Setting the record straight: 6 stereotypes overseas Pakistanis face

Published: September 20, 2015

There is a distinct need to set the record straight and inform the international community.

A Pakistani living abroad has to battle with numerous stereotypes. It has been a year since I moved to Australia and I still get heckled by people’s pre-conceived notions about where I’m from. It is not just because I am from Pakistan, a country plagued by terrorism and corrupt regressive regimes, but also because Pakistan is considered to be a religiously extremist country.

There is a distinct need to set the record straight and inform the international community that Pakistan is a lot more than what they have assumed it to be.

I want to address some of the questions that were thrown at me so that the rhetoric surrounding Pakistan does not remain strictly one-dimensional.

1. “Aren’t you a poor country?”

Yes, Pakistan is poor. However, it is rich in certain domains.

Pakistan is the first Muslim state to acquire nuclear arsenal. It has built the highest paved international road known as the Karakoram Highway. Pakistan’s deep sea port is included in the 100 busiest container ports of the world. It manufactures 60 million hand sewn footballs for the World Cup in a year. Pakistan has the world’s second largest salt mine that stretches to 18 working levels  and 40 kilometres of tunnels, and the fourth largest irrigated land area after China and the US.

So, you see, don’t judge a book by its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).


A worker applies adhesives to the edges of a design on a football ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil at a factory in Sialkot. PHOTO: AFP

2. I want to visit Pakistan but I’m scared I’ll get killed

Indeed the security situation in Pakistan is discouraging. However, once you visit, you’ll see for yourself how hospitable the people of this country are. This is because hospitality is tightly woven into Pakistan’s cultural values. Just ask Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York about his experience in Pakistan.

3. So Arabic and Urdu are similar, right?

No, they are not. Urdu may borrow some Arabic words just like Japanese borrows some words from the Chinese language, but they are completely different languages.

Urdu is a blend of Persian, Turkish, Arabic, and some Sanskrit words and is an amalgamation of Indo-Aryan languages. Pakistanis have a strong emotional attachment to Arabic because the Holy Quran is written in it. The language itself is more prevalent in the Middle East and South Africa.

4. How is your English so good?

Pakistan was a part of the Indian sub-continent which was a British colony for a century. Although the subcontinent was decolonised 67 years ago, Pakistan and India have not been able to shake off the hold of the English language. There’s a strong emphasis on English in the education sector and in the professional arena. Islamic studies itself is taught in English in O’ levels. It has now become a representation of class.

The educated and well-off section of the Pakistani population is closely associated with English while the uneducated and poor people of Pakistan do not have access to the language.

5. Was Osama Bin Laden actually in Pakistan?

This is tantamount to a Pakistani asking Americans if they actually planned 9/11 with al Qaeda or were they in Bill Clinton’s bedroom with him and Monica Lewisky before they admitted to the relationship? Our knowledge of OBL’s presence in Pakistan is as good as yours – through the mainstream media. Off the record, Pakistan’s establishment would have known of his presence and kept it a secret just as America had the right to throw the most wanted terrorist’s body into the sea without sharing a single proof of this whole exercise.

6. Are women allowed to go out?

Although there is a distinct difference between the lives of urban and rural women in general, not all women in Pakistan are suppressed. In fact, many women are not just allowed to go out but also drive, work, and have equal rights as men. Did you know that Pakistan has female fighter pilots?

PHOTO: Reuters

Ayesha Farooq is one of the few brave women who are serving the nation as part of Pakistan’s Air Force. Women in Pakistan tend to the sick as doctors, fight for the right to education, win Nobel laureates like Malala Yousafzai, surmount the highest peaks of the world like Samina Baig, play their part in the civil society at the cost of their life like Sabeen Mahmud, uphold democracy like Benazir Bhutto, and are cultural ambassadors, artists and musicians like Noor Jehan, Iqbal Bano and Nayyara Noor. All this and they are the best mothers, daughters and sisters in the world.

Samina Baig and her brother Mirza Ali made history by climbing the world’s highest mountain Mount Everest without using supplemental oxygen. PHOTO: EXPRESS

In conclusion, I would encourage the international community to not look towards bigoted news agencies such as FOX News to gather information regarding Pakistan. In fact, you should get to know Pakistan without the shackles of mainstream stereotypes. Pakistan and Pakistanis have a lot more to offer than what is portrayed about them.


