Digital Media in Pakistan

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Pakistan is a federal parliamentary republic consisting of four provinces and four federal territories. With over 170 million people, it is the sixth most populous country in the world and has the second largest Muslim population after Indonesia. It is an ethnically and linguistically diverse country with a similar variation in its geography and wildlife. With a semi-industrialized economy, it is the 27th largest in the world in terms of purchasing power. Since gaining independence, Pakistan's history has been characterized by periods of military rule, political instability and conflicts with neighboring India. The country faces challenging problems including terrorism, poverty, illiteracy and corruption.

The traditional media landscape has transformed drastically in the past decade. Pakistan, a country currently experiencing upheaval, the role of digital media are playing a big part in its political movements. Digital media usage in Pakistan has increased tremendously, with a double in the number of facebook users. As liberalized as it is, digital media is constantly under the microscope of the religious right in Pakistan. The intricacy of the digital media market in Pakistan proves to be very fascinating. Given the large amount of regulations placed on its type of usage, users improvise with creative methods to get around these restrictions, producing content that serves the digital media market in Pakistan well.

Asia Society shared this short summary of 2011: The Year of Social Media in Pakistan which you might find a useful starting point.

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Digital Literacy in Pakistan


The number of fixed line telephones in Pakistan are estimated at 4.058 million, as of 2009, ranking them at 39th in the world in usage. On the other hand, a total of 103 million mobile phone subscriptions in the country ranks them at number 9 in the world.

The telecommunications infrastructure is improving dramatically with foreign and domestic investments in fixed-line and mobile-cellular networks; system consists of microwave radio relay, coaxial cable, fiber-optic cable, cellular, and satellite networks; domestic: mobile-cellular subscribership has skyrocketed, exceeding 100 million in 2009, up from only about 300,000 in 2000; approximately 90 percent of Pakistanis live within areas that have cell phone coverage and more than half of all Pakistanis have access to a cell phone; fiber systems are being constructed throughout the country to aid in network growth; fixed line availability has risen only marginally over the same period and there are still difficulties getting fixed-line service to rural areas international: country code - 92; landing point for the SEA-ME-WE-3 and SEA-ME-WE-4 submarine cable systems that provide links to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe; satellite earth stations - 3 Intelsat (1 Atlantic Ocean and 2 Indian Ocean); 3 operational international gateway exchanges (1 at Karachi and 2 at Islamabad); microwave radio relay to neighboring countries (2009) Broadcast media:

media is government regulated; 1 dominant state-owned TV broadcaster, Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV), operates a network consisting of 6 channels; private TV broadcasters are permitted and some foreign satellite channels are carried by cable TV operators; the state-owned radio network operates more than 40 stations; privately-owned radio stations mostly limit programming to music and talk shows (2007)[1]

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Mobile Penetration

Tecoms in Pakistan
Pakistan Mobile Market Share

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has released its annual report for the year 2009-10. Fiscal year 2010 was yet another good year for the country’s mobile industry, which contributed more than 66 percent of the Rs. 35.7 billion generated in revenue by the telecommunication sector. According to PTA, mobile penetration has increased to 60.40% in year 2009-2010 as compared to 58.20% in the previous year [2].

There are several telecommunication companies in Pakistan, with Moblink and Telenor having 32.5% and 23.9% of the market share respectively.

The total number of mobile phone subscribers had surpassed 100 million in September 2011. As am emerging market, 97% of the mobile users are using prepaid subscription due to the higher cost of living and increased inflation. It is believed that the mobile industry will continue to grow rapidly as there are promising demand for mobile services in the disconnected regions of the country.[3]

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Internet Penetration

YEAR Users Population % Pen. GDP p.c.* Usage Source
2000 133,900 163,985,373 0.1 % N/A ITU
2006 12,000,000 167,806,831 7.2 % US$ 821 ITU
2009 18,500,000 174,578,558 10.6 % US$ 1,017 ITU
2010 18,500,000 177,276,594 10.4 % US$ 1,068 ITU

Internet penetration

Pakistan has an estimated population of 187,342,721 as of 2011 within a total area of 880,254 sq km. The capital city of Islamabad has an estimated population of 1,740,000 as of 2011. The country has an internet penetration of 11.5%, as per the ITU. There are a total of 20,350,000 Internet users in Pakistan (as of June 2010), The number of Facebook users in the country has been shooting up with 800,000 users subscribing in just one year. In 2010, the number of Facebook users were 3,145,840 (2.2% penetration) while in 2011, it had increased to 3,992,500 users (2.1% penetration). [4] [5]

