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You are in: Cambridgeshire > Features > People Like You > Pakistan - the reality behind the State of Emergency

Andrew Webster

Andrew Webster

Pakistan - the reality behind the State of Emergency

Andrew, from St Neots, is living in Pakistan - a country officially in a State of Emergency. Writing from Karachi, he tells us what it's really like and says that the West's perception of the situation is very different to the reality...

What do you think? Have your say at the bottom of the page...

If there is one thing I would say about living in Pakistan, it is 'expect the unexpected' and this was never more true than the moment I was told that General Musharraf had just placed Pakistan under a 'state of emergency'.  

Situations like this are accompanied with great uncertainty. What does this mean? How is this possible? What is going to happen next? No answers seemed apparent to me, at least not in that moment. Such uncertainty is followed by panic, especially if you are a 23 year old British citizen newly settled in Pakistan. Am I in danger? Will I have to leave? What must my family be thinking?

President Musharraf

President Musharraf

Looking for answers you check the news. However more panic sets in when you find that nearly all news channels have been suspended. This is a world alien to me, a world I had only ever read about in the newspaper, a world of social uncertainty and political rights abuse that is to be condemned and avoided at all costs. Many have asked what it is like to be in a country like Pakistan at such a time using words such as 'terrifying', 'unimaginable' and 'crazy'.

This is the reality...

Well I am sorry to have to tell you that this is the point at which I shatter your illusions. In the moments following my anxiety and initial panic I was immediately reassured by the Pakistani students with me.

Although surprised by the decision of their president and uncertain of the future, they shared none of my anxiety, none of my fear and none of my panic. For them, this situation was bad especially for Pakistan's image, but it would resolve itself regardless of what they did and no matter what happened life would go on… and it has.

This is the reality of the situation and the reality I want to share. In a context where Pakistan is seen as a place to be feared, a place overrun by extremism and a place rife with corruption and political instability I hope to be able carve a slightly different picture, a picture which shows that front page news does not define a country or its people.  But first I should explain who I am and why I am here...

Why choose Karachi?

I was brought up in St. Neots, Cambridgeshire where I attended Longsands College before moving on to study Political Science at the University of Birmingham. While at university I got involved with the world's largest student run organization AIESEC. AIESEC runs a leadership development programme in which students across 1400 universities based in 100 countries arrange internships for international graduates to gain work experience.

"Karachi is this random assortment of mess that seems to work"

Andrew Webster

While in Birmingham I helped organize internships for graduates from Kenya, Taiwan, China, USA and Poland and by the time I graduated the opportunity was available for me to do the same.  So I chose a 12 month communications internship in a Karachi based financial services company. A strange choice for many, but it didn't feel so strange to me.

As someone who had studied politics and spent some time travelling I wanted to live in a country completely different to my own, a country that would challenge my opinions and beliefs every day and a country that was politically exciting.  It has to be said that Pakistan ticked all the boxes and since arriving 3 months ago I have had the most eye opening experience of my life.

The culture shock...

For a start there was the initial shock, the shock of being in a country so diverse and so different to the UK. Everything is so structured in the UK, but Karachi is this random assortment of mess that seems to work. Although not charming to look at (or smell) it's character is dynamic, diverse and exciting.  Cars drive wildly along the roads, beggars and hawkers aimlessly wander the streets, there are dirty cafes next to posh office blocks, and rickety old roads being driven on by fast Mercedes Benz.

The first thing I saw stepping out of the airport was a McDonalds, the western world's symbol of capitalism, the second thing I saw was a rickshaw - the Asian world's answer to inner city transport.

Karachi is a modern mix of commerce, culture and wealth.  On the one hand you have multi-million pound businesses, rocking house parties complete with alcohol and more wealth than I could ever have imagined. On the other you have street children selling flowers, conservative Muslim households and poverty driven desperation shown by servants in the office and beggars on the street.

Karachi is a weird and wonderful mix, a place to be embraced rather than feared and a place I feel completely comfortable and safe to be in.  My average day consists of a mixture of home comforts such as music, movies and fast food and foreign customs such as Islamic culture, electricity blackouts and scorching heat.

