Monday, January 24, 2011

Zalmay Rassoul should be warned in Islamabad

The Afghan foreign minister Mr. Zalmai Rassoul will arrive in Islamabad next week for discussion on issues relating to the American withdrawal. Afghan Pakistan relations have improved a lot, thanks to Turkish intervention. the main issues to be discussed are regional security, the US pullout plan and reconciliation with the Afghan National Resistance (ANR).

When the Bharati Foreign Minister visited Kabul a couple of weeks ago Krishna and Rassoul discussed the issue of terrorism and that they agreed on the need to deal “firmly with terrorist groups that continue to exist outside Afghanistan‘s borders.”

This sort of nonsense has to be stopped in the tracks. Mr. Zalmai Rassoul has to be told in no uncertain terms that by making Anti-Pakistan statements he was playing with fire, and that such inane talk is not conducive to good neighborly relations.

Hundreds of terrorists come from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Afghanistan hosts Baloch terrorists, Iranian terrorists and every other scoundrel on earth. Millions of Afghan Refugees have squatted in Pakistan for decades and don’t want to leave.

Bharat has no role in Afghanistan and should be evicted. Delhi’s Anti-Pakistan activities have to be stopped–and stopped now.

Both Rassoul and the Pakistan Foreign Minister Mr. Mahmoud Qureshi will head out to Washington next month for crucial talks on the US withdrawal plans in July.

Mr. Rassoul, who is due on January 25, will hold detailed discussions with Pakistan’s President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister the General Kayani. The topics of discussion will be to create a joint strategy for the joint Pakistan, Afghanistan and US trilateral meeting convened in Washington to seek an end to America’s longest war that has entered its 10th year.

Mr. Rassoul should be clearly told that he cannot hope to build better relations with Islamabad if he continues to bad mouth Pakistan.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Pakistan: A cultural profile

Landscape and climate:

Pakistan is a long narrow country, about the size of British Columbia, with diverse landscapes and climates. It is bounded by India to the east and southeast, the Arabian Sea to the south, Iran to the west, Afghanistan to the west and northwest and China to the north. Through a system of canals, the river Indus runs through Pakistan, irrigating most of the country. The five rivers of the Punjab flow into the Indus River. The word Punjab comes from panj which means five and ab meaning water, the land of the five rivers.

Pakistan is divided into four provinces: Punjab, Sindh, the North-West Frontier and Baluchistan. Each province is home to different cultural groups who have their own distinctive languages and customs. Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, lies at the base of the Margalla Hill in the Punjab province. A majority of Pakistanis live in this province. Lahore is a major industrial and tourist center known for its forts, gardens and mosques.

Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, is located in Sindh province. It is a principal port and is important for commerce. The mountains of the North-West Frontier are picturesque. The famous Khyber Pass lies in these mountains. Some resorts are located in this area as well. Baluchistan is a province of contrasts. Parts of it are uninhabitable desert and other parts are forested and have many resorts. Baluchistan is rich in important minerals and produces the world's finest onyx, a semi-precious stone.

In the north are some of the highest mountains in the world, may of which are snow- covered all the year round. To the south are some of the hottest deserts in the world temperatures can hover around 50°C. These Southern areas are not irrigated by the rivers and canals that web the rest of the country.

Pakistan is in the warm Temperate zone with hot, dry, summers and cool winters. There are three distinct seasons. The northern areas can experience heavy snowfall and temperatures below freezing point.

Basic facts:

Official Name: The Islamic Republic of Pakistan

Capital: Islamabad

Type of Government: Parliamentary Democracy

Population: 127,962, 000; 416.3 persons per square mile; 32.0 percent urban, 68.0 percent rural (1993 estimate)

Area: 310,404 square miles

Languages: Balochi, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Urdu (official), Sindhi, Pakhtun and other minor languages.

Religion: Islam, Christianity, pagan, Bhuddism, other.

Unit of Currency: Pakistani rupee.

Ethnic Composition: Punjabis, Sindhis, Pathans (Pakhtuns), Kashmiris, Baluchis, other.

