I thought that I would tell you a little bit about my experience over half term visiting Pakistan. I was fortunate enough to get an invitation to join a cricket tour to Lahore - I was only able to get out there for 3 days in total, but I would still say it was worth it. Partly because it is a country that I have not been to before, and may well not visit again, but also because the hospitality that we received was second to none.
Pakistan is a fascinating country. It is the 6th most populous country in the world with a population close to a quarter of a billion. It has borders with China, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and India, as well as over 1000 km of coastline. The country was at one time ruled over by Alexander the Great, the Mongol Empire, and the British Empire, among others. The dominion of Pakistan was created in 1947, when the British seceded power and in 1956, Pakistan became a country in its own right - the first country created as an Islamic nation. A civil war in 1971 resulted in the independence of East Pakistan, which became Bangladesh.
Pakistan has the 6th largest armed forces in the world, and is also a nuclear power. It has fought a number of wars with its powerful neighbour India, with several focused on the disputed northern territories of Kashmir. This nearly exploded again in the last fortnight, with India claiming that a Pakistani terrorist group had carried out a bombing on Indian civilians. India struck back with bombing raids. Pakistan hit back by shooting down an Indian jet, and held the pilot as prisoner, but former international cricketer, and Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan intervened to ensure that the pilot was handed back to India, and the situation has calmed a little, for now. I managed to fly out the day before air space was closed over Pakistan (for 72 hours) as the tensions rose.
Pakistan is a very religious country. Not quite exclusively Islamic (I met the former Bishop of Lahore on my visit), but something like 99% Islamic. It has struggles with poverty and illiteracy among its people, but in Lahore, I did not see the crushing poverty that you might see in the slums in somewhere like Mumbai. There were very few women out about in Lahore, and there is no alcohol available in bars, shops or restaurants. There are a lot of people there with guns, for your security, most of the time! The older generation in Pakistan remains quite stubborn and hostile to outsiders, but the younger generation, and especially the younger educated Pakistanis are keen to engage with the West, and to get involved more widely in world affairs positively.
The economy is a combination of agriculture and industry, and it is growing well, but from a low base. They are absolute cricket fanatics, but there has been almost no international cricket in Pakistan for 10 years, since the Sri Lankan team bus was attacked by gunmen just outside the Gaddafi Stadium (a ground I was fortunate enough to play in during my trip), on March 3rd 2009.
Pakistan was a fascinating place to visit. Full of history, vibrancy, noise, colours and smells. Pretty awful traffic on the roads most of the time, but a people with intense pride in their country, their history and their culture.