Few people around the world know that Pakistan is a country of 180 million people with a history that consists of a unique culture and traditions. But sadly that does not strike any outsider when he or she visits Pakistan. It is unusual to see foreigners and nature lovers roaming around the picturesque northern areas of Pakistan but still one can catch a glimpse of a few daring ones hiking and trekking albeit to their peril.

A short while ago mountain climbers venturing into the rugged terrain of Himalayas above many thousands of meters were massacred. K2, Broad peak, Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum peaks etc instead of looking like great tourist attractions looked like bottomless innards of perdition. But still there are great places where one can safely go like for instance the 700 hundred year old Baltit fort in Hunza and still functional British built Kalamdarchi fort from where one can catch a glance of China and Tajikistan. If you happen to be someone who is interested in intricacies of the Great Game this can be an excellent idea.

There are lots of other fascinating places as well. Deosai meadows, turquoise blue Attabad and Shandoor lakes, gushing Indus, Hunza and Ghizer rivers and angling for trout fish is a common sport. The mountains and valleys are a natural home for snow leopards, brown bears, ibex and Markhoors while migratory birds from Siberia make Pakistan home in winters.

Despite war on terror and its consequences, Pakistan is moving. One aspect that is not directly associated with the northern areas but is generally found to be prevailing in the tribal and largely rural areas is the plight of women and how badly they are treated. News of jirgas dishing cruel punishments such as stoning, death and marrying off the girls to the rival party raise hackles of the westerners. This makes for a bad image of the country. Chilling news of such victims keep scaring off the tourists, who regard men in these areas as cavemen. And in the wake of the government doing nothing to implement the laws, the image gets further tarnished. What is even more worrying are some reports and videos especially some from the northern areas and fata where women were shown beaten up in public places for not wearing Burqa.

Though in urban areas the situation is a bit different where womenfolk have some liberty. Education is one liberating factor. Universities like LUMS, GIK and NUST which impart education at par with most of good international universities are dispensing a good job by all means. But then we need to have more of these institutions because most of the masses have to make do with institutions where hold of certain religious parties is way too strong for them to get good education in order to become successful professionals once they have completed their courses. Fortunately, girls are becoming more and more visible on education landscape which is good for driving the engine of the state forward.

Pakistan is one of the few countries where a woman Prime Minister was elected twice but when about to for the third time was brutally murdered along with her foot-soldiers in a deadly bomb attack. Still, we can boast of having perhaps the largest percentage of women parliamentarians. That does not happen everywhere and credit goes to the senior legislators and old political clans for that. This is all the more laudable because the Taliban simply cannot tolerate the sight of women in the parliament, hence in a way this is an attempt to negate the kind of Talibanised society the TTP has been trying to convert our dear homeland into.

The story of these successes is not complete without the mention of our own ‘Malala’ getting nominated for Nobel peace prize at a tender age of sixteen giving the Taliban the strongest blow ever. Their nightmare scenario is the kind of modern culture thriving, say, with Shermeen Obaid Chinoy bringing Pakistan its first Oscar and there is also ‘Zinda Bhaag’ a local film now attracting attraction in the Oscars Club. Also the thriving fashion industry is spreading its wings to Paris, London and New York while Media industry in Pakistan is booming with over hundred news, music and entertainment channels and is fiercely independent. Surprised?

People of Pakistan have shown their resolve against extremism by rejecting retrograde forces again and again during elections and in their films and popular culture and media. The people of Pakistan are united in their resolve to end the menace of extremism whether through dialogue or otherwise but given what the Taliban have done and are intent on doing it is plain suicide to ever think about extending to them a hand of friendship. Those including Imran Khan who are bent upon doing so would find themselves deprived of their hand as the Taliban who have already killed more than forty thousand Pakistanis will not hesitate to cut if off. But then maybe let the Great Khan try that and find exactly how the Taliban will treat him.

But if you are a tourist or a westerner thinking what Pakistan is about and still have some doubts, visit Pakistan sometime soon and a pleasant surprise shall indeed be waiting for you.