Is Pakistan safe for travelers?

Is Pakistan safe for travelers?

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Is Pakistan a safe country for travelers?

Pakistan is a mini paradise in south Asia but many western people still ask the question that Is Pakistan safe?. Pakistan has had a turbulent past. Taliban activity remained dominant between the late 2000s to early 2010s. Therefore, the country was seriously unsafe to visit. However, the credit goes to the country’s intelligence agency and military. And Pakistan has largely controlled the situation and almost 95 percent of the areas are now safe for travelers to visit.

Pakistan images

This is a country that has a fascinating culture, welcoming people, ancient history, and some of the most attractive and virgin mountains in the world. So, every year more foreigners go backpacking here. While most Western media still advise against travel to all or parts of the country, Pakistan’s tourism industry is growing day by day. Always check with your government’s travel advisory body. In this way, you will stay up to date with changes that could guide your travel schedule.

  • The current terrorism situation in Pakistan
  • Places in Pakistan travelers should avoid
  • Types of events to avoid in Pakistan
  • Public transport in Pakistan
  • Safety concerns for women

The current terrorism situation in Pakistan

Is Pakistan safe? After years of instability, Pakistan’s security is now stable. Therefore, the major parts of the country have been safe for visitors for several years. Except for a few areas Pakistan is no more dangerous than traveling in neighboring India The women in Pakistan are safer than the women in India.

Rosie Gabrielle in Pakistan
Rosie Gabrielle in Pakistan

The country that attracts the most travelers – such as Lahore, Islamabad, Multan, Karachi, Faisalabad, Gilgit-Baltistan, Dir, Swat Valley, Chitral, and Kalash – are all now very peaceful places to visit.

However, even though the majority of the country is safe, But, there are still some places, where the foreigners need a NOC (Non-Objection Certificate), a permission form from the police department to visit these places.

The media in Pakistan

Every time the Western media did not highlight the soft image of Pakistan. They are not showing Himalayan mountains.

Instead, they only mention it when something negative event caused by Islamist terrorists.

They highlight an incident like Bin Laden was killed: and the birth-country of Malala, the girl who was shot by the Taliban. Then she has won the Nobel peace prize. Since the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan hasn’t really got a good reputation in the Western world.

Places where travelers should avoid

Former FATA Region of (KPK) province.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)  included several tribal agencies and six frontier regions. North and South Waziristan are still facing terrorist activities and attacks. It is due to their proximity to and relationship with Afghanistan.

All of the former FATA regions are now officially a part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.  However, tourists do not prefer to go to these areas due to numerous police checkpoints on the way in.

FATA KPK
FATA

Torkham Border

Torkham is the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is officially open for immigration.

Numerous travelers with valid Afghan visas have crossed over from Pakistan in recent years without incident. However, the Afghanistan side of the border is highly unstable and sees frequent bombings and other attacks.

If traveling to Afghanistan from Pakistan, it is better to travel by air, as Torkham is not a casual border crossing like Wagah over in Punjab.

Torkham border
Torkham border

Kohistan

Kohistan is a district of KPK that runs roughly from Dasu to Chilas along with the famous (and rightly so) Karakoram Highway. At present, the region is relatively safe, but this is a very conservative part of Pakistan and in the recent past there have been terrorist attacks and extremist sectarian violence.

Like most other “unsafe” places in Pakistan, you will not be allowed to spend any time freely traveling here as a tourist. It is, however, highly likely you will pass through this part of Pakistan on your way up to Gilgit Baltistan. There are many police checkpoints where passport copies are taken, and in the unlikely event you find yourself stuck there overnight, security will be provided free of cost.

Palas valley kohistan
Palas valley kohistan

Azad Kashmir LOC

India and Pakistan have a difficult relationship, and nowhere is it more evident than Azad Kashmir. The province itself is safe from terrorism. It is the most attractive region for foreign tourists. They can now visit the cities of Muzaffarabad and Mirpur, towns and villages near the LOC (line of control).

There’s really no need to worry about this, though – various checkpoints ensure that travelers don’t get anywhere near this turbulent border.

Azad Kashmir LOC
LOC Kashmir

Balochistan

Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest and least-visited province. It is virtually off-limits for foreigners.  Due to various threats from Balochi separatist groups, the Pakistani government is not keen for foreigners to witness the questionable tactics involved in handling these groups.