Date of Independence: August 14, 1947

National Flag:


Pakistan has an ancient history. Pakistan's cultural and social history dates back about 5000 years. Mohenjedaro and Harappa were the two urban centers of the Indus Valley Civilization, one of the oldest in the world. Today, these areas form parts of the Sindh and Punjab provinces of Pakistan.

Over the millennia, the Indus Valley/Pakistan, witnessed the immigration of different groups from the West. The Aryans migrated around 1500 B.C. and mixed with the people known as Dravidians. Parts of Pakistan were visited by successive armies from Greece, Afghanistan and Persia, which is today a province of Iran. The Arab Muslims arrived in the eighth century A.D. and brought the Islamic religion with them. Waves of Arabs and Turks followed, and large numbers of people converted to Islam from Hinduism.

In 1601 the British came as traders to the Indian subcontinent and by 1858 the British government forcibly took control of the area. In the 19th century the Indian National Congress was formed to challenge British rule over Southern Asia. Mohamed Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League, was one of the key political activists along with Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru in the Congress Party.

In 1945, Jinnah the leader of the Muslim League, demanded a separate nation to distinguish its territories from the British Raj. Pakistan became a sovereign nation State on August 14, 1947. When the British left the region, millions of Hindus and Sikhs fled to India and millions of Muslims came to Pakistan.

Family life:
Pakistani families are very close, often consisting of grandparents, parents and children living together in the same house. The smaller family is becoming more of a reality in the urban centers. The elderly often live with their children and are treated with great respect. Children tend to accompany their parents to most social events. Important events in the family's life are celebrated with relatives and friends.

Pakistani families are usually large because children are considered to be gifts from God or Allah. Teaching children the beliefs of Islam is considered to be one of the most important responsibilities of family life.

This has been the key contributor of Pakistan's overpopulation crisis; however more steps being taken to control population growth rates in the country.

Most Pakistani marriages are arranged. When a couple is married, the bride applies mehndi or henna paste to her hands and feet and the quazi, the religious leader, administers the nikah or marriage contract.

Strong traditions and values influence women's status in the family and in the community. These affect opportunities for education and for work, especially for less privileged women.

When a male baby is born, circumcision is performed in accordance with religious rites. When he is seven days old, the family holds an aqeeqa ceremony, which is a family feast. Both men and women wear the shalwar-kameez, the national dress. This consists of loose pants gathered at the waist and worn with a long shirt. The women's clothing is more colorful, and is worn with a long scarf or dupatta. Some wear a chaddar, which is a shawl or long garment. In the urban areas men are more likely to wear western-style clothes.

Wealthy families and middle-class families live in bungalows or large apartment buildings. Many employ servants to perform various household duties.

In the cities' poorer areas, families live in two or three room dwellings. In rural Pakistan, cooking is still done on small kerosene stoves, clothes are washed on the banks of rivers and water is transported from rivers and wells.

A world of work:
Nearly one-half of the population of Pakistan lives and works on the land. Agriculture constitutes a large sector of the economy. It contributes one-quarter of the Gross Domestic Product and also earns foreign exchange. In most villages, old farming ways continue, though large farms use chemical fertilizers and modern machinery. The main export crops are cotton, rice, grain, sugar cane and jute. Pakistan is one of the world's largest suppliers of cotton, which is its main cash crop. Wheat is the major food grain.

Often due to financial necessity many young children work at factories rather than go to school. The handicraft industry produces handmade carpets, silk fabrics, embroidered textiles, brass work and pottery that are admired and exported all over the world.

Pakistan's industries range from steel plants, sugar refineries, cement works, paper and textile mills, manufacture of cars to electronics factories. The textile sector produces almost 60% of Pakistan total export. The small scale industries that dot the land play a key role in industrial development.

Pakistanis are enthusiastic sports fans and families watch many sporting events together. Field hockey, cricket and squash are favorite sports. Pakistani soccer players are among the best in the world, but cricket is the country's passion. Cricket is to Pakistanis what hockey is to Canadians. Pakistan also holds occasional polo competitions.

