What are the cultural differences between India and Pakistan?

I would not say that this pack-mentality is proving to be a advantage in Canada. In fact, its something that I’m having to unlearn slowly.

Recently a friend of mine, asked me to see if i could find someone in the airline industry to provide him some advice how to tailor his career towards the airlines business. Not only did I take him to meet someone I knew in the airlines business but I also pressed the other guy till he agreed to let my friend use him as a reference and get some good insider leads on current job openings as well.

Similarly, when another friend of mine asked me for a link up with someone in the healthcare industry, I tracked down a director in the healthcare sector and set up a meeting between the two.

You might think that my friends would have been pleased with the end result but they weren’t. One was uncomfortable in how much I was doing for him because his cultural context had a stigma in asking help from others in a friendly social circle. The other was unhappy because I seemed to have done more than she asked for.

It was a good education in how the Pakistani tribal/clan mentality does not work when transported to the 1st world.

Canada’s relationship and social matrix is far more relaxed, self reliant and dependent on the state than Pakistan has ever managed to achieve. Family relationships, friend circles and business networks all exist under the guarantee of public services from the state so citizens are less dependent on each other.

When you know the state’s police forces will provide you protection, the healthcare system will give you free care, the government will educate your children in as affordable a manner as possible, you have democratic representation of your interests in the government, the military stays in the barracks and so on: You become less reliant on your family and friends for help. The state takes on that responsibility. The state becomes a replacement for the clan and the tribal institutions of old.

So Canadian relationships between people lack that kind of intensity and expectation that Pakistani relationships do.

India, due to its longer period of stability, stronger public institutions and increasing reliance on the government has shed the vestiges of old clan/tribal identities more than Pakistan has. So Indians tend to associate fine with the Canadian relationship matrix once they immigrate here. Pakistanis from urban, well off environments as well.

But Pakistanis in a more general sense tend to hold on to the clan/tribe mentality. Once we arrive here as immigrants, we are harder to befriend because we consider the price each relationship imposes on us. A friend is not just someone you add on Facebook or say hi to in the office everyday.

A friend is one for whom you must be ready to spill blood: either your own or their enemy’s. A friend is one who can call you at 2:00 am crying for help and you’ll walk through a blizzard to their house. A friend is one you’ll give your bed to when they can’t meet rent while you sleep on the floor.

They are your clan, your tribe, your blood. And at the same time, you expect them to do the same for you. Your own prosperity and safety is intimately tied to theirs and if they were to fall, you are next in line.

We must weigh the price and cost each friendship imposes on us because we must be ready to meet the needs of our friends no matter what the cost. But once you have the title of friend, you can expect anything from us. Trust me, we go our entire lives sometimes not even giving the title of friend to our first cousins we share blood with, if we don’t consider them part of our pack.

It’s a symptom of growing up in Pakistan. The state has not yet developed, modernized or stabilized enough to act as an institutional substitute for the older, more ancient institutions of the tribe and the clan. The failure of the state at the macro level influences our relationships with each other at the micro level. We cannot call the police to defend our homes when ethnic riots take place. We cannot treat our children in hospitals whose fees we cannot afford or whom the government strips of funds to pay their cronies.

Our relationships, our clans, our tribes are the institutions we turn to fulfill the gap between the states resources/public services and our needs.

And herein lies the most noticeable difference in Indian and Pakistani cultures, a difference that has it’s roots in the political history and developmental differences of the Indian and Pakistani states.

Pakistanis are more clan/tribal oriented than Indians on average. Our state has not met our needs to a sufficient enough extent for us to be able to rely on it, so we rely on our clans and tribes instead.

In Canada and other foreign countries, this means that we carry over our Pakistani clan and tribal mentality more often. We are harder to befriend not because we are unfriendly, but because to us, friendship is both a burden and a deeper gift than can be understood in the 1st world mentality.

Our relationship is something that can be relied on to a much much more deeper extent than traditional relationships in the developed nation context where the state meets its citizen’s needs. Calling someone a friend in a Pakistani sense is a price for us, for we must now be willing to do a lot for that friend if they ever fall in trouble. We start preparing for your wars the moment we call you a friend. But we also expect you to do the same for us.

We measure you and your worth before calling you a friend. And let you measure ours as well. Our friendships are not relaxed affairs where we catch up on weekends to chat at a bar or a restaurant.

We ask ourselves questions like “can I care for his children if something happens to him?”. Or “can I fight for him when he gets into trouble with someone dangerous?”

These are questions shaped in the anarchic nature of the Pakistani state. Where citizens have learned to rely on their kin, their blood and their clan more than the state.

It translates badly into Canada, where the state is an effective arbitrator and citizens rely on it to fulfill their needs, thereby reducing their reliance on each other. Every Pakistani who moves here has to go through the process of slowly unwinding, relaxing and becoming more at ease as they learn to understand that the state here is not like the state back home. While not perfect, it is far more capable of meeting our needs and acting as a substitute for the clan/tribe/pack that we are used to relying on. That we need to expect less from friends and reduce the barriers for entry into our friend circle as well. A polite no thanks or a polite refusal to a request should not be death knells to our relationships with each other.

And slowly and steadily, we learn that the entire country we immigrated to and now call home, is to be slowly and steadily trusted as part of our pack, our tribe and our clan.

A typical Pakistani tribal meeting in the Northwest, where the coordination and pooled resources of the tribe serve as a force multiplier for citizens who are deprived of public services and state resource:

Image source:


If we cannot meet again in this life,

Let it be so that we care and help each other

By all means in all our future lives

Like a mother loves her only little child.

-Last Quatrain, Chinggisid Prince Tsoktu’s rock inscriptions (1624) in west-central Mongolia

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