Why Pakistan is Middle Eastern

The arguments around the broader regional framework Pakistan lies in have often centered on cultural/aesthetic similarities or pure geography. Here, I will argue that Pakistan lies in the Middle East using scientific metrics that describe human behavior.

Regional comparisons of this kind have to account for other explanatory variables. For example, comparing Pakistan, where the urban population is less than 40%, to countries like Turkey or Iran, where it is nearly 80% can be confounding. Also, these countries are much richer than Pakistan, in part due to their more urbanized and industrialized economies. Finally, these countries are not based on the plains around large rivers.

Luckily, there is a comparator which is similar to Pakistan in these control variables: Egypt. It is a predominantly rural country, with a per capita income not much higher than that of Pakistan.

We consider Hofstede’s six cultural dimensions. Hofstede gives countries scores along the following metrics: power distance, individualism, masculinity, individualism, uncertainty avoidance, long term orientation and indulgence. Higher numbers indicate a society and culture more oriented towards these values, and lower ones vice versa.

The figure below shows the scores of Egypt (blue), India (violet) and Pakistan (green) on various metrics. We see that along the metrics of individualism, uncertainty avoidance and indulgence, Egypt and Pakistan align very well with each other, but are very different from India. On power distance, Pakistan differs from India and Egypt, on long term orientation, Egypt differs from India and Pakistan, while they score similarly on the masculinity metric.

We see that Indian society is more individualistic and has higher tolerance for uncertainty and risk taking than Egypt and Pakistan. It is also much more indulgent.

From: https://www.hofstede-insights.com/product/compare-countries/

Hofstede attributes India’s scores on individualism and uncertainty to Hindu philosophy. The caste system is certainly an important factor on India’s power distance score. On the other hand, the shared religion of Pakistan and Egypt decisively shapes values regarding individual autonomy, risk aversion and indulgence.

There are other similarities as well. The preeminent minority group in both Pakistan and Egypt are Christians. However, Egyptian Copts are a stronger group with links to the West, but the Pakistani Christians are former Hindu Dalits, who converted during the British rule to unshackle caste chains. In terms of marriage customs, both Pakistan and Egypt see predominantly cousin marriages.

They key difference between Pakistan and Egypt is that Pakistan’s elite speaks English and has a vocal diaspora in Anglo countries. The longer and deeper historical imprint left by Britain has decisively shaped Pakistan, indeed much of the country was settled as canal colonies during British rule. Such a deep British imprint is not seen in Egypt, where the elite was originally Francophone, but an increasing switch to English is underway.

41 thoughts on “Why Pakistan is Middle Eastern”

  1. Metric wetric kay hum nahin qael (an Arabic word).. We do this echoing thing and Arabs apparently do not 🙂
    One of these days (probably after June) I am going to sit down and write a blog post about Pakistani culture and why it is Indian and why it is less Indian than it used to be, and likely to become lesser in the future, and why this is (mostly) a bad thing, but why this is a minority opinion, and why I still care enough to say things like this… and so on 🙂

    1. If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your ethnicity? Like, Muhajir, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pathan, etc?

        1. Yes, Omar bhai’s surname is a *very* common Gujjar surname in N India, esp N Rajasthan, Haryana and even in parts of Himachal and J&K.

    2. ” One of these days (probably after June) I am going to sit down and write a blog post about Pakistani culture ”
      Kaun jeeta hai is blog post ke publish hone tak..

    3. It is interesting you say “metric wetric”, which is more core-Hindi / E Punjab belt usage than “metric shetric” expected in W Punjab (that I would also gravitate towards).

  2. there are two major criticism

    1) india vs. pakistan is apples to oranges. india is several nationalities integrated into the same stage and now a supra-nation. the south may be culturally more distinct from the north than t he north from pk? who knows

    2) you started with a hypothesis and just seemed to be looking for a way to slice the data to support the hythesis

    1. “the south may be culturally more distinct from the north than t he north from pk? ”

      Totally. The only difference is religion and lack of “restrain-ing ” castes in Pakistan (which you have in N- India) . The entrepreneur, mercantile, the pencil pushers . This is like having a country of only and only Jats , and no Agarwals. So (even) more agriculture/warring culture than N-India.


    2. 1) Is there any serious behavioral survey/analysis that corroborates the claim that North India is more similar to Pakistan (presuming this means Pak Punjab) than other parts of India ? This seems to be an impressionistic view, regurgitated in anecdotes.

      There is a huge difference in visiting a place for a couple of days versus living and working there. And Hofstede’s work is primarily in the context of work/office culture.

      The variables I am discussing are much more likely to vary amongst castes and religions within a certain region, rather than across regions. For example, Brahmins from Kashmirs and Tamil Nadu will probably score a lot closer than Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus will.

      2) The basis for choosing Egypt as a comparator in the Middle East is clear, and there are studies that build on Hofstede’s data to show that his metrics show clear dependence on GDP per capita and urbanization.

      I am not aware of any data based/scientific study that negates my hypothesis. What I have is definitely not perfect, but it is a definite notch above anecdotal claims and impressions.