Sabeer Lodhi

The author is studying at Monash University, Melbourne. He is a student and supporter of human rights with a focus on gender equality, minority rights and feminism. He tweets as @sabeerlodhi (

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

  • Soul Speek

    Sir, let me analyze your claims one by one:

    1. Pakistan is the first Muslim state to acquire nuclear arsenal. – Achievement
    2. It has built the highest paved international road known as the Karakoram Highway.

    – Achievement
    3. Pakistan’s deep sea port is included in the 100 busiest container ports of the world.
    – To be counted among “100” container port is an achievement??
    4. It manufactures 60 million hand sewn footballs for the World Cup in a year.

    – Its your cottage industry. Nothing exemplary.
    5. Pakistan has the world’s second largest salt mine that stretches to 18 working levels – Its a natural occurence, not an achievement in any sense!!

    6. Total 40 kilometres of tunnels – Whats the big deal?
    7. Fourth largest irrigated land area after China and the US. – It has been always there pre-independence. What did the Govt. of Pakistan do after that? How many dams have been built post-independence?

    It is just a feel good article with nothing much in real to prove!!!Recommend

  • Adi Pranoto

    In my country, Indonesia, there are people who still think that Pakistan is part of Arab world. Even if you visit Indonesia, probably some people would assume that you are Arab. I myself ever acquainted with two overseas Pakistanis, and yes, I thought they were Arab!.Recommend

  • Cosmo

    Its reads like a cry-baby or naive article. Instead of calling a spade a spade the kid is cherry picking random examples and generalizing it to make his point. The whole section on OBL is just silly and influenced by conspiracy theory type attitude.Recommend

  • Striver

    There is much more that can be added to the article but I know lack of space and time is a constraint.

    60 million footballs made by Pakistan for the World Cup in a year is no mean feat. Certainly not a feat a cottage industry would be capable of achieving.

    Brazucas were made in Pakistan for the 2014 World Cup. The factory that made Brazucas in Pakistan was one of only two factories in the world, the other being in China. The factory owner spent $1.1m to up grade his factory to compete with the factory in China. That is an achievement.

    100 TOP PORTS
    Yes its an achievement for Pakistan to be counted among the 100 busiest ports when the number of ports around the world is more than 400.

    The areas that these tunnels connect are, in terms of accessibility, the most difficult and dangerous areas in the world. So yes it is an achievement to have built these tunnels and our engineers proved their mettle. Like the Karakarom Highway.Recommend

  • Rd px

    All our dams r post independenceRecommend

  • Adi Pranoto

    “So, you see, don’t judge a book by its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”

    GDP is not the book cover, but the book contents that reflect the fact. While the book cover itself are the things like factories, ports, roads, farms, etc. What the important is not how many tools that you have, but how many products that you can produce with your tools.Recommend

  • roheen browne

    Also, he did mention the third country regarding the four largest irrigated countries, the largest one that too. Nuclear energy i can understand, but nuclear bombs, seriously ? Its like a 7 year old going to school with a gun and expecting everyone else to say, cool man, you are the dude.Recommend

  • Nero

    Its not your fault. Most Pakistanis also believe/wish they are/were Arabs.Recommend

  • DL

    Why do Pakistanis insist on touting their nuclear weapons? These are weapons of unimaginable mass destruction. What is there to be so proud of? Nuclear weapon technology does not even have any side civilian benefits either. Besides, “Muslim” and “nuclear weapon” are an invitation to a cavity search. Jeez.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Sabeer, none of what you have mentioned is something which others do not have except terrorism and Osama. Rather than asking others to change their opinion of yours, you would do good if you can give them the opportunities and reasons to change their opinion of you.