This isn't the Pakistan I imagined, the Pakistan I read about before I came. It is far more cosmopolitan, far more progressive and far friendlier than I could have ever imagined.

Suicide bomber

However, to say that the social situation has no effect on life here would be wrong. Three weeks ago a suicide bomb in Karachi killed 140 people and something like that can't be ignored. For the two days that followed there was this eerie feeling of fear and uncertainty on the streets.

But this was an example of the political situation being thrust onto the everyday man. In general people feel detached from the political games being played out in front of their eyes.  It is not the general public that is protesting against the state of emergency, they see little point in comparison to the risk, but it is the lawyers, the party leaders and the journalists that are out on the streets.

I imagined the country splitting at the seams and a mass uprising when emergency was declared but this simply has not been the case despite how it may look on the television. And although this makes for a safer Pakistan, it is also a shame for Pakistan. Living in a country where people feel powerless against what their political leaders decide is depressing.

Democracy - it's about the people

At the moment the state of emergency is seen as the problem by the UK and USA, but it merely exemplifies a bigger problem, a problem that is not acknowledged by either the media or the UK government. Democracy isn't about an election, democracy is about confidence among the people that their opinion matters, that they have a stake in their country's future and that their rights are protected by something bigger than a president or prime minister. In the context of a state of emergency and a war on terror these basic principles seem to have been missed somewhere.  

The development of these new perspectives has become central to my experience in Pakistan. I am very aware that the experiences I am having within the country are very different to the perception currently held in the UK which I think makes my opinion all the more important to share.

But as a general request I would say to you, try and look past the front page news and keep an open mind towards a country and culture that is not quite as alien to our own as we first might think. Because in all honesty as strange as it may sound, I can't think of a place I would rather be than Pakistan at the moment. 

Andrew Webster, Karachi, 14th November 2007

last updated: 29/11/07

Have Your Say

Comments? Questions? We'll put them to Andrew on your behalf

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

fayeza yahya
hey Andrew,in my opoinion u hv sketched the true picture of Pakistan, especially Karachi. As a Pakistani i sincerely thank u for put forward the positive side of Pakistan :)

vl i live in rawalpindi.a relativly small bt 1 of the most populous cities of pakistan.i v much agree with andrew that wateva the political scenario mayb,v r alwaiz v strong n embracing as a culture!!the world wide perspektv about pakistan mst change.thanks andrew!

plz look back at ur own history revolution .yes we r in trouble but because of west. leave us ,dont itterupt,if u cant help.its our country ,let us to live according to our own wish.

Furqan Khan
Spot on!

Helen McAvoy (@ Cardiff)
Hey Andrew, great article. I may have the opportunity to go to Pakistan with AIESEC this summer. When i mentioned it to my friends and especially my mum the reaction wasn't so good...they thought i was mental! I am going to forward this onto cheers!

Craig McMahon
Andrew, I'm also from St. Neots, a fellow Longsandser - and awaiting news on an AIESEC placement in China! This story was just e-mailed to me by someone trying to get me to take an internship in Pakistan, but it's a bit late to change plans. Awesome to know that someone with the same background has the same outlook and is treading the same path.

Marilyn Oliveira-Anthony
Right on! Nicely penned article. Keep them coming...

Ayesha Chowdhry
Well said, Andrew. Thank you! Hope you continue to build bridges across our nations with your mature insight - you've hit the nail on the head with your comment re democracy.

Tariq Choudhry
Although I am a Pakistani origin but I too was born in UK where I spent most of my life, a place where all my sibilngs continue to live. I totally agree with Andrew and it is sad about the perception our country portrays. I really don't know how we can change Pakistan's 'image'. Maybe thats something Andrew can touch upon, I don't know. What I do know is that Andrew Rocks!

