It has been almost two months since I arrived at Karachi's Quaid-e-Azam International Airport. During my eight weeks in Pakistan, I travelled to five cities in three provinces and traversed over 3,600 kilometers by a combination of train and bus. (Air journeys are not a great way to experience a country so no domestic airplane flights on this trip.)
In Pakistan, I interacted with a cross-section of society, e.g. academics, artists, businesspersons, government officials, retired bureaucrats, military officials, professionals and, of course, 'ordinary' citizen encompassing various walks of life. The Pakistani lifestyle grew on me and I became as much a Pakistani as when I left my country of birth in 1996.
My travels took me from Karach to Multan (train), Multan - Lahore (bus), Lahore - Islamabad (bus), Islamabad - Swat (bus), and then back to Lahore via Islamabad (bus). From Lahore I took the train back to Karachi.
Today's Pakistan is different from a few years ago. for Pakistan, the post-Musharraf era has been a difficult one. Disillusionment with the civilian dispensation runs high. National institutions have decayed - some beyond repair.
To many, the nation sustains itself only on hope.
Hope for positive change. Hope the cricket team wins against India. Hope the electricity resumes again quickly. Hope the roads are repaired. Hope the government demonstrates good leadership soon... and so on.
Nevertheless, I also saw Pakistan's dynamic side.
A Pakistan brimming with positive energy - a private sector ably filling the void created by poorly managed national institutions. A country whose national institutions are administered by high quality bureaucrats fighting the odds and braving the system. A country crammed with dedicated citizens making a significant difference at the micro and macro level, through individual effort and collective voluntary organizations.
I witnessed a Pakistan which has rejected Taliban style Islamic conservatism. Surely, Pakistanis are generally conservative Muslims - this is no Indonesia socially speaking - but my observations in Swat tell me the worst of the Islamist ideological challenge is behind the country.
Pakistan may still fall to the mullahs, but only through violence and intimidation.
The mullahs know this fact only too well. Consequently, the religious ideologues are playing a long waiting game, attempting to infiltrate civil institutions while sustainable a low level campaign of violence against key sections of society. In particular, Muslim and Non-Muslim minorities are targeted by Islamist ideologues. Intimidation is the key weapon of the mullahs.
Civil society is fighting back. Arts are flourishing. Cultural activities are aplenty. Women are embedded in all aspects of the work force. The passing of the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010 provides a legal basis for women activists to take their cause farther.
In short, Pakistan is a nation of contradictions, reflecting the country's cultural diversity but also its identity crisis.
In the next few months, I will post several articles outlining my reflections about Pakistan's current situation and trends for the future.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at email@example.com.