Public buses, luxury hotels such as the Serena, and local bazaars have all been the target of recent attacks in Balochistan. Quetta city is quite unstable.  It is difficult to spend time here alone. To cross Taftan Border with Iran, you will have a full security team with you 24/7 all the way until Karachi.

The regions of Balochistan along the Makran Coastal Highway, including Pakistan’s magnificent Hingol National Park, are relatively safe to visit and are becoming more and more popular with domestic travelers. But as a foreigner, you need  NOC. This is, however, likely to change in the next couple of years.

Balochistan
Balochistan

Culture of Pakistan, cultural diversity in Pakistan

The culture of Pakistan is famous all over the world. Culture is an expression of life in the form of art, customs, etc. of a particular civilization or group.

Pakistan came into being on Aug 14, 1947. The UN data reported the population of Pakistan 216.6 million in 2019.  Pakistan is a buffer zone between the British and Russia. So, it has given birth to several ethnic groups.

The interaction of invaders and locals gave birth to a common language called Urdu. Therefore, Urdu has become a national language. However, the local people have been preserved and continued the culture of Pakistan.

Ethnic group composition in Pakistan

Ethnic Group and Percentage of the total population of Punjabis 44.15%, Pushtoons 15.42%, Sindhis 14.1%, Serakis, 10.53% Muhajirs – Urdu Speaking 7.57%, Balocuhis 3.57% and Others 4.66%.

The culture of Pakistan has a distinctive flavor. This separates it from the other culture of the world. The people of (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) KPK have developed a strong desire towards the future as compared to the people of other provinces

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is locating in the northwest of Pakistan. Pushto is the largest speaking language. Then, Sariki is the second-largest speaking language. Peshawar is the Provincial capital. Hospitability is a major part of the culture of Pakistan. Similarly, the people of KPK are very brave and hospitable.

babe-e-khyber
babe-e-khyber Peshawar

One can entertain and gain knowledge from the fertile land of Punjab. Punjab is located in the east of  Pakistan. So, Punjabi and Sariki are the largest speaking language.

It is important to know about the following legendary poets who contributed immense value to the culture of Pakistan.

Guru Nanak – 15th-16th
Shah Hussain – 16th century
Sultan Bahu – 16th-17th century

Sindh is situated in the south of Pakistan. The culture of Sindh is famous due to its traditional dresses and folklore. Sarkash Sindhi is a famous poet of Sindh. Similarly, the legend of Moriro, the epic poetry tale of Dodo Chanesar, abounds with folklore. There are almost 12 percent, Sindhi speakers, in Pakistan. In Sindh, it is the language of the majority. Sindh has been the representative of a great civilization.

Tourism in Pakistan

In Pakistantourism is a growing industry. In 2010, Lonely Planet mentioned Pakistan “tourism’s ‘a big industry for many years”. The country is geographically and ethnically diverse.  It has a number of historical and cultural heritage sites. So, it was also declared the third-highest potential adventure destination in the world for 2020. As security in the country improves, tourism increases; in two years. So, it has increased by more than 300% in recent years.  The Pakistani government is giving online visa services to 175 countries. Similarly, 50 countries were offered visas on arrival. So, it is making a visit to Pakistan easier. There are travel vloggers, who showed the beauty of the country. They show every part of the country, especially the northern areas Hunza and Skardu.[9]

Ranking of Pakistan

In 2018, the British Backpacker Society ranked Pakistan the world’s top adventure travel destination.  It described the country as “one of the friendliest and beautiful countries on earth.  As the country has mountain scenery . Therefore, it is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination”.

The famous Us magazine Forbes ranked Pakistan as one of the ‘coolest places. Forbes ranked Pakistan in 2019. .The World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report placed Pakistan among the best countries in the world. It placed Pakistan in the top 25 percent of global destinations. The country has its World Heritage sites.  As the country ranges from the mangroves in the Indus delta to the Indus Valley Civilization sites including Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa.