  3. I could be wrong but it’s much more complicated than that.

    Pakistan is left deliberately unimagined by its 1% and is stuck in perpetual halfway house.

    It suits the needs of the elite who can grasp onto whatever identity they need to hold onto power. It’s a bit of an Ancien Regime.

    The class structure of Pakistan is definitely “Anglo-Saracenic.” The landholding estates were never broken up, the education system was never reformed and even now as per the Tahir podcast, it’s all about fishing for the top 1%.

    How does this relate to culture; it’s created a layered cultural hierarchy with English on top, Urdu in the middle and provincial langs in the bottom.

    So depending on what prism of Pak you look at, you have very different regional makeups and identities.

    The chaste Urdu-speaking devout Punjabi Muslim will hew to Arabia as a cultural anchor, the rural peasant will be profoundly desi and tied to the earth.

    As for the elite; well at last night’s seminar I noticed a very tall 6ft+ Desi chap wearing a Cambridge Polo jersey. I could bet my bottom dollar he was Pakistani and from his airs + graces definitely a scion of the elite.

    He would be the type that would occupy this hazy grey area; where to the white man he shall preach the glory of Granada, to the Indian he will defend Pakistan but espouse South Asian brotherhood and to the rest of the Ummah invoke some pan-Islamic unity.

    I’m imputing alot to this anonymous chap but it is the Pakistani elite (which is now broad and deep enough into Pakistani society like the military but is busy extracting the country for what it’s worth) that has pioneered this hazy identity to it’s own benefit.

    1. Pakistan is an army with a country . If you are in the Army gravy train, you have made it. Otherwise under the train.

    2. In the long term, there may be a lot of benefit of Pakistan embedding itself more fully into the Middle Eastern network. This will need a linguistic shift though.

  4. Pakistan wont become either “Middle Eastern” or “Subcontinental” enough for its either side followers. It will swing within that spectrum.

    Its like dictatorship in Pakistan , its damocles sword will always hang over the country because its Punjabi majority enough (for dictatorship), but still has enough minority pops for it not to last infinitely (like the M Eastern dictatorships)

    1. My understanding is that the minority populations in Pakistan are fairly inconsequential…Sindhis and Mohajirs may have issues with the central government, but they don’t take up AK47s and IEDs to press them. Neither do Pashtuns for that matter. Balochs are small in population, diffusely distributed, and their insurgents are few in number. Christians and Hindus are tiny and powerless.

      Correct me if I’m wrong of course, but the only feasible threat to Pakistan would be the rise of a forceful Pashtun nationalist movement, which is probably a 2-sigma event. At best.

      All bets are off if the Pakistani water table collapses, of course.

      1. “Correct me if I’m wrong of course, but the only feasible threat to Pakistan would be the rise of a forceful Pashtun nationalist movement, which is probably a 2-sigma event. At best.”

        You don’t consider the Pashtun Tahafuz movement to be the kernel of such a movement? The media in Pakistan (under army pressure) has been suppressing coverage of it, but as far as I understand, it is a proper mass movement, with rallies drawing tens of thousands. Manzoor Pashteen has clearly rattled the army’s top brass, and for good reason.

        1. The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement is not fighting for an independent Pashtun nation but only for the rights of Pashtuns to be protected in Pakistan.

          I wouldn’t say the ethnic minorities in Pakistan are “inconsequential”. About 50% of the country is non-Punjabi. Pashtuns in particular are the second largest ethnic group and quite well represented in the Army. Each major ethnicity also has their own province which they control.

  5. Many Egyptians do not consider themselves ARAB. So the whole article is without foundation

    1. This is irrelevant. People’s self perceptions cannot override clearly seen trends in data and analysis.

  6. They are inconsequential enough to stop a dictator coming to power (Inconsequential might be a strong word though , they sometimes collaborate as well Musharaff-Mohajir, Ayub-Pathans) , but once dictators comes and stays , the more his power starts dissipating , the coalition against the dictator starts adding punjabi splinter groups. It gets added to already strong (enough) minority groups

    Think of this way, the South/Bengal can try as much as they want , they cant remove Modi unless splinter (Opposition) groups of the North dont join their coalition.

  7. South Asia: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Northwest India

    This is the cultural homeland of the Indo-Aryans. UP, Bengal, South India are in the periphary.

    You will find the oldest, most authentic, and well-preserved Indo-Aryan culture in this area.

    The Gangetic plain is ok, as far as Indo-Aryan culture is concerned, but not as interesting as compared to Punjab.

    Some people refer to Afghanistan as the Middle East, which is incorrect. Calling Pakistan Middle Eastern is even worse.

    I see a lot of criticism of Pakistan here. I think it stems from a lack of understanding of Indo-Aryan culture.

    I have spent 4months (total) in Pakistan in the last few years. I have also been to India many times, my family originating from Gujarat. Being someone who left Islam and has a lot of issues with Islamization, people would imagine I have many problems with Pakistan and would prefer India.

    This is not the case because I dont go to Pakistan to critisize the non-Indo-Aryan culture. I went there to enjoy the best of Indo-Aryan culture, and I knew what I was looking for, so I was happy that I was able to find it.

