialogue nor does the modern Indian suffer such an article. After 67 years of independance this is a tragedy.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    You still didn’t answer his question.

    Who persecuted Muslims before 1947, considering British were ruling India then and Muslims themselves were ruling large parts of India, especially which comprised majority Muslims?Recommend

  • Anwaar

    Indian trolls on the roll !!!!!….Recommend

  • paki

    Who persecuted muslims before 1947?
    Non-muslims persecuted muslims before 1947.

    thats a comment with a ? at the end.

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    You mean the British, who were in power for 200 years?

    Before that Muslim were the one persecuting non-Muslims. You do agree don’t you?

    I see Pakistanis reminding us Indians about the 1000 year rule of Mughals.Recommend

  • RD Sultan

    I’m not an Indian but you should be more concerned with the Talibanization of Pakistan (not the “18 freedom movements”), which might give impetus to your country’s collapse. Recommend

  • Naila

    Tell me about it!! I was wondering, how come I never meet these type of PakistanisRecommend

  • Pakistani

    wish u had an idea of the fate of muslims when congress -the predominantly hindu party oppressed muslims through riots against dem,demonstrated immense religious intolerance by banning azaan,consumption of beef and sacrifice of cows,pushing pigs into the mosque,carrying out noisy processions outside the mosques at prayer time e.t.c.this was the plight of the muslims when the congress formed govt in 8 out of 11 provinces and ruled b/w 1937-39.other schemes like band-e-matram and wardha scheme too were instances of muslim oppression.besides in retrospect,during the times of sir syed ,in bombay,particularly,loud music was played outside mosques by sum hindu extremists.
    now u got ur answer,satisfied………..?Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    Being a Pakistani is so weird. We have great intellectuals like Dr. Abdus Salam who won us the very prestigious Nobel Prize while we also have people like the CII, who think things like child marriages are OK. We have great people like Mr. Edhi who serve Humanity without discrimination while having apologists for the brutal and terroristic Taliban. We have a great vibrant and diverse Pakistani culture but still we want to adopt Arab culture.Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    Personally I’ve never seen that. I’ve lived in Canada for a while, and every single fellow Pakistani I’ve met always identified as being Pakistani – never an Indian. Sometimes we were mistakened to be Indians but we always corrected people that we were Pakistanis.Recommend

  • Rps Hundal

    Pakistanis identify themselves as Pakistanis to Indians and Pakistanis but to the maturity community they call themselves as Indians.Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    I’m a Pakistani and I have never done that. And every single Pakistani I have ever abroad has never done that. We always say we are Pakistanis – not Indians.Recommend