According to the World Economic Forum‘s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2017, the benefit from travel and tourism to Pakistan’s GDP in 2015 was US$328.3 million. So, the tourism of Pakistan constituting 2.8% of the total GDP. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the direct contribution of travel and tourism to Pakistan’s GDP in 2016 was US$7.6 billion (PKR 793.0 billion), constituting 2.7% of the total GDP.By 2025, the government predicts tourism will contribute ₨1 trillion (US$6.2 billion) to the Pakistani economy.

The Guardian magazine.

In October 2006, one year after the 2005 Kashmir earthquakeThe Guardian released a list of “the top five tourist sites in Pakistan” to help the country’s tourism industry.[16] The sites included Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, the Karakoram HighwayKarimabad, and Lake Saiful Muluk. To promote the country’s cultural heritage, in 2007, Pakistan launched the “Visit Pakistan” marketing campaign that involved events including fairs, religious festivals, regional sporting events, arts and craft shows, folk festivals, and openings of historical museums.

In 2013, 565,212 tourists visited Pakistan, contributing $298 million; these figures have since risen even more in 2021. By comparison, Pakistan’s domestic tourism industry is estimated at 50 million tourists who travel in the country on short trips usually between May to August. The largest inflow of tourists is from the United Kingdom, followed by the United States, Germany, India, and China.

History of Pakistani Tourism

In the 1960s Pakistan was part of the famous “hippy trail”. The movement was stretched from Europe to Asia.  But that tourism disappeared with the disappearance of the liberal face of Pakistan.  Dictator Gen Zia ul-Haq Islamized the country. Then,  subsequent Taliban and al-Qaeda 9/11 times westerners became a target of local branches of the terror outfits.  Domestic tourism came to halt due to terrorism.  It has taken the lives of more than 65000 in Pakistan since 2001.

Current Policies-Travelers entering Pakistan

As the WHO has declared COVID-19 a pandemic. So, the Government is making all-out efforts to deal with a rapidly evolving situation.  It is a challenge. As it is not only for Pakistan but the whole world.  So, it is to ensure that we take proactive, comprehensive, and coordinated.

Travelers entering Pakistan must:

Provide traveler contact information through:

The PassTrack mobile app or

An accessible web-based form

Undergo screening by a health official

Provide a certificate of negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test (see below)

So, mandatory COVID-19 RT-PCR required prior to travel.

Starting 5th October 2020, all International Travelers coming to Pakistan have to follow these instructions. In addition, the countries in Category A are exempted from mandatory COVID-19 testing.  Moreover, countries in Category B will require a mandatory negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test that has to be taken within 72 hours of the travel date.  As the countries in Category C are restricted. So, they are only allowed as per guidelines by NCOC.

Updated List effective from 6th April 2021

Category B Countries

International Travelers from countries not specified in CATEGORY A required COVID-19 PCR test before commencement of travel to Pakistan.

All Countries not specified in Category A and C, fall in Category B

Category C Countries

International Travelers from countries in Category C are restricted and only allowed as guided by NCOC decision

 

Sr #        Country Name

1              Argentina

2              Bangladesh

3              Bhutan

4              Bolivia

5              Brazil

6              Chile

7              Colombia

8              Costa Rica

9              Croatia

10           Cuba

11           Czenchia

12           Dominican Republic

13           Ecuador

14           Ethiopia

15           India

16           Indonesia

17           Iran

18           Iraq

19           Kenya

20           Maldives

21           Mexico

22           Mongolia

23           Namibia

24           Nepal

25           Netherlands

26           Paraguay

27           Peru

28           Philippines

29           Poland

30           Slovenia

31           South Africa

32           Sri Lanka

33           Thailand

34           Trinidad and Tobago

35           Tunisia

36           Ukraine

37           Uruguay

38           Venezuela

Pass Track App

Use this mobile app to speed up your arrival process in Pakistan. So, spend less time with immigration and public health officers. Submit your information easily.  And securely using the app within 48 hours before arriving in Pakistan.

The app helps you to:

Provide mandatory information that’s required for entry into Pakistan

Moreover, it reduces your wait time and points of contact at the airport

In addition, it provides the Government of Pakistan with voluntary updates.  And it also provides the development of any symptoms during the 14 days after arriving in Pakistan.

Types of events to avoid in Pakistan

It’s best to avoid political rallies or protests. Political violence does happen occasionally. However, this is absolutely not targeted at tourists/foreigners.

