Home to unbelievably hospitable people, as well as some of the world’s oldest cities and cultural sights, Pakistan could have the reputation of a well-known tourist destination. But the opposite is the case, as Pakistan is generally known as a “terrorist country”, in which the USA had their bloody fight against Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaida.

Many western people consider Pakistan as an unsafe country which is unsafe to visit and home to extremists.

But is that true? Is Pakistan really unsafe? And what about the people of Pakistan? Are they all extremists with fundamental beliefs or hospitable and friendly towards guests from the west?

To find out, I decided to visit the country, located south of the Karakorum mountain range.

“Hello! Welcome to Pakistan!”, was the greeting with which the Pakistan Ranger soldier welcomed me, after I left India at the infamous Wagah-border. I remember how I had a little chat with him and he ensured me that Pakistan is “100% safe”. After 6 weeks of traveling in Pakistan, I realized that the soldier was right and Pakistan is nowadays safe to travel in. Of course, bad things happen all around the world and Pakistan is no exemption from that. As in every other country, travelers should be careful and take responsibility for their own actions. But horrible terror attacks on a daily basis in Pakistan are part of the past, even though they still influence the countries international reputation.

There are some countries in the world that have a good image and some that have a bad image, while others have to deal with discriminating stereotypes. But no country that I have visited in my life is as misunderstood by the rest of the world as Pakistan. 

Pakistan’s long fight of terrorism

Portrayed in the news as politically instable and undeveloped, many people still consider Pakistan as unsafe to visit and dangerous. News about internal issues with terrorism or religious extremists in Pakistan were recent in the past couple of years and therefore, the image of the country got distorted. 

As Pakistan was the battleground of Islamic extremist groups such as Al-Qaida for many years, Pakistan’s army was struggling hard to sustain peace and prosperity throughout the country. Extremist groups gained power and influence by terrorising the public and challenging the state.

For a long time religious conservatives used to sympathize with religious extremists while others were too afraid to speak up due to the frequency with which critics of the militants had been intimidated or murdered in the past. Terrorist attacks were part of people’s everyday life and the death rate due to terror was more than three times higher than it is today (2013 compared to 2019).

The big change in Pakistan’s anti-terror campaign came in 2014, when the Taliban group Teehren Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked a public school in Peshawar and killed more than 140 people. A group of at least six men, fighting for the TTP entered the school in which children of high rank army officers were taught and opened the fire. 130 children got killed and the attack changed Pakistan forever.

Pakistan’s government was put under high pressure by the public to react accordingly and improve safety conditions throughout the country. Before this attack the Pakistan military had largely responded to terrorist attacks with frustrating apathy, but the slaughter in December 2014 has shook the country.

When it became clear that the Taliban was willing to stop at nothing, not even the murder of children, everyone seemed to recognize that something had to change. 

What followed was an offense of the Pakistan military by setting up a national action plan, consisting of 20 counterterrorism measures.

They included harsher punishments for hate speech, a reform of Koran schools and tighter controls on the flow of money. In addition to that, provisional military tribunals were introduced and terrorist cases were processed more quickly.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, the government and military strategy has been a success, as by early December of 2015, terrorists had killed 875 civilians in Pakistan, compared to 1781 in 2014 and 3001 in 2013.

Nowadays the direct and indirect impact of terrorism, including its effects on lives lost, injuries, property damage and the psychological aftereffects is decreasing due to tradingeconomics.com. In 2013 and ’14, the impact of terrorism in Pakistan was at a record high of 9,07 and has decreased by one since then.

While traveling through Pakistan in April 2019, I quickly realized how unbelievable friendly and hospitable Pakistanis are. Whenever I had a problem, people were there to help me out despite any language barriers and it happened regularly that I got invited from strangers to have some tea or stay with them at their home. 

Pakistanis were never hostile or mad towards me and in contrast treated me like an honorable guest. Whenever I stayed with Pakistanis, they made sure that I have clean clothes, a warm place to sleep and enough food and drinks.

In Pakistan, strangers turn into friends quickly, as Pakistanis take hospitality and welcoming guests with open arms very seriously. The good treatment of guests is deeply integrated in their Islamic culture and many of the homes in Pakistan have a traditional “Hujra”, a room that is reserved only for guests to stay in, obviously free of charge. 

Completely in contrast to how the media portrays it, most Pakistanis are friendly towards foreigners and aim for the interaction with them. 

Especially young people seem to be culturally interested, as it happened multiple times to me, that Pakistanis asked me about philosophers or poets from my home country Germany (Goethe, Schiller, Nietzsche, Karl Marx, etc.). During such conversations, I realized that some of them were even better educated about my country’s cultural history than me!

I remember how I sometimes felt lost, struggling to find a mode of transportation or the address where I would meet a friend. Whenever Pakistanis saw me struggling, they offered their help and made sure that I “have a good time in Pakistan”.

The hospitality in Pakistan is something that I barely experienced before and did not expect at all. Pakistanis take care of their tourists as I’ve never experienced it before and do their best to make their guest’s stay as pleasant as possible.

Furthermore, Pakistanis are worried about the international image of Pakistan. Because of the conflict with neighboring India, a lot of propaganda against Pakistan gets published and spread in India. Whenever I told people in India that I am going to Pakistan, they warned that it’s a “dangerous terrorist country” and that I should think twice about going there. 

But also in the west, Pakistan is considered as a dangerous country that should be avoided. When Pakistan gets in the headlines of big western newspaper it is usually about terror attacks of the Taliban or drone strikes against terrorist cells in Pakistan.

 My family got really worried about me when I told them about my plan to visit Pakistan. “Are you crazy?! Pakistan is full of Taliban who will kidnap and kill you, Anton! Don’t go there!”, were the words of my mother. 

A quick research and some chats with hosts from Couchsurfing.com proved her worries wrong. Pakistan is completely safe in most areas nowadays and the police, as well as the military, supply foreigners with the best security possible. Almost every major road in the country has several roadblocks at which all vehicles get stopped and checked. Foreigners often have to register themselves at those stops and get offered free police escorts.

As the safety situation improves year by year, those police escorts are not needed anymore, except in high-risk areas like Balochistan.

Apart from the amazing hospitality of Pakistan’s people, the country’s beauty is stunning as well and Pakistan’s north offers endless possibilities for trekking, mountaineering and other adventures.

All in all, Pakistan welcomed me with open arms and is a great country to visit. Even though the country still has development problems or is struggling with extremists, it’s generally safe, especially for tourists.

Hopefully, the countries reputation of being “a shattered country home to terrorists”, will vanish and Pakistan’s media coverage will include it’s hospitable people, rich culture and stunning landscpaes.

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