Tahira Jaffery
Andrew, Yes, you have put across a truer picture of Pakistan. But to all of my fellow Pakistani's, I would like to say that instead of congratulating Andrews, you need to realize the truth in his words like as a nation we are hardly proud of our country so are least concerned towards its betterment. i will put forward a simple example. For those who can afford it, when you plan to go for vacations abroad, why is it not so that you explore your country first and then spend valuable money outside Pakistan. Tourism is a big industry all over the world but nothing is being done here to promote it. We as Pakistanis should take pride of our own assets and flaunt them and not ignore them. All in all, I feel that in Pakistan it is a "save your own skin" kind of a situation, where no one (including myself) will be willing to sacrifice a lot for the basic ideals of democracy that Andrew was talking about.

Salman Mustafa Siddiqui
Andrew,This indeed was one of the best descriptions of the situation in Pakistan and more importantly in Karachi that i have come across in years. There is no doubting the fact that the west perceives the image of this country as if the moment they will get off their planes there'll be missiles flying over their heads, but i guess this article of yours will dispel, if not all, most of thier doubts and fears.Thanks again...

Well, there can't be a better place to live,yes I love my city, I love my country. The issue here considering politics is, we ARE simply NOT concerned. Why? simply because we have stopped expecting, too much for the expectations probably. May it be Musharraf, or BB, or Nawaz Sharif or whoever, the problems remain the same and they exist. No doubt, I will appreciate here the fact, that the problems are being solved, at tortoise pace though, but still, not affected by WHO governs. The army believes, civilians are good for nothing, the politicians start believing so once they are in the government, in the end the general public has no option but to take a hideout in their bedrooms, and watch some freaked up news casters. They say, we have a literacy rate of more than 50%, do we really do? Those 50% are either in military, either they are industrialists, or else they don't VOTE. The major population is still ruled by the vaderahs and chaudhries, and thats what their government is, they are actually told where to put the STAMP on ballot paper, and still you expect democracy? The common men never had a say in here, not even on the grass root level, the governors are Lords in here, JUDGES I would say, with their own constitutions. We have a long way to go, a revolution probably, or not before we do get a patriotic leader, through elections or by coup, we don't give a damn, but we need a reform, and we can just hope for it. For good I can say, we have stopped expecting, and thats what has made life easier. SIT and WATCH, or else JOIN HANDS :)BTW, one might not agree with my views, however, the WE I have used here represents the circle I belong to.

arsalan faruqi
im arsalan from karachi. this article you wrote, it simply touched me. it saddens all of us to see our country being presented in such a negative way to the world audience. your part of the story shall serve as an eye opener. we're quiet comfy with the so called state of emergency. there isnt any military on the roads, there is no chaos, no riots and no uncertainty at all. only the oppurtunists are taking to the streets which is now a part and parcel of pakistani politics. once again dude, excellent work. remember.... we love and respect the british and america people but truly despise their media and politicians.

Bilal Hashim
It feels good to see that someone out there is not ignoring the reality....keep on spreading the truth rather hiding it...Godspeed

Andrew, thanks for writing this honest assessment and drawing real picture of Pakistan. Yes, at Pakistan, we have our own set of problems (ineffective democracy, holy cow military, rich/poor disparity etc.) but aren't every country her own problems, and talk about Pakitanis! we are fun-loving, cricket-crazy, have profound interest in books and movies, moderate, fond of music, understanding etc., and actually we believe our culture is more colorful than west, just like our other Asian counterparts. Ofcourse, we are muslims, and centerpiece of our life is love and zeal of following Almighty Allah (God) and His prophet prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), but Islam does not bar one to live life merrily, actually it facilitates to lead one. I am sometimes surprised at the impression portrayed of Pakistan, I am young Software Engineer at Karachi, working on cutting edge technologies in software house, for foreign clients. They visit us regularly and thoroughly enjoy our culture, variety of foods, our textile products and decoration pieces. Thanks again, Andrew for writing this, and I on behave of all Pakistanis welcome foreign readers to Pakistan, we are hospitable people, and would love to extend red carpet welcome to you. Visit Pakistan and discover truth yourself, first hand, rather than believing on media reports. Thanks :)

GOD helps those who help them selves

Andy Morgan
Andrew you are awesome!

Bilal Altaf
The conclusion of your report is very correct, being a Pakistani I thank you for writing this article to show the world the true side of picture.