    Fox news and West being at fault for all ills of Pakistan is an old story and this argument loses its steam as soon as the Pakistani borders are being crossed.Recommend

  • Jonty

    I agree. Things that this author has listed don’t make much sense. Security situation remains bleak in Pakistan. Yes, it has somewhat improved after the new Chief of Army Staff has been on a clean-up drive but this movement is in its infancy. Decades of radicalization doesn’t get wiped out in couple of years. And to be honest, they haven’t even started addressing the root cause of militancy, their Madressas and brainwashing that they impose on young kids. Except putting few hundred Madressas on the watch list, nothing much has been done so far. Now, they are holding their first domestic cricket league in UAE due to security situation within their own country. Tourists are avoiding the country due to security situation. Economy is in doldrums. Foreign countries are disinvesting from Pakistan.Recommend

  • Linux Novice


  • Linux Novice

    Only thing is not let the Arab hear you saying that. You may just get executed !Recommend

  • raj

    I guess you missed the main context of the article. The title clearly states the stereotypes that make us look petty and small in outside world and that a lot of people in the world (or even Pakistanis) don’t even know. The writer no where said its all our achievement. There is nothing in the article that suggests that we are very proud what we have done. But it clearly mentions that these are the stuffs that we have in Pakistan and that is why Pakistan cannot be considered poor or under privileged. There is nothing exemplary in making footballs for WC but how many countries get that job – you know better. That is huge thing for Pakistan. The quality they provide is actually praised by many footballers themselves. The articles is not about what we haven’t done but its only to mention things we have in the likes of this guy named: Brandon Stanton. If he had portrayed Pakistan with one eye opened, Humans of NewYork would not have been a hit. Be positive and try to be thankfulRecommend

  • lathee charge

    Well, when I visited Indonesia, I thought people generally looked similar to Australian Aborigines.Recommend

  • lathee charge

    Pakistan, first country in the 20th century to lose half its territory: Achievement or what ?Recommend

  • JP

    Here come the Indian trolls. To spit with their venom.Recommend

  • JP

    Here come the Indian trolls. To spit with their venom.Recommend

  • raj

    its not about what we don’t do or haven’t done. Its all about what we have and the world doesn’t know. The point you wrote are all the ones media already highlighting in the west so no point bragging the same stuffs when we have more to show. Security is bleak but that doesn’t mean you would ignore the other good stuffs that are naturally or self-made in Pakistan. It is because of these talks (that you mentioned) that we are unable to show a better Pakistan to the world.Recommend

  • raj

    don’t pick up the small points.. lets take the real essence that is the things that we have in Pakistan..Recommend

  • raj

    not true. That is a wishful thinking that Indians haveRecommend

  • raj

    Have you heard of the word “Branding”. I guess most Pakistanis don’t believe in that. I guess that is why instead of owning the stuffs and brand it/market it, we brag about whats so new in it.. every one has it. Just look at India and how they brand stuffs that doesn’t even belong to them. You start branding your stuff and people’s perspective will change and thats how you can change yourself too.Recommend

  • Gratgy

    “Our knowledge of OBL’s presence in Pakistan is as good as yours ”

    But he was hosted as a revered golden egg laying goose by your establishmentRecommend

  • rationalist

    A typical and silly delusional article that aims to perpetuate the head in the sand denial that has become so symptomatic from Pakistanis.Recommend

  • Sabeer Lodhi

    None of what I mention do others not have. Why stereotype us then? Reasons to change the opinion are already given. There are many more… Try google.

    I did not mention West being at fault for Pakistan’s problems. You’re stereotyping again. As for Fox News and media hate mongering against certain ethnicities, races, countries and religions – not even an idiot can deny that has incessantly continued to happen. Murdoch isn’t hated for no reason.Recommend

  • Nomad1412

    Fluff pieces like these with no substance give a false sense of bravado and will be the undoing of Pakistan if that is in fact the mainstream thinking.

    When OBL’s own wives attest to his killing, this author believes otherwise. Nuclear weapons are WMDs and not something to boast about. Some of the so-called achievements are downright dubious such as the Karakoram Highway which was built by the Chinese or footballs for the World Cup (why is this an achievement?) or the second largest salt mine or irrigation in Punjab which was built by the British. What takes the cake is when he says that Urdu is a mix of Persian, Turkish, Arabic with a few Sanskrit words thrown in. Urdu owes its grammar, syntax and most of its vocabulary to Hindustani which is directly derived from Sanskrit.

