PAKISTANI CULTURE NIGHT
By Johana Bhuiyan ’13
Donned in Pakistan’s national attire, Syed Sharukh Zafar, a Lehigh graduate student and Karachi native spoke to students, faculty and community members about various facets of India’s neighbor to the east on Thursday during the Global Union’s Pakistani Cultural Night.
After indulging in vegetable samosas and beef kebabs, two of many Pakistani delicacies, Zafar explored basic facts about the South East Asian country in a presentation one student called, “informative and interesting.”
“It didn’t seem like a Wikipedia list of facts like I expected it to be,” said Jessica Correa, ’13. “I learned things that I didn’t even really think to ask about.”
Correa said the most unexpected fact Zafar presented was the Pakistani population’s rate of growth. With a rapidly increasing population of 180 million, Pakistan, the capital of which is Islamabad, boasts the title of one of the fastest growing nations in the world.
“Hey, we like to make babies,” Zafar said jokingly.
Though seemingly homogenous, Pakistan’s population accounts for a number of ethnic, religious and racial groups. The flag, Zafar said, mirrors this diversity.
“The flag is 80 percent green which represents the Muslim majority and 20 percent white which symbolizes the minority and it shows that everyone should be represented equally under the constitution,” he said.
In the center of this green and white flag lies a Crescent moon, which represents progression, and a star, which some argue represents light and knowledge while others argue the five points of which represent the five pillars of Islam.
One student said she admits that she wasn’t aware that there was more than one “type of Pakistani.”
“When you think of countries other than the ones you find in the west you think one type of people,” said Sarah Lynott, ’13. “You think they all are of one ethnicity, generally one religion and one overarching culture unlike the countries like the U.S. that are known to be melting pots.”
This diversity as well as many dimensions of Pakistani culture can be attributed to the pre-modern history of the country, namely the history of Pakistani-Indian relations.
Zafar briefly referenced the continued conflict over the state of Kashmir when sarcastically calling neighboring India Pakistan’s “best friend.” British India was divided into Hindu India and the Muslim state of Pakistan in 1947 in an attempt to escape religious persecution. Pakistan was then separated into West Pakistan and East Pakistan the latter of which, after a war, became the independent state of Bangladesh. Though heavily influenced by Persian culture, as all of these lands were once a part of the Mughal Empire, Pakistan or the Islamic Republic of Pakistan also continues to reflect remnants of British and Indian culture.
Much like the British structure, though the Pakistani federal government includes a Presidential position currently being held by Asif Ali Zardari it is primarily parliamentary in structure. The current Prime Minister is Raja Pervaiz Ashraf.
The south East Asian country is divided into six main ethnic groups that include Punjabi, Pashtun, Sindhi, Muhajirs, Saraikis and Balochs. However, the three main national holidays reflect religious values rather than cultural and are in fact the Muslim holidays of Eid Ul’ Adha, Eid Ul’ Fitr and Ashura. Other national yet non-religious holidays include Basant, which celebrates the arrival of spring, as well as Pakistani Independence Day which is on August 14 and marks Pakistan’s independence from British India.
Though varying in ethnicities Pakistani cuisine, Zafar said, the most popular of which is a rice dish called Biryani, is consistently rich in spices and contains a plethora of meat.
This thriving country has about 7 million of its citizens living in countries overseas, primarily in Europe and North America and is thus extending its influence beyond its borders.
Though the economy no longer depends predominantly on agriculture, it continues to account for more than one fifth of the economic output.
“Our economy has always been agriculture-based but it has shifted in the last 10 years to industrial,” Zafar said.
Although, relations with India fluctuate, Pakistan’s relationship with China remains strong. In 1959 the Karakoram Highway, also known as the Friendship Highway, was built to connect China and Pakistan and is the highest paved highway in the world. This road continues to connect these two Asian powerhouses and marked an increase in tourism as well as trade between the two.
Beyond culture, Zafar also pointed out that the nation has made great scientific strides including, among a number of other advancements, being the first Muslim country to launch a satellite into space making it the second country in South Asia to do so. Additionally, Dr. Ayub K. Ommaya a Pakistani native pioneered a new type of chemotherapy that can be applied directly to the site of the tumor called the Ommaya Reservoir.
Students in attendance said there were many facts they were never aware of prior to the presentation.
“When you think Pakistan, you think South Asia and what most people consider the third world,” said Shaun Desiderio, ’13. “But it’s clear that Pakistan has progressed well beyond its provincial ways of the past and has managed to be economically and culturally relevant.”