Internet Usage in Pakistan

Key Findings by YouGov – a firm that provides statistical data for multiple region:

  • Average cost for internet in Pakistan is: Rs. 1024.46
  • 53 % think that internet cost on Mobile phone is expensive
  • 69 % of internet users in Pakistan have full time jobs
  • 99 % of internet population from Pakistan visit English language websites [6]

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Digital media platforms

Social Networking Sites

In terms of the number of active users, social networking sites have tremendous influence. Facebook alone has 681 million (as of May 2011) active users globally. In Asia, it is fast becoming one of the region’s leading social networks. Currently it has 155 million users in the region.
Facebook penetration across regions

With 43 languages and 60 more in the pipeline, Facebook is becoming the biggest social network in the world. There are also other popular social networking sites (like Twitter, YouTube, and MySpace) that have become tools for cyber radicalisation. Online social networks seem to be the preferred medium for radicals who want to create a new culture of jihad while taking full advantage of the technology. The target group is young Asian Muslims and their counterparts in the diaspora communities in the United States, Europe and Australia.

Pakistan Facebook Statistic (May 2011) [7]:

  • Ranked 26 in the World with 4,332,360 users.
Internet and Facebook Penetration; Gender Distribution; Age Distrubution Charts

However, Pakistan’s users do not agree with the Facebook’s double standard that frames laws for Muslim users. It is also believed that Facebook allows users of other religions to infringe the Muslim believes. 70% of 8,000 voters are in favor of a complete ban on the Facebook despite the fact that ban has been lifted.[8]

There are several other social networking sites in Pakistan such as MillatFacebook and JoinPK. Their aim is to connect all Pakistani and Muslims around the World.

MillatFacebook is a Muslim-oriented social networking website. It was launched in May 2010 in response to a controversial group on Facebook entitled Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. Millatfacebook is a Facebook Rival and A Place to meet Over 1.57 Billion Muslims and Peaceful people from other religions. People use Millatfacebook to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, post links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet. Although MillatFacebook claimed to have over 1 billion Muslim users, the number of Pakistani users are believed to be relatively low.
MillatFacebook is Fastest Growing Pakistani social and Friendship Network aims to connect Pakistanis around the world. Its feature include knowledge sharing, Photos Sharing, Online Games, Online Chat, Video Sharing, Audios, Polls, Blogs, Forum, Groups and much This is the home page.

The fall of these social networking sites is due to several reasons:

  • The low amount of capital used to invest in marketing and operational infrastructure
  • Not user friendly
  • Poor user recognition
  • Poorly administrated
  • Privacy issues

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Pakistan Blogger Awards 2010

Pakistan has taken up to blogging in a big way as activists and opinion leaders find this to be a forum where they are able to gain a global audience that is not portrayed by government statements or the State-controlled media channels. Blogging in Pakistan has witnessed a vibrant growth over the last few year. Ammar Yasir, a famous Pakistani blogger, created, a blog aggregator that syndicates Pakistani blogs and categorizes them appropriately. The website makes it easier for blog readers by bringing all the popular blogs of Pakistan on one platform. Started out with 5 blogs, now Tea Break has a network of over 1500 registered bloggers with 400 blogs still waiting to be registered. Over 100 blog posts get aggregated to Tea Break on a daily basis. [9] Another Pakistan blog aggregator is Pakistan Positive, which aimed to share “simple Pakistani news and stories, blogged without religious, political or military tones”. [10]

To recognize the phenomenal growth of the Pakistan blogging community, Google Pakistan and CIO Pakistan organized the country’s first ever Pakistan Bloggers Awards on May 28, 2010 with awards ranging from different categories such as culture, politics and humour to science and technology. A second season held on December 5, 2011 to continue celebrating Pakistani bloggers’ contribution.

Only 6 of the top 50 blogs in Pakistan are written in Urdu. Blogs are used in Pakistan primary for opinions on news, technology advancements, sports rants (on cricket) and for commentary on local politics. [11]

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Twitter is a relatively new social media trend that is being adopted by the social media elite, who include opinion makers and political activists, as an alternate medium for news, updates and staying connected. This connected strata of society cannot be ignored, as even in its early days in Pakistan, it has proven to be a potent force/tool in the hands of journalists, media groups, politicians, celebrities, brands, news makers, opinion leaders, bloggers and any individual who is hoping to be heard. About than 2% of Pakistan’s population is on twitter as of 2011.

In March 2012, Twitter added Pakistan to its trend page, which is a tracking service that lets Twitter users view the most popular and talked about topics in their area in real-time [12].

