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Published: October 3rd 2012
Evening in Karachi
Karachi area with shops and restaurants.
“Pakistan? Pakistan!? Are you crazy, why are you going to Pakistan?” My colleague almost yelled as I broke the news of my upcoming business trip, her eyes wide with surprise. As I calmed her down and explained my excitement about the trip – how I was looking forward to explore the business opportunity and to get to discover a new and different country - she eventually waved me off with an “Ok, please be safe, and I do hope to see you back!”
It’s kind of funny, but she wasn’t the only one with that kind of reaction to me going on this trip. Whereas I myself never felt anything of the kind. I think that people sometimes confuses Pakistan with some of its surrounding countries, some of which has kind of a bad reputation. And that is such a shame, because Pakistan is everything but that. It’s a place full of lovely people, modern ideas, hospitality and inspiration. It’s a place that has stories to tell – and this is mine.
Now, in all fairness, I have a friend in Karachi, and knowing someone local obviously makes a trip like this much easier. This friend of mine is one of the nicest, most humble and warm hearted people I know. And he is also one of the most well connected and influential people in the business community in Pakistan. He had been kind enough to invite me to stay with his and his family, and was also going to pick my up at the airport.
“Mr Bernsel, Mr Bernsel, over here”. The guy who greeted me at the airport was all smiles. After an easy passage of the usual arrival checks - no hassle just because you are a foreigner - I was standing outside the terminal. In front of me was a black Mercedes - and a grave looking security guard holding up the passage door for me. Plus a police car that I soon realised was there just for us. As we were driving through the streets, the police car in front clearing the red lights, two quick thoughts went through my mind: one, that this is not going to be the ordinary vanilla trip, and two, that my friend is probably a bit more influential than I knew...
Because of my friends connections, my trip became unusual in the sense that I got access to some things that normal visitors typically don't get to do (like opening the Karachi Stock Exchange on Monday). But in many ways, a lot of things were also just like they are on any trip. And I would like to share some of those experiences here.
“Can I get you something else?”. The host checked in on me after refilling my glass again. We were at a party at a friend’s house, and everyone was talking and having a good time. People in Pakistan are very friendly and showing so much hospitality. Everywhere I went, I was received with open arms. And people are open minded, and like to discuss ideas, politics and life. This particular bash could equally well have been held in a house in central London – such was the atmosphere and the people. We had a really good time.
I also realized that Pakistan is much more westernized than I think most people realize. The predominant religion is Islam, but despite this most women are not covered like in some Muslim countries. Walking in the streets feels pretty much like walking in any other major city in a developing country – colours, men and women, vendors, cars, a busy street life. And in all offices I came to on business meetings, women shook hands and were colleagues on equal footing with their work peers.
In Pakistan you can clearly feel the heritage of the British colonialism that ended in 1947. I think that is to some extent what sets Pakistan apart from many other Muslim countries – this is a very civilised society that is currently a democracy (even though it has had its share of military coups over the years as well), a functioning government, a court system, police, military and various governmental functions, and a fully functioning banking system. And a modern stock exchange with over 600 listed companies – now that’s kind of impressive. Pakistan is in some ways reminiscent of many countries in the west.
Now, back in London, and thinking back on my trip to Pakistan, it is with a sense of joy. Joy for the people I met and the country I saw. And a longing for the next time I will be back.
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