The terrorist has mostly targeted Madrassas (Islamic schools). Similarly, minority religious events like Sufi festivals and Shia processions have also been the target of terrorist attacks in past.  An example of such events was the bombing of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine in Sindh Province in 2017.

If you want to go to these areas,  it’s best to go along with a local friend. Even so, tourists have visited such places (including Lal Shahbaz Qalandar) without issue in recent years.

Public transport in Pakistan

It is the best way to travel in Pakistan if you don’t fancy learning how to ride a motorbike. Public transport is safe for travelers these days.

Local jeeps or cars are the means of public transport.  It actually tends to be the most low-profile mode of travel. Additionally, NATCO is a government-run bus/van service that operates in and to Gilgit-Baltistan.

NATCO Express
NATCO Express

Pakistan has many bus services. The Daewoo and Faisal Movers are the best services. Both are professionally operated. They have reclining seats, and often have a security guard on board.

Hitchhiking is very famous in Pakistan. If you have experience doing it, go ahead. General safety isn’t as guaranteed as the bus/jeep/car options, but from a terrorism perspective, there is very little risk.

Safety concerns for women

Women are safe in Pakistan. Nevertheless, if you plan to go to the areas where NOC is needed, wearing a local dress and covering your hair is always a smart move.

Women do not give their phone numbers to strangers. Because harassment via text is a significantly more legitimate concern than terrorist violence. Do your research before you come to Pakistan and read this guide on what you need to know as a female traveler in Pakistan.

European Union Ambassador Androulla Kaminara remarks about Pakistan
European Union Ambassador Androulla Kaminara remarks about Pakistan

The country itself is very beautiful and diversified. In addition, it is still quite out-of-mainstream, with few international tourists mostly populating the northern side. Hence if you manage to travel outside Ramadam and summer months (although for the mountain area summer is the best season), then you may enjoy better the highlights of this alternative land. One can come traveling overland from Iran through the tricky Baluchistan.

Punjab, Islamabad, and Sindh (close to India) are more easy-going and almost access-free.

Punjab and Sindh are more easygoing. One can go by air, or by bus. A private taxi can charge 10000 rupees from the capital (Islamabad) to Lahore.

In terms of security, there is no problem, with or without guard(s). One can go very close (10-20 Km) to the Afghan border. The border is (e.g. Kalash Valley or Garam Chasma or Dalbandin, etc.). So, it can be without any risk or danger. As the entire country has been peaceful for the last 5 years.  Therefore, the incidents and victims reduced dramatically. We can say that the country is back to a safe and peaceful region. Kidnappings, bomb attacks, and shootings are a part of history.

It is a fact that the government and army have invested a lot of money in security.  Pak Army raids against terrorist groups, with a twofold goal:

– promote trust in the country for external investors (e.g. China)

– foster tourism industry

And we have to recognize they are currently succeeding in this task. Numbers say so.

STRICT LIMITATIONS IN SUPPLIES AT RAMADAN TIME

The same geographical distinction applies here. Baluchistan and KPK are a little conservative. Other areas are more tolerant. Although as a foreigner potentially you should be allowed to violate fasting rules.  As most of the shops and restaurants closed at this time. So, one has to feed himself with biscuits and crackers. Despite people normally not openly blaming you (as you are a foreigner).  In some of those traditional areas, they tend to look disapprovingly at you. Better to ignore. There is no restriction to eat any food or drink. It is very easy for searching for good food or just for food : )

Frugal meal at Taftan police station (in custody)

UNBEARABLE HEAT BETWEEN MAY AND JULY

If you go to Pakistan at the end of May or June, then you had better directly headed for the mountains in the North. All other areas are completely off-limits with scorching, pre-monsoon temperatures steadily above 40 degrees Celsius. Once in the South-Eastern part of the country, one could detect the inhuman value of +53° : ) This is the perfect season to be in KPK and Gilgit-Baltistan instead.