Faisal Ansari
What can I say? Mate, you rock !!!! keep doing what you're doing....

Musa Bajwa
Hi!..Andrew im Musa an im from Pakistan buh not karachi im frm gujranwala Punjab..After reading this im soo happy , to know there are still people out there in the world who dont depend on the front page of a news paper to make their opinion about a country and its people.I hope my coountry has become ur home.. And u enjoy evry bit of it as long as you stay. Thank you for helping ous in improving our countries image!!=)

Hey man, from a fellow non Pakistani living in Pakistan, though I've been here longer. I really agree with what you said. Especially about the democracy. Cause as long as the people are not confident the elections don't matter anyways! Most of all people lack pride in thier country and therefore do nothing to better it.

Maria Anwer
Good job Andrew ,u did and amazing job and true refelection of a reality,u r very true, peoples 's scenery for pakistan is pretty different and its hard to show the real picture but u have done it in an effective & precise way. you should visit lahore toooo , u will see much more development there too.our Blessings r with you.keep it up.

Sultan Chaudhry
Andrew, I'm amazed at the analysis you have given to the situation in Pakistan. I wish other people of the west may also open up their minds and understand that we are a dynamic nation. No doubt, undergoing a crisis but we will prevail, the people of Pakistan.Thanks !

Muhammed Saad Kazi
Work of Art. Proud to have people like u in our country.

your roomate
Dude you've done a fantastic job, u've blown their mind away! Now, whenever my friends ask me about Pkistan or Krachi I always reffer to your article... Proud of u dude!

Michael Kamau
Andrew, a fantastic piece that reflects what is happening on the ground. Thank you for doing this.

Hammad Haider
if this article is in BBC site then where are other english people's opinion, only Andrew write this article, but where r others , or thy did not accept n e better pictures of others . ?

Tehmina Abbasi
Great article Andrew,(not just a pretty face) keep up the good work. Hope to hear more from you soon! God bless. x

Well this is the fact that Pakistan is in the cue of third world.But i dont agree with the real point view of yours for the emergency.The real game was far different then this.May be you are right cause u'll never put a slieght eye on eney event taking place concerning politcs.Anyhow nice write.

Usman ul Haq
hello andrew! its actually very pleasing and relaxing to know that you are very close to the reality as far as pakistan is concerned! unfortunately our lawyers, politicians, media, is not sincere to teh common man of pakistan, and hence not sincere to pakistan. we lack nationalism. vested interests of teh above mentioned lot result in mischeif and chaos, and the one who suffers is teh common man, the poor man. I'm really happy to read your piece, its honest, and its very close to reality. good job! keep it up! :)

Faisal Abbasi
Hello Andrew. Well I'm glad that you are in Karachi, trying to experience a whole new world to what you are used to in England. More westeners really need to visit Pakistan so that they can really see that Pakistan being a poor country suffering form political ans social problems is also a progressive and dynamic nation trying to make its way in the world. All the best.

aisha mumtaz
Hi Andrew i read u r opinion abt karahi and about the culture of this city i m also karachiit and i feel proud on it you mention lots weakness of pakistani and i certainly agree with you.. But i hope you will love this city thanks

Thanks alot for sharing what's true of Pakistan as against our national media which has depicted quite the opposite.

Zahra Chughtai
Thank you for unbiased and sensitive portrayal of Karachi. I think the most important point u have made is the fact that demcoracy cannot be ushered in simply by holding elections. The Paksitani people do not feel that their voice matters and have become a cynical and disillusioned lot. The key is to build up democratic institutions and shore up the people's confidence in their own ability to influence thier future. I hope you will continue to build bridges between our cultures. Good luck

i want u too come to islamabad . nd check this place out its much better in normal days , but now adays basic rights have been taken .

ali lakhani
great article i live in UK and hear from lot of people that still ladies in Pakistan wear Burqa and are there suicide bombers just roaming around the streets like that, atleast this will help open eyes for lots of people around the world