Zong has partnered with twitter to officially offer SMS service for twitter users in Pakistan, with which you can receive twitter updates, retweet statuses, send direct messages, send twitter updates and use other twitter functionality through SMS with Zong. Zong is only the second network after Mobilink that officially supports Twitter updates via SMS [13].

The Express Tribune presents its top 140 Twitterati, including Husain Haqqani (husainhaqquani), Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States of America and prolific Twitter user who makes time to respond to his thousands of followers, Pervez Musharraf (PMPakistan) former President of Pakistan who uses Twitter as an extension of his Facebook page and other journalists, activists, celebrities and bloggers. [14].

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Search Engines

Here is a list of some of the most popular search engine websites used in Pakistan. Although Google is still predominantly used in the sub-continent, other search engines are still preferred for localized results and compatibility with languages such as Urdu and Hindi. [15]

Google (Urdu)

Google (Urdu)
Predominantly used in the sub-continent. Although Google enables users to search in Urdu, precision can be an issue due to the language used for searches.


Pakistanism is an experiment with a specialized web search engine that searches by putting emphasis and giving priority to an exclusive index of Pakistani web content of the most useful and relevant information for your desired search results. Using Google's search technology and our Pakistani knowledge, we are constantly improving search functionality by updating and tweaking the index of quality Pakistani web content.


Yahoo! Pakistan enables users to search through indexes or categories to facilitate the ease of finding the desired information.

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Video sharing websites


Youtube is the primary source of English videos in Pakistan although smaller video-sharing websites are also available for local searches.


Similar to YouTube, VidPk allows the uploading, tagging , and sharing of videos. It also allows the integration of its videos onto websites through its embedding features.


ChaltaTV is a platform for video sharing, and also allows the downloading of video content for free. Other media content such as photos and music are also shared on this platform. These contents can also be downloaded.


Dekhona is a platform for users to share their personal videos. MMS clips are shared on the site, and users regularly upload mobile phone videos and recordings.

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Ban on Youtube

Ban on Youtube

YouTube was blocked by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority on February 22, 2007 because of the number of "non-Islamic objectionable videos". The action effectively blocked YouTube access worldwide for several hours on February 24. [16] [17]

This follows increasing unrest in Pakistan by Islamic extremists over the re-printing of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons which depict satirical Criticism of Islam. However, it has been suggested by some Pakistani vigilante web sites and electoral process watchdog groups that the block was imposed largely to distract viewers from videos alleging vote-rigging by the ruling MQM party in the recently concluded general elections. Allegations of suppressing vote-rigging videos by the Musharraf administration are also being leveled by Pakistani bloggers, newspapers, media, and Pakistani anti-Musharraf opposition parties. [18]

On February 26, 2007, the ban was lifted after the website had removed the objectionable content from its servers at the request of the government. [19]

On 20 May 2010, on Everybody Draw Mohammed Day Pakistan again blocked the website in a bid to contain "blasphemous" material.[20]

On May 31, 2010, the ban was lifted after the website had removed the objectionable content from its servers at the request of the government.

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Ban on Facebook


Social networking website Facebook was blocked in Pakistan in 2010, for the entire month of May, following a court order in the wake of protests over an ‘Everybody Draw Mohammad Day' contest. Acting on a petition filed by the Islamic Lawyers' Forum for a ban on the website, the Lahore High Court ordered Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to block access to Facebook till May 31st. Given that pictorial representation of the Prophet is not allowed in Islam, the lawyers argued that while the entries for the contest were blasphemous as it attracted many a caricature, the contest itself went against Islamic tenets.

In a statement, Nayatel — a leading service provider — said it blocked access to the website in compliance with the court orders. [21]

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News - Social media ban

Ban of social media

The Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court ruled in favour of a petition to ban several social networking websites including Facebook Yahoo, MSN and Wikipedia. The ruling released on May 13th, 2011 found that Facebook and other websites were in violation of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and should be banned in Pakistan.

The ruling came prior to the anniversary of the first Draw Mohammed Day (May 20th). In 2010, Pakistan enacted a total ban on Facebook, YouTube and several other websites for almost two weeks in response to the provocative Facebook group “Let’s Draw Mohammed”. Official documents by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority reveal that about 12,000 websites were blocked during this time. [22]

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Hear from the experts

Podcast 1: Huma Yusuf

Huma Yusuf.jpg

Huma Yusuf in conversation with the DMPakistan group




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Podcast 2: Faisal Kapadia

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Faisal Kapadia in coversation with the DMPakistan group





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Case Studies

  1. Yes! We Khan - Imran Khan Rally (2011)
  2. Osama at Abbottabad (2011)
  3. Digital Media being used to blackmail rape victims (2011)
  4. Pakistan floods (2010)
  5. The Long March (2007)

Yes! We Khan

Social media was used in a recent rally by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on December 25th and it was a major social media milestone for Pakistan.