    The fact is that stereotypes exist for a reason. Indians cringe when India is portrayed as a dirty country where men rape women, but we do understand that these are real problems we need to solve rather than wallow in delusion.Recommend

  • Acorn Guts

    A typical and empty rebuttal to dismiss the author sans a solid argument. -10 points for using word ‘silly’.Recommend

  • Acorn Guts

    The mass destruction factor is irrelevant. The nuclear capability is there to keep the balance of power not for fireworks.

    Strategically, nuclear capability is key to keeping our adventurous neighbours in check, but that’s complex macro politics, stick to your “Muslim” stereotypes and cavity search fetishes.Recommend

  • Acorn Guts

    Thank you for your in-depth trolling.Recommend

  • Me

    No we absolutely do not! We are proud to be Pakistani!!Recommend

  • Salma

    Pakistan is the first Muslim country to acquire nuclear power. Try it on any one. The word Pakistan is occuring with two other words, Nuclear and Muslim. That should be enough to disqualify the country as being either responsible or safe. So while you are there down under, please be careful with how you promote your motherland.Recommend

  • raj

    its not abt denial. how abt appreciate something we have for a change. Learn to brand yourself.Recommend

  • Pro Truth

    Its understandable to have misconception about Pakistan by people who only know about Pakistan from negative media. I was surprised even many Indians think all Pakistanis men have beards, wear shalwar kameez and all women are not allowed out of home and wear burka!Recommend

  • Gratgy

    What about the worlds first water car?Recommend

  • Milind A

    Now that’s a stretch of imagination.. No Indonesian will claim that.. You are free to see them as Martians as well. No one’s stopping you. Pakistanis on the other hand are falling over themselves to prove themselves Arab or their Arab ancestry.Recommend

  • SAC

    Not 1st… this credit goes to the great Hindustan… Pakistan itself is the 1st ever achievement of QUAID-e-AZAM and team. and its by his great efforts, Indians got rid of Britain rule.Recommend

  • lathee charge

    There are no Pakistanis I know who are falling over backwards to be Arabs. In fact, quite the contrary ! Rather they would more associate themselves with Central Asians or Persians, whom are considered much more cultured than Arabs. So what you are stating is not simply ” a stretch of imagination” but a glaring falsehood.Recommend

  • Adi Pranoto

    Pakistanis in Indonesia do not regard themselves as Arab. But in physical appearance they look similar as people from Indonesian Arab community, and look different than overseas Indians in Indonesia which mostly are Southern Indians.Recommend

  • abhi

    Doesn’t 60 millions of football look a very large number to be produced in a year! oh I forgot the blog writer also thinks that Osama was not in Pakistan.Recommend

  • vivek

    Which is third largest irrigated country -never mentioned- IndiaRecommend

  • vivek

    How many ? compare with IndiaRecommend

  • Soul Speek

    How many Sir? There are only 4-5 major dams in Pakistan whereas India has built 100s of such dams in the same period. India might be 7 times the size of Pakistan but the number of dams it has built is more than twenty times the number built by Pakistan.Recommend

  • Soul Speek

    Really…. Pakistan and North Korea are the only two nations who brandish their nuclear weapons on almost every occasion. As if it is the magic medicine for all its ills.

    It dosen’t even realize how funny and foolish it appears to the entire world!Recommend

  • Soul Speek

    Thank you for your silly meaningless one-liner.Recommend

  • whitesky

    To have feel good factor and also a small step to counter the image deterioration.Recommend

  • Jamor

    The author has mentioned one Nobel Laureate as an achievement while ignoring the previous Pakistani Nobel laureate who really achieved something for PakistanRecommend

  • cautious

    1) Using nukes as a counter argument for being perceived as a poor country doesn’t make sense to me – I would argue that nukes and excess military expenditure are one of the reasons that Pakistan is poor.
    2) Pakistan remains one of the most dangerous countries on the planet – for visitors and Pakistanis alike – culture of “hospitality” doesn’t change that.
    3) Failure to admit that OBL was hiding in Pakistan is like denying the earth is round – admit it and move on.Recommend

  • Videlicet

    1. “Aren’t you a poor country?”
    Yes we are a poor country and that is because the British looted us into poverty. But we are hardworking and on our way up.