Yousuf Ahmad
Thank you, Andrew. It was a very insightful read for me. Very often, in times like these, people like you have a much better chance of reaching out to the rest of the world and affecting opinions. I am glad your article presents a very unbiased view of the current situation and I appreciate your efforts.This may be a bit off-topic, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts with you and your readers. While reading the last part of your article, where you talked about democracy, my thoughts digressed towards the implementation of democracy in the Western superpowers. During the last 6 years, as the "War on Terror" caused so much bloodshed and destruction in Afghanistan and Iraq, the rest of the world clearly witnessed how, even though support for the War was very feeble among their own citizens, the UK government allied itself with the USA in the War. And today, when levels of support for the War in the USA itself are at their lowest, the US government is unrelentingly prolonging the War. When I read the line that says "decomracy is about the people", I pondered upon whether the concept of democracy in the Western world has been corrupted to a level where citizens of the countries that claim to be the greatest democracies in the world are unable to see how similar their situation is to ours.It cannot be denied that the War has affected Pakistan's geo-political state. General Musharraf's visionary roadmap for Pakistan was so adversely affected by the ongoing War in neighboring Afghanistan that he got knocked off-course and steered his country in the wrong direction. In my opinion, What we are witnessing today in Pakistan is - to some extent - a combined outcome of the unchallengeable policies of the authoritarian governments of Western superpowers and Pakistan itself.

Well done Its about time people should see the other side of the picture.

Syed Rehman Ali
you are right about the democracy . "Will of the people is the best law"

what an abservation u really deserve an loud applaud for ya article.

Gemma Lowe
Great article, Webby, I hope you're looking after yourself out there; apparently so! Lots of love,Gemma xxx

Aamir Umar
A very first hand and insightful observation from an outsider/1st world citizen who is basically not over here to butter his/her own means of livlihood or impose preconceived human right ideas on a culture far different than their own. Please note that all successful democracies of the world including the old democracies are the achievements of strong willed ruler/elected govt who over a period of time got rid of the irritants in their countries to lay a foundation of continued democracy. The pity with Pakistan is that it is at such a geo-political juncture in the big picture of world geography and politics, that powerful countries only want to pressurize/meddle with the existing Pakistani Govts to further their own interest in this region, which according to them would be beneficial to them in the long run - not realizing the fact that this meddling leads to pressure groups within the socio-political fabric of the Pakistani society; and most importantly the process of healing from within ceases and reliance of outside medicines takes root. I agree with the writer on the context that the general public is least bothered about what the politicians or the beaurocracy is doing- because they know these people would be interested in their own benefits and not of Pakistan. The General, however had a vision - which he was following, but due to pressure from America, he had to change his tactics to realize the strategic objectives, but alas no one is perfect all the time in making plans!!!!!

Hammad Nabi Osto
Hi, first of all I would like to say that I read your article and I was astonished to hear that you have really chosen Pakistan to stay at and see it’s inside story. Okay, now let me tell you one thing and that is as you have mentioned that for a British citizen or any foreign citizen a question of uncertainty arises but this is not true. The truth is that this same question arises for the local citizen too! I hear that this state of emergency is for the betterment of the country. So my question is "is this really for the sake of the betterment of the state or for their stake?".

GOOD artcl bdy i knw all ova the wrld prcivs pk az dnger zone,..nt citzns apparntly dn feel ny harm.

really agree . it'll be normal to see it works well in disorder.more pepple are dumb and care nothing.

farrukh malik
Exactly and thanks Andrew for assessing the very right situation. People here in huge percentage has absolutely no concern with politics, for about 80% of the population, we cant have homes or even think to buy clean food, reason is that accumulation of wealth being in few hands; and the reason that we want potato to go 10 rs lower in price rather then assessing which political party should be there. I hope you get my point...

