Pakistan is a multi-ethnic country located on the western border of India and the eastern borders of Iran and Afghanistan. It is the fifth most populous country in the world with a majority Muslim population.
There is a vast diversity in every sphere of life amongst the people. Currently, the country can best be described as a cultural mosaic, where conservatism and traditionalism reside side by side with secularism and liberalism. Pakistan became a nation when it separated from India in 1947 (known as Partition) and there were further changes in 1971 when East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Pakistan has struggled throughout its existence to attain political stability and sustain social development. Islamabad, the capital, is in the foothills of the Himalayas in the northern part of the country, and the largest city, Karachi, is in the south, on the coast of the Arabian Sea.
In the last few years Australia has welcomed more Pakistanis than ever before, particularly to New South Wales. Recent migration from Pakistan to Australia has consisted mainly of professionals and highly educated people arriving under Skilled Migrant Visas with their families. Pakistanis have also come to study in Australia. Pakistan is a member of the Commonwealth and shares a passion with Australians for sports, particularly cricket.
Women often find life difficult here and can have limited contact with the general community as their spouse may have stronger English skills and be employed. Some women may have never lived without other female company to share housework, mind children or shopped alone before coming to Australia.
The family forms the foundation of society in Pakistan. Extended relatives have great significance, and the majority of Pakistanis live in multigenerational households whereby three, four or sometimes five generations reside together (including grandparents, uncles, siblings and cousins). People generally rely on their relatives more than anyone else for financial, social and employment opportunities.
The family, being such an intricate and supportive network, is kept private to outsiders. Significant precautions are taken to keep all problems, financial matters and gossip away from public knowledge. This is done to protect family honour and avoid the reputation of the family from being shamed. Upon marriage, a woman will move in with her husband’s family and be considered one of them. Many Pakistani marriages are arranged, and it is very common to marry someone within the extended family.
Urdu is both the official and national language of Pakistan. English is also an official language - most government ministries use English, and it is spoken by the country’s elite. Punjabi is the most widely spoken of the native languages (48 per cent of the population), but it does not have an official status in law. Pashto and Sindhi also have a significant number of speakers.
Pakistan is an Islamic Republic, meaning Islam is the official religion and laws are written consistent with its teachings. In the last census, 96.4 per cent of Pakistanis identified as Muslim. However interpretations of Islam vary. Women in Pakistan may choose to wear a “dupatta” which is a loose head scarf rather than a hijab, but conservatism is increasing. Pakistan also has a small Christian community. Although Christianity has had a significant influence in the country through education and health, Christians are marginalised and can be persecuted. Minority groups such as Christians are represented by the white stripe on the Pakistani flag.
Physical contact (e.g. hugs, handshakes and kisses) is only considered appropriate between men and women if they are family or close friends. A Pakistani will tend to behave rather formally and seriously when meeting you for the first time. Give them time to get to know you. Be deliberate and ask about a Pakistani’s well-being and their family when you see them. Be particularly hospitable and courteous as a Pakistani probably won’t ask for something.
If you need to criticise, offer praise followed by a general comment on improvement rather than a direct comment to the person. Never insult or criticise a Pakistani in public, it is considered a direct act of dishonour.
Sarcasm can be easily misunderstood and be offensive.
Avoid rushing or hurrying a Pakistani. Politics, religion, terrorism and conflict are discussed quite frequently among Pakistanis, but they may not be comfortable discussing them with an outsider and it may cause offence.
It is appropriate to acknowledge religious festivals and most will be happy to explain how they celebrate.