    2. I want to visit Pakistan but I’m scared I’ll get killed
    That is probably as reasonable fear for someone who has not visited your country or your parts.
    Pakistan may be safe for people who look Pakistani-ish or muslim-like.
    Same applies to their manners, behaviour, habits, name etc. It *may*
    well be a lot less safe for westerners etc.
    I don’t say it is unsafe, but that it is a reasonable fear.

    3. So Arabic and Urdu are similar, right?
    The scripts do look similar to me and it does look like a reasonable question.

    4. How is your English so good?
    Good answer

    5. Was Osama Bin Laden actually in Pakistan?
    answer. But the people who ask you this question probably are using
    this as a opening line. They may be looking for some insights one of
    which is what you said– that the army may have known this and kept it a

    6. Are women allowed to go out?
    Again a reasonable
    question as people outside often get to hear about ‘talibanisation’ or
    radicalisation of Pakistan and equate it with other such countries
    where women are forbidden to go out or drive.

    I’m not sure why you
    have to feel hecked by these questions. This is a opportunity for you
    to tell others as to how wrong they are and about the true situation in
    your country. Also, please appreciate that they are asking you such
    questions, through which they are making an attempt to know you and your
    country rather than live with their misinformation.Recommend

  • Simla

    Not true, I see many comments which boast of Turkic, Persian and Arab ancestry. Some even say they converted because invaders brought superior culture with them. They don’t know that desert culture can never be superior to the culture of fertile plains. Simple Anthropology.Recommend

  • Humza

    Grow up and move on troll. Saying nonsense when you know full well that 1971 happened because Pakistan was embroiled in a civil war and India took full advantage of the situation. The Pak army was fighting with one hand tied behind its back due to its own poor decisions at the hands of a military dictator. The army couldn’t fight an Indian supported insurrection and handle the front at the same time 1000s of miles from home n the jungles of Bengal. Better now? Makes you somehow feel better after 1000 years of Muslim rule before the British came and gave you freedom? Indira Gandhi herself said that 1971 was India’s revenge for 1000 year Muslim rule over South Asia but decades have passed.Recommend

  • Acorn Guts

    Nah, that was well profound and rather pithy if I can say so myself.Recommend

  • Qasim Ahmad

    “You nailed it” great message in the end.

    Your words are the story of every Pakistani living overseas, particularly students. Recommend

  • Test Test

    There is no quote of Indira Gandhi on 1000 year muslim rule. Anyhow you have written lots of nonsense. First understand that Muslims did not rule India for 1000 years, in-fact they may have ruled for less than 500 years and that too only portions of India that include todays Pakistan and Afghanistan. And the muslims who ruled were Persian and Turkish and not local muslims. So Pakistanis need to understand that they were slaves in these dynasties and not rulers. Its like African christians saying Christians ruled the world from 1600, the point is so what? They killed your culture and wreaked havoc on your people. Pakistan is a terrorist state with nuclear weapons, so what??? Glorifying nuclear weapons and calling them an achievement is totally stupid in my opinion. Pakistan spends close to 25% to 40% of its revenue receipts on defence and still cannot protect its borders, This is primarily because of its macho army which hasnt yet won a single war in its brief history. Also Pakistan has ethnically cleansed and committed a genocide on its minorities, instead of focussing on becoming human, you focus on killing. Thats what Pakistan has become today. A paranoid security state that keeps glorifying Jihad and talking about the 1000 year muslim rule when they dont understand either their culture or heritage. What a waste!Recommend

  • Test Test

    Only Pakistan fears that India will take your land. Which country in its right mind would want to invade Pakistan for its land and people? Its got a radicalized society that thinks Islam is the greatest religion and everyone should be forced to be converted and that committing suicide and killing Kaafirs will get him 72 virgins after death. India has other neighbours (with some of whom it has some tension) but no neighbour other than Pakistan fears India will take over their land. Pakistan is a paranoid security state that lives in a delusional world.No one in the world wants Pakistanis in their midst and this includes your Iron brother and the muslim ummah countries as well.Recommend

  • Acorn Guts

    Who said anything about taking over land and enslaving people? India, for all its fair share of absurdity and tomfoolery, can just afford the repercussion of loot and plunder in this modern era, not sure why you are still stuck in 18th century mindset.

    And take your foot off xenophobia and racism too, doesn’t good look upon the society you are representing here.Recommend