Hi Andrew,I am a Pakistani studying in Singapore for my bachelors, also majoring in Political science. Believe me I am very surprised to read this article as it very much of a different perspective than what other non-Pakistani people have. I have spent 5 months in Singapore and uptil today I have not even come up with one person who does not think of Pakistan as a terrorist nation.I am very glad that you chose my country and now that you are there you know what we people are like. We are not terrorists nor are we extremists, we are just normal people who have been striving for justice due to corrupt govt. I am basically from Lahore and I would rather suggest you to pay a visit there too. You would notice how many differences there are between Karachi and Lahore, culturally of course. Singapore rather seems a dull place to live in considering the entertaining life that i have spent in Pakistan. I am going for a visit in December, desperately waiting for that time to come where I step back into my world again.It makes us very proud of people like you who take up another path, explore and make the world aware of something that is perceived wrong. I am proud that you are here in my beloved country, Pakistan.

Qurat ul ain Siddiqui
how long have you been here?

Abid Husain
Beautifully said. Good job Andrew . . .From Baltimore, Maryland USA

the main point of this emergency is to be reelected by unfair seperme court there is a case against our president power. he were losen the case thats why he do this

Imran Shaikh
Great Work....... Andrew

Paul Sloss
What a fantastic account of your time in Pakistan, very thought provoking! I wish this side was shown a bt more in the media.Well done!

Thanks for writing about the 'lived' experience of everyday life in Pakistan during the Emergency. I was tired of reading all the chatoic, dangerous and doomsday scenarios about Pakistan.. I totally agree with your analysis..

Mukarram Habib
Mr. Andrew Webster, you are welcome in Pakistan and as you will spend more time with common people in Karachi you will come to know that Muslims in Pakistan are exactly opposite to what they are portrayed.Thank you for objectivity in your comments about Pakistan & its residents.God bless you!

Glad to read this VERY TRUE article and the correct feelings and messages of Mr. Andrew. Hope all the misconceptions are clear now. Thanks so much!

yousuf eranpur
thank you andrew:)!!!....i couldnt have said it better myself like u hav in this "essay" of urs:)....THIS is wha i had been tryin to tell my foreign friends who hav been msgin me xpressin their concern over my and my family's welfare...:) has and will always go on in pakistan no matter what...and GOD-willin GENUINE DEMOCRACY will prevail in this part of the world...i m countin on my generation;)..

AFFAN (freshie)
AWESOME , when u write some thing direct from your heart , it shows! i loved the compassion and power of ur words, and it pleases me to know that u think highly of us and our country... stay happy where ever u live.... best of luck for ur future... affan (freshie ;))LC LAhoreAiesec

Shazi Day
I love Pakistan and pray for the current turmoil to end and peace to prevail.Shazz

Hassan Arif
Well said, I just started my undergrad in Singapore and people always have a touch of surprise on their faces when I tell them I'm from Pakistan. Despite what the media says normal life always goes on. This does go to show something about how helpless people feel about the situation. I’m quite sure when I come back in a month everything will be normal or normal as in the average person will just go on with their lives. And as far as the parties are concerned they just need an excuse to start demonstrations to weaken the current leader’s position, irrespective of whom the current leader is.

harisa zahid
heyi met u in NYDS in karachi and seruiously what you wrote means a lot. and you know the part about only the lawyers or journalists or political ppl comming out on the streets is not because we think that we cant do anything its more about our loss of trust in these politically corrupt lawyers these extreamly biased media journalists and also a dummy governmnet which to us is being controlled more by foriegn forces thn bi the pakistani people or politicians.any wayz i hope i made a little bit sencebut thnx once again and if ur so impressed bi karachi ull love to c lahore if u havnt seen it yet.regards harisa("is it true? is it true?" heheh)

Thanks Andrew! :)

thanks for this:)

Poonam Dadlani
Hi Andrew, I'm a Singaporean who traces her roots back to Karachi, and ex AIESEC trainee. Its great that you have choosen to share you perspective. Lets keep creating a better world. Thank you for your sharing.

Mandy Head
Well said Andrew, I'm proud to be your aunt and friend. Well done for being able to tell the story without glorifying your own situation or circumstance. I'm proud that our younger generation, who are often portrayed in our press as drunken, uncaring yobs can show an amazing maturity and open mindedness towards diversity and life. I hope that your article reaches a wide audience who can learn from your experience.Well done again from a very proud aunt xx

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