PTI uses social media to clarify party policies, dispel rumours, engage with voters, inspire hope and provide a catalyst for change. The key platforms driving PTI’s social media efforts include Imran Khan’s and PTI’s official Facebook pages as well as Facebook groups such as ‘We Want Imran Khan To Be The Next Prime Minister Of Pakistan’ and ‘Jaagutho’. These platforms are aimed at sharing viewpoints, helping supporters, volunteers and campaign workers coordinate their offline and online activities as well as mobilising people to support new initiatives. [23]

The use of social media in this campaign was a great succes and PTI is now on the Social Media Roadmap is to move on from ‘just defending ourselves’ to organization of the masses and translate the online activism to offline activism! [24]

Umair Mohsin, the Director - Digital Marketing and Strategy For Media Idee Digital, Pakistan's first Digital Agency, has written a comprehensive Social Media Case Study of the Imran Khan Rally.

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Osama at Abbottabad

Osama twitter.jpg

Social media is known to transform military operations and modern warfare. A good example is the Live tweets of the Abbottabad raid by Pakistani blogger Sohaib Athar[25], and shined new light on the role of Facebook, Twitter and other social media in the country. Before US President Obama announced and confirmed the death of Osama Bin Laden, Twitter was already abuzz with speculation of the event. According to a poll on Mashable, more people hear the news via Twitter first than anywhere else. According to the Business Insider, Twitter just had its CNN moment[26] [27] [28]

Twitter was faster, more accurate, and more entertaining than any other news source out there, proving that word-of-mouth in the digital age is truly potent.

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Digital Media being used to blackmail rape victims

Digital media has its pros and cons due to its limitless uses. As cyber law is weak in Pakistan, people took advantage of it and through digital media (youtube), videos showing the process of how girls were being raped were posted.

Naveed Siraj, a social media expert, agrees that laws governing ethical usage of these websites are emerging in Pakistan, but it is still an “ongoing process” as the area is a relatively recent development on the internet. [29]

The purpose of this case is to highlight the issues of the lack of cyber laws which is essential, especially in developing countries, in order to protect their citizens, particularly from the lower-income families.

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Pakistan Floods

800px-Damaged bridge from flooding in Pakistan, 2010.jpg
48799578 pak top donors 464.gif

The 2010 floods in Pakistan has left the city devastated and ruined and they've affected an unprecedented number of people - more than the tsunami and Haiti earthquake combined. The flood has become a very "social-media" event, as the response has been led not by institutions but by ordinary people. While governments and institutions have dilly-dallied and made woefully inadequate donations, ordinary people have responded quickly and generously. Despite the recession, British people have donated more than £29 million from their own pockets. And when ordinary people learned that the European Commission had pledged just 10 million euros, they swung into action. More than 4000 people contacted their politicians in just over 24 hours- and the EC quadrupled their donation.[30]

Listen to popular blogger and activist - Faisal Kapadia - talk about how his campaign raised money for those displaced by the flood, through social media streams:

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The Long March

On 3rd November 2007, President Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan via a television broadcast. The declaration suspended the country's constitution and replaced Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Musharraf defended his actions in a national address on television, saying he was curbing a rise in extremism in Pakistan.

The move came as the Supreme Court was due to rule on the legality of Gen. Musharraf's October election victory. The court was to decide whether he was eligible to run for re-election while remaining army chief. Fears had been growing in the government that the Supreme Court ruling could go against Gen Musharraf. [31]

Soon after, Musharraf demanded that cable television operators block the broadcasts of all local and foreign news channels, except those of the state-owned Pakistan Television Corporation. Nearly 30 privately owned channels were promptly taken off air. On 4 November 2007, policemen raided the Islamabad offices of Aaj TV, an independent news channel, and attempted to confiscate its equipment. The telephone lines of Pakistan’s first independent news channel Geo TV were cut and their broadcasters were threatened with long jail terms.

The success of Long March to restore the Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was made possible due to media role. Although Media was banned to gavel coverage to judiciary yet for the sake of their business and mass interest, it forced them to give it media coverage. The Restoration of judiciary was the Hall Mark for media in Particular and people in General.