The foothills of the Himalayas offer opportunities for mountain-climbing, trekking and, in winter, skiing.

In the Arabian Sea Deep sea fishing, sailing and water sports are possible.

A traditional Pakistani sport is kabaddi. It is performed by a group that wrestles, as well as runs, while repeating the word kabaddi in one deep breath.

Health care:
Health care in Pakistan is government sponsored, but over the years private health care providers have become more common. Pakistan has made great strides in reducing mortality rates. It is, however, a constant struggle to meet the health care needs of the rapidly expanding population.

The government's strategy is aimed at primary health care, making essential drugs for common diseases available at affordable prices. Programs of immunization against common diseases have been implemented through outreach and mobile teams. They concentrate on reducing the number of cases of malaria.

Most Pakistanis find medical help at local clinics and hospitals. Some still turn to hakims, herbalists, for traditional medicines for common illnesses. Pakistani women prefer female doctors and men prefer male doctors.

The official language of Pakistan is Urdu, a standardized version of the Hindustani language (the other standardized version being Hindi, but not spoken in Pakistan) but most people also speak regional languages. These are Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Kashmiri and Pakhtun. English remains the language of the educated and is used in commerce and government alongside Urdu. Educational facilities have been expanding, but literacy rates are still lower than most countries in the region.

The government has established Islamic schools in certain areas to ensure primary education and knowledge of religion. Locally based traditional schools have existed for centuries. The government encourages families to send children to school by providing scholarships and cash incentives.

In the cities, many students attend private schools which are believed to provide a better standard of education. The children learn Islamic history and the it's basic tenets alongside academic subjects and languages. In urban areas, there are many vocational schools at which students learn a trade after finishing high school.

College and university education depends on the financial and academic ability of the student. Pakistan has an affirmative action policy that favors rural students over urban ones. Pakistani students attend law school, or specialize in engineering, nuclear physics, and agricultural sciences, among other disciplines. Most colleges and universities are co-educational.

The cuisine of Pakistan is diverse by province and regions, though they are very similar to one another.

Roti (bread), chawal (rice), sabzi (vegetables) and gosht (meat) are the four main components of a Pakistani meal. Naan is the most popular form of bread and is eaten at almost any meal. It is a flat, leavened bread made in a tandoor or clay oven and is normally purchased to supplement the home-cooked meal. Parathas and chapatis both flat round breads, are also favorites.

Rice is eaten often and is usually simple boiled . For special occasions, biryani is made by cooking rice in a yoghurt and meat sauce, and served with saffron. Kheer, a richer and more liquid version of the rice pudding, is cooked with cardamoms, cloves and cinnamon.

Muslims refrain from eating any pork. Most Pakistanis follow this diet restriction rigidly and will even avoid foods cooked with lard. Alcohol is also prohibited in Islam. Many Pakistanis will eat only `halal' meaning `kosher' meat. Chicken, goat and beef are popular either in curried form or char-grilled in a tandoor. Specialties include kebabs, tikka (barbecued spiced chicken), korma (meat curry) and pulao (rice cooked with meat).

Mithai are sweets made of flour and milk or cream and are cooked in sweet syrups. These are very popular and are enjoyed on special occasions. Paan, a mixture of tobacco paste, spices and betel nut spread on a betel leaf, is a common way of ending a meal and is believed to help digestion.

Language and communication:
The division of Pakistan into its four provinces: Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan, Kashmir and Pakhtunkhwa was largely done on the basis of the major languages. Each of these principal ethnic groups and mountain tribes has its own language. Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi, Kashmiri and Pakhtun, respectively as well as pockets of minor languages and/or dialects. Educated Pakistanis are able to read and write in Urdu as well as in English.

Islam has influenced the language and the philosophy of the people. Hence, it is common for Pakistanis to mention God's name in everyday instances. For example, Bismillah means "I begin in the name of Allah" Muslims commonly use this phrase before starting any activity. Inshaallah means "if it is the will of Allah." which is a response to any invitation. This expresses their intent but also suggests that events are not really within their control.