    The problem with the Pakistan bashers, is that they dont really know what Indo-Aryan culture is, because they havent spent the time I have learning about Indo-European Culture. Having a deep knowledge and appreciation of Indo-European allows me to see all the good Indo-European stuff you can only find in Pakistan.

    Pakisan bashers dont know what they are looking for, they critisize on the basis of it not being India, or the West, which doesnt make sense.

    Real Indo-Aryans can easily see the Indo-Aryan cultural foundation in Pakistan, under Islam, which is mostly superficial/political.

    1. @mzp1
      Yours are very interesting comments. You seem to have something in common with our resident Pakistan/Islam basher, Xerxes. Both of you are non-Muslims (going by your own assertions; I have no way to verify). Yet both of you have connections with Islam.

      Interesting difference is that while you think Pakistan is culturally Indo-Aryan, Xerxes places it in Iran-Turan cultural sphere.

      Also, while you have been profuse in admiring Pakistan’s indo-aryan culture, you have not been specific. Would love to see you elaborate more on this aspect with specific examples.

      1. OK, so in short.

        Pakistan clothing – most people wear ‘Punjabi’ clothing.
        Indian clothing – diverse, but many people just wear western style clothes

        Poetry – Sufi/ music from Pakistan seems to be most closely related to Indo-Aryan (Rigvdic) poetry in terms of themes and ideas. For instance, the popular song ‘Mast Kalandar’ has the line “Help my boat cross the river” – the metaphor of a boat crossing the river is a very Indo-European poetic metaphor, the metaphor used here probably goes back unbroken to PIE times.

        Art – in all forms, Fashion, Wood Carving styles, StreetArt, Truck Art etc all are reflective of the Indo-European tradition that uses Art to a high degree. Pakistani Art does not have an Islamic origin, because Islam has no Art of it’s own, so Pakistani Art is by definition Indo-Aryan. If you spend time reading the Rigvedic hymns (translations) you will see that the closest ‘taste’ or ‘style’ of Art is the Art and Aesthetics of Pakistan.

        It’s really just forms of Art, Taste, and Aesthetics to be honest. Also, Masculinity, Danger, Hospitality (Indo Europeans seemed to have a strong Guest/Host relationship, something we still see in South Asia).

        You also have lots of Tribal Cultures that have preserved some other aspects of Indo-Iranian Culture, and many of these are located in or close to Pakistan, Pashtuns, Swat Valley, Kashmir, in this case it could be fashions, food, culture (Pakhtunkhwa), cultural dances etc.

        India has all these things too, but it is just more concentrated in Pakistan and the regions surrounding it.

        Wood Carving is a good example. If we look at some of the Tribal carvings from Swat, they resemble Slavc wood carvings. There is little wood carving in India, and the best is probably in Kashmir, but in Pakistan you have a lot of it, in Punjab and in Swat, different styles and types of wood, but traditional and original.

        I have heard from people that both Punjabi and Sindhi have preserved their culture better in Pakistan than India.

        Poetry was the primary Artistic form (maybe the sole one) of the Indo-Aryans, and all Indo-European literature is in Poetic form. Pakistan seems to produce better songs today than anywhere else, the Sufi poets of the NW region, who helped bridge the gap between Islam and native South Asian culture, are the closest thing to the Rishis of the Rigveda.

        If you spend lots of time looking at Historic Indo-European Culture, you will start to see those same things, small innocuous details, present in aspects of Pakistani (NW Indian) Art and Culture.

        It’s just that these things are not well-documented.

          1. whats cringe? how about some elaboration?

            without that u just sound like a hater? maybe ur an indian with some problems/rivalry with pakistan.

    2. Mzp1, I am curious to hear more about what you see as Indo-European culture. Please expand.

    3. Indo-Aryan is a language family, not a ‘culture’.

      Its quite sad to see the effect of the isolation a lot of Indian-origin kids face in the racialized West. Hope you feel better.

      1. Sorry, dont agree, it is a culture as well as a language, though admittedly there are different versions of it in South Asia, Punjabi vs Deli vs Gujarati etc

  8. the world values survey has regional breakdowns within nations. to my surprise disapproval of premarital sex seems to be higher in eastern and southern south asia than it is in northern and western south asia. punjabis in particular seem to be chillaxed about a little premarital sex.

    1. Surveys sometimes hides the difference between reality and wish.

      Most in Sri Lanka would disapprove of premarital sex.

      Reality is pre marital sex is the norm.

      When I was a teenager, pre marital vaginal sex (for females) was rare.
      Other types of sex.

      Now pre marital vaginal sex for females is the norm.

      What would expect where the average marriage age for women is 24.

    2. Is this because you think higher relative status for women ought to correlate with more liberal attitudes about sex?

  9. Any country that is Islamic or Christian or Jewish is Middle Eastern for that matter!!

  10. // Sufi/ music from Pakistan seems to be most closely related to Indo-Aryan (Rigvdic) poetry in terms of themes and ideas //

    kSamyatAmindrastaM yannavidyate kimuvAca 🙂

    1. I tried some googling. Does this mean
      “Please excuse, Indra, what he’s speaking without knowledge” ?

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