TEHRAN - The Pakistani Embassy in Tehran held a function to commemorate the occasion of Kashmir Black Day, which marked the 66th anniversary of the Indian occupation of part of Jammu and Kashmir.
At the end of the function on October 27, I had a chance to interview Mr. Sohail Siddiqui, the chargé d’affaires of the Pakistani Embassy in Tehran.
Mr. Siddiqui, a young man his early 30’s, well-traveled and knowledgeable gave us his perception of Iran.
Here is what he said:
I have traveled quite a lot in the last 3.5 years of my stay in Iran. I have traveled to Qazvin, Shiraz, Esfahan, Gorgan, Bandar Abbas and there is a lot of mix about Iran from an outsider’s point of view.
The picture you get from Iran is through newspaper, TV or your readings.
People know very little about Iran from outside even in my country (Pakistan) despite the fact that we are neighbors.
Most Pakistanis have positive image of Iran, because Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan as a nation, so we have a good relationship with Iran. One fifth of our population is Shia and they all come for pilgrimage to Iran every year, quite a large number; around 50,000 Pakistanis.
The image that the Western world projects, specially the mind shattering one, is that women are suppressed here in Iran, but this is completely false. Iranian women are in every facet of life and economic life. They are present in every sector of economy more than Pakistani women who are mostly housewives; although the trend is changing; they are now police officers, doctors etc.
Another aspect of Iran is that it is a big country and I feel the water management is good. Iran is an arid country with no major rivers. Every drop of water is saved here. There are over 80 dams here; a good example of development and conservation. This was very impressive.
Maintaining law and order is another good part of Iran. Terrorism and robbery are quit high in major cities in Pakistan, but in Iran you could walk in the middle of the night in the street without any fear. Iran is a peaceful country not what you would find in the neighboring countries. You see that crimes like murder, rape, armed robbery, bank robbery are very low here compared to the rest of the region and the credit goes to the government, although the government can be accused of many things since the public is not happy with a lot of things.
I went to Gorgan, a city near Turkmenistan located in a rural backwater area. I found the city quite developed compared to many cities in Pakistan. Hotels, buildings are rising up there.
In our country, we have electric crisis in some parts there is no power for 18 hours. In Iran hardly ever power breaks down. Gas supply is uninterrupted, telephone hardly goes out of order, all basic amenities are available in Iran and Iranians should appreciate it.
Many countries in the world are facing problems. Iranians complain about political system but to be honest in terms of quality of life, one thing I have been impressed is the quality of medicine and food. Quality of meat, milk, and other food items are strictly monitored. In restaurants hygiene is very good. Nobody can get away with giving less weight at shops or supermarkets.
In Iran the law is equal for everyone. Police can fine even an important person like a member of Majlis or any other officials. Everyone is afraid of the law. The police are not afraid of any one and they are not allowed to work independently.
There are a lot of plus points in Iran. Courtesy has an important role in Iranian culture.
A diplomat has to be very objective; he has to see things without any prism, the ground reality. I travel by bus in Iran. I take bus number 7 to home which goes to my house on Jorand St. The best way to see how the commoners are and live is by traveling by the bus. If you travel in your official car, you are isolated. If a seat gets vacant on the bus every one offers it to the other person. “Please, you take the seat” they tell each other, and the seat remains vacant for a while as they want the other to take the seat. There is a lot of courtesy in Iranian culture which is lacking in our country and others. In my country a seat doesn’t remain vacant.
There are a lot of positives which Iranians probably don’t realize. Iran has a small population compared to my country. Iran has a population around 76 million where as Pakistan has 179 million.
Here surprisingly I don’t see many children in Iran. In our country it is common to have 5-6 children, here though only one or two. The quality of life is much better for children. They are well-fed, well-clothed.
There is over 90 percent literacy in Iran. The rate is much lower in other countries. There are a lot of plus points which I never expected.
Iran is a rich country in terms of gas and oil, but I never expected that the infrastructure would be that good.
Iranian women are not afraid to travel alone but not in Pakistan. Women are very independent, expressive; it took me about 3 and half months to sign a lease for a house here. Each time I found a place, the owner said my lady doesn’t agree to rent it to you. I found out that most houses are in the name of the wives, not men. So women in Iran are very powerful economically.
In many ways Iran is very different from what we thought. Iran is a very liberal country. Even Shia clergymen (in Iran) are much more progressive than Sunni clergy in our country on issues like family planning, birth control, etc. Shia clergy is more broad-minded than Pakistani Sunni clergy in Pakistan.
That has to be seen that Iran is a very vibrant society despite political isolation. Iranian travel to Dubai, Turkey, India, though they don’t come to Pakistan, but not many Iranians come to Pakistan. That is an issue we need to be working on.
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