UNEASY ROADS AND TRANSPORTATION (FOR INDEPENDENT TRAVELLERS)

If you choose to travel by public transportation, then expect hard times too. Minivans are quite regular (especially in the morning) and cheap. Notwithstanding, they leave at unscheduled hours (when they are extra full : ) quite overloaded with passengers. 3-seats rows are normally filled with 4 persons. Moreover, they seldom stop along the way, even after several hours. One of the tough journeys ever is between Chitral and Gilgit (approx. 390 Km). You have to break the trip into 2 days where you have to travel in those squeezing minivans respectively 7 hours (first day to Herchin). Then,  10 hours (second day to Gilgit) with hot temperatures (in summertime) and on dirty, bumpy, and curvy roads above 3000 meters.

However, the sceneries there are magnificent.

deosai-jeep-safari
Photo credit: hunzaexplores.com

SOCIAL AND RELIGIOUS RESTRICTIONS

Again internal geography counts here. Same traditional regions as indicated above. Pakistanis in general are very strict Muslims. We may call them hardliners. However, if you go to Gilgit, Punjab, Islamabad, and Sindh, you will find a more relaxed atmosphere. You may even taste a national, legal beer (Murree) produced in Rawalpindi : ) On the contrary, PKP and Baluchistan are incredibly conservative. Main aspects include:

– Austere compliance with Islamic precepts (regular praying, stringent fasting, severe dress code, alcohol prohibition, simple life, no sex before marriage, etc.)

Few women around the streets

– In addition,  women partially or totally excluded from social interaction. You cannot take pictures nor even try to talk with them in open spaces. In public transport, they can only seat next to other women or family members.

– Moreover, women dressed in “monastic” clothes (burka and niqab are very frequent)

– Sons have to stay in the family house until they are married

Here life is very limited and communities are applying a strong social control beyond religious norms.

Honor and reputation are very important.

Pakistanis are very kind and generous. So, they are fairly curious towards foreigners too. Since the tourist sector is not developed yet, they still greet and welcome them in a cheerful and passionate way. Furthermore, they tend not to be too harsh against foreigners’ moral conduct. Many of them even recognize the urge for a change in their society. The young are more in line with Western standards. Nevertheless, tradition and legacy are still powerful here. As social, cultural, and religious models preserve a widespread consensus among the entire population, inevitably in the grip of a theocratic system. So, it will certainly take a long while to secularize all institutions.

I would definitely recommend Pakistan as a “fresh”, unexploited destination to travel to. Security trends have shown a reassuring improvement in all the regions. In addition, you will be given your free, personal bodyguards : ) Petty crime is also low.

Pakistanis are hospitable and bighearted. They respect foreigners and want them to have an unforgettable experience in their country, ravaged and isolated for a long time.

Places in KPK that are safe for travelers

Western governments often specifically mention KPK in their travel advisories, saying the entire province to be seriously dangerous. But in reality, almost 95 percent of the places are safe for tourists.

Peshawar, Mingora, Swat Valley, Dir Temergira (yes, Swat Valley was very dangerous 12 years ago, but today it’s at total peace) Chitral, the Kalash Valleys, and Upper Chitral are all stable. many tourists visit these places even the days of Covid 19.  As of 2019, foreigners have also been able to move about these specific locales without bodyguards.

To the question is Pakistan safe? Let us take the example of Kalash which is the most secure and mini paradise for travelers.

KALASH:

Till the eleventh century, the Kalash ruled over Lower Chitral, up till Hurbuns. Bal Singh was a ruler of Kalash who was defeated by Khow.  He pushed forward to the southwestern valleys of Chitral. Living with the Khow, they gradually embraced Islam. But those in the valleys of Bomborate, Birir, and Rumbur followed their own religion and culture.

Kalasha kids
Kalasha kids

Related Article: Overall structure of the Kalasha songs

Until the 1970s, this tribe was hidden in the mountains of Hindukush. Not much was known about this tribe living in the three valleys of Bomborate, Birir, and Rumbor. This pagan tribe of 3,000 people clings to its own distinct culture and traditions. Their origin is still not known. Some historian says their original home was in Syria or Tsiyam, the old name of Thailand. From here, they migrated to Afghanistan and then to Pakistan. The Kalash are illiterate but they are talented people and excel as masons and craftsmen. They are very friendly with everyone and are fond of music and dancing. Kalasha or Kalashamun is their native language. And when you come to Kailash, it will automatically come out of your mind whether Is Pakistan safe?.

One can read more about Chitral and Kalash by clicking the link below.

HISTORY AND PEOPLE OF CHITRAL


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