Here is a list of Urdu phrases for you to try:

Huh = Yes

Neyhe = No

Assalaam Alaikum = Peace be upon you (Derived from Arabic)

Wa'alaikum salaam = And May peace be upon you too (Derived from Arabic)

Aap ka naam kya hai? = What is your name?

Meri naam hai....= My name is...(feminine)
Mayra naam hai...= My name is...(masculine)

Shukriya = Thank you

Khuda hafeez = Goodbye/God be with you

Religion and spirituality:
More than 97% of Pakistan's population is Muslim. The remaining 3% is made up of Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Christians, Sikhs and smaller cults and religions some of which are continuations of Indo-European folklore, most notably in the Kalash. Islam is the official religion of Pakistan. A Federal Shariat Court has been set up to review the country's laws in the light of the Islamic penal code. Muslims are guided by the Quran, or Koran, the holy book, which they believe was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.

Islam, Christianity and Judaism share many common beliefs and traditions. The giving of alms and compassion for the poor are stressed in these religions. Muslims are obliged to give 2.5% of their wealth to the needy. All three religions also stress the transitory nature of life on earth as a preparation for the hereafter.

Devout Muslims must heed the call of prayer five times every day. They pray facing the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. Most Muslims will arrange their schedules according to the prayer times. The prayer is preceded by the required ablution, which means washing the face, hands and feet. Friday is the Muslim holy day and most Pakistanis participate in congregational prayers in the mosque.

Once a year, there is Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. No food or drink is permitted from dawn to dusk. The end of this month is celebrated with special meals and festivities for Eid-al-Fitr. Muslims are also required to perform the Hajj, a holy pilgrimage to Mecca, once in their lifetime if they are financially able to do so. The last day of the pilgrimage commemorates the second major festival of Islamic belief,Eid-al-Adha.


The important festivals of the year are either religious occasions or a commemoration of the creation of the country. Eid-al-Fitr follows the month of fasting, Ramadan. Eid-al-Adha is celebrated in memory of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to God. These religious holidays vary every year according to the lunar calendar and are occasions for families and friends to visit each other, share gifts and special treats. People dress in their finest clothes for these festivities. Money is donated to the poor and an animal is sacrificed by those who can afford it.

National holidays include:

* Independence Day (August 14);
* Death anniversary of Quaid-E-Azam, Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan (September 11);
* Birthday of Quaid-E-Azam (December 25).

Other holidays are

* Pakistan Day (March 23) which commemorates the passing of the Pakistan Resolution;
* National Defense Day (September 6);
* Labor Day (May 1).

Arts and literature:

Pakistan has a long tradition of art and poetry. The focus of Islamic art is on geometric patterns and designs and is judged to be one of the most complex in the world. Symmetric and elaborate designs grace mosques and the ancient palaces of the Mogul Dynasty, the Muslim empire of India prior to British rule.

The Mogul influence is also evident in Pakistan's architecture with its delicate and sophisticated motifs and designs.

In Pakistani culture, writing has been developed into an art form. Calligraphy is drawn from the Koran and then embellished with elaborate designs. It is often featured on large scrolls hung in the interior of mosques, palaces and Pakistani homes. The fascination with colorful and abstract art forms is apparent in the paintings that adorn the sides of buses and trucks and is a unique characteristic of Pakistani cities.

For entertainment, Pakistani films, as well as dramas made for television and video are popular. Poetry is an integral part of Pakistani culture. Qawwalis, a devotional song, is one of the most revered forms of poetry set to music and is accompanied by a hand clapping chorus. The ghazal is a lyrical form of rhythmic chanting that is set to music and addresses the trials and tribulations of a lover.

Below is a translation of a qawwali: The poetry and the devotion is evident in the lines:

"I have no one to turn to but you (God)
may I be blessed with your Divine attention"

Whereas the romantic verse in the ghazal goes:

"This intoxication that is gradually overpowering me
Is the result of the magic of your eyes."

To learn more: