Doing Business in Pakistan

History: With more than 170 million people, Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, with the second largest Muslim population after Indonesia. Pakistan is quite diverse ethnically and linguistically, due to a multitude of invasions by Persians, Greeks, Scythians, Arabs (who brought Islam), Afghans, and Turks. The British came into power in the eighteenth century and continued to rule until 1947, when Pakistan gained its independence. The separation from British India was not satisfactorily resolved and left Pakistan divided into western and eastern regions, which were separated by more than 1,000 miles (1,609 km). [View map of Pakistan (formerly known as West Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh (formerly known as East Pakistan).]

With the adoption of its own constitution in 1956, Pakistan became an Islamic Republic. For the next two decades, military rule prevailed. Tensions between East and West Pakistan increased as West Pakistan monopolized political and economic power, eventually leading to a civil war in 1970. With the defeat of West Pakistan, the president stepped down and leadership went to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. After 24 years of instability, East Pakistan declared independence and became Bangladesh in 1971.

In March 1977, Pakistan held its first elections, and Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won by a landslide. The victory was considered by many to be fraudulent, leading to violent protests that resulted in a military takeover by Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq. Zia tried, convicted, and executed Bhutto, despite worldwide protests. Zia then declared himself president in September 1978 and ruled by martial law until December 1985, when a measure of representative government was restored. Zia was killed in a plane crash in 1988, which lead to another round of elections in which Zulfikar Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir Bhutto was elected the first female prime minister. Benazir Bhutto was elected on two separate occasions, but both times she was removed from office for alleged corruption. Following the second removal, she moved to Dubai in self-imposed exile, returning in 2007 after being granted amnesty by President Pervez Musharraf. Two month later, on December 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. She was survived by her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who then became the leader of the PPP.

Zardari led a coalition that forced the resignation of then president, Pervez Musharraf. On September 9, 2008, Zardari became the president of Pakistan.

Language: The two official languages of Pakistan are Urdu and English. Pakistan also has four major provincial languages: Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, and Balochi, as well as three major regional languages: Saraiki, Hindko, and Kashmiri. Urdu is known as the national language of Pakistan, chosen to facilitate communication throughout Pakistan’s diverse linguistic populations. Urdu is only spoken as a first language by 7.5 percent of Pakistanis, but it is spoken as a second and third language by nearly all.

Culture: Greeting: As-Salamu Alaykum, May peace be upon you
Reply: Wa alaikum As-Salam, And may peace be upon you too

Introductions: Introductions should be made by mutual acquaintances. It is considered rude to introduce yourself.

Men will shake hands with other men, placing their left hand over their heart.
Men will bow slightly to women, placing their left hand over their heart. People of the opposite sex do not shake hands.
When men are introduced to elders or women while seated, they will stand as a sign or respect.
Women who know each other will greet one another with a kiss and hug.
Men who know each other will greet one another with a hug.
Gifts: It is customary to take a gift of flowers, chocolates, or sweets when visiting a home for the first time. Gifts are given and received with both hands and will not be opened in front of the giver. Do not give alcohol and do not hand the gift to a person of the opposite sex.

Women: Women have more rights in Pakistan than in some other well-known Muslim countries. That being said, Pakistanis hold their women in very high esteem and want to protect them from outside influences. Out of respect, it is best to avoid public displays of attention, long eye contact, and speaking to a member of the opposite sex face-to-face. Revealing clothes should be avoided, and legs must be covered up by both sexes.

Business meetings: English is widely used in doing business within major cities in Pakistan. If you are planning a meeting, make an appointment three to four weeks in advance, scheduling it in the late morning or early afternoon. Do not schedule a meeting during Ramadan or during the time of day in which Muslims pray.

When going to a meeting, be there on time, be prepared to wait, and dress formally. Once a meeting begins, there will be a prolonged period of informal conversation on family and health. Note that frequent interruptions can occur during a meeting due to an open door culture.

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