A case study of digital activitism

The long march visual monitoring.png

See 'n' Report coverage of the Long March: visual monitoring of information updates

The Long March in Pakistan can be considered to be a case study in digital activism. The campaign utilized the full range of digital tools from blogs to social networking and citizen journalism, through the use of old and new technologies. Digital tools such as Twitter and Facebook are mixed with See 'n' Report collated emails, SMS and MMS to updates report coverage of the Long March.

Ms. Huma Yusuf has written a comprehensive case study on the topic. [32]

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Impacts of Social Media in Pakistan

Social Media Overshadows Traditional Marketing

Traditional advertising techniques are getting lost in modern day noise created by social media where audiences are oblivious to the ad presence. Pakistani marketers and advertisers are evolving at the same pace as modes of advertising and social media are. [33]

Social Media in Political Movements

Politicians such as military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and former cricket star-turned politican Imran Khan have garnered over 450,000 likes and 393,880 likes respectively(as of March 2012) on their Facebook pages.

Pakistan People's Party(PPP), the current ruling party, as well as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the main opposition party have attempted to reach out to the people of Pakistan through Facebook.

Currently, social media is still exclusive to people living in urbanized areas in Pakistan. However, the urban population of who are representative of Pakistan's "ruling class" are taking social media enthusiastically, where social media has a transcendent impact on the political scene in Pakistan. [34]

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About Pakistan


The geography of Pakistan is a blend of landscapes varying from plains to deserts, forests, hills, and plateaus ranging from the coastal areas of the Arabian Sea in the south to the mountains of the Karakoram range in the north. Pakistan is divided into three major geographic areas: the northern highlands; the Indus River plain; and the Balochistan Plateau. [35] The northern highlands of Pakistan contain the Karakoram, Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges, which incorporate some of the world's highest peaks, including K2 (8,611 m/28,251 ft) and Nanga Parbat (8,126 m/26,660 ft). The Balochistan Plateau lies to the West, and the Thar Desert in the East. An expanse of alluvial plains lies in Punjab and Sindh along the Indus river. The 1,609 km (1,000 mi) Indus River and its tributaries flow through the country from the Kashmir region to the Arabian Sea. [36]

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The estimated population of Pakistan in July 2011 was 187,342,721 making it the world's sixth most-populous country, behind Brazil and ahead of Bangladesh. In 1951, Pakistan had a population of 34 million. [37] The population growth rate now stands at 1.573%.[38] It is expected that by 2030, Pakistan will overtake Indonesia as the largest Muslim country in the world

The urban population is an estimate of 36% of the total population. The rate of urbanisation is at 3.1% annual rate of change. [39]

The population comprises several main ethnic groups (2009): [40]

1. Punjabis (44.15%) 78.7 million

2. Pashtuns (15.42%) 27.2 million

3. Sindhis (14.1%) 24.8 million

4. Seraikis (10.53%) 14.8 million

5. Muhajirs (7.57%) 13.3 million

6. Balochs is (3.57%) 6.3 million

7. Others (4.66%) 11.1 million

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Pakistan GDP Growth

Pakistan has a semi-industrialized economy. [41] The growth poles of the Pakistani economy are situated along the Indus River. Diversified economies of Karachi and Punjab's urban centres, coexist with lesser developed areas in other parts of the country. [42]Despite being a very poor country in 1947, Pakistan's economic growth rate has been better than the global average during the subsequent four decades, but imprudent policies led to a slowdown in the late 1990s.

Recently, wide-ranging economic reforms have resulted in a stronger economic outlook and accelerated growth especially in the manufacturing and financial services sectors. Since the 1990s, there has been great improvement in the foreign exchange position and rapid growth in hard currency reserves. [43]

GDP growth was steady during the mid-2000s at a rate of 7%; [44]however, slowed down during the Economic crisis of 2008 to 4.7%. [45] A large inflation rate of 24.4% and a low savings rate, and other economic factors, continue to make it difficult to sustain a high growth rate. [46]Pakistan's GDP is US$167 billions, which makes it the 48th-largest economy in the world or 27th largest by purchasing power adjusted exchange rates. Today, Pakistan is regarded as to having the second largest economy in South Asia. [47]

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Despite being once listed as one of the most dangerous countries in the world by The Economist,[48] tourism is still a growing industry in Pakistan because of its diverse cultures, peoples and landscapes.The variety of attractions ranges from the ruins of ancient civilisations such as Mohenjodaro, Harappa and Taxila, to the Himalayan hill-stations, that attract those interested in field and winter sports. Pakistan also has five out of fourteen mountain peaks of height over 8,000 metres (26,250 ft), that attract adventurers and mountaineers from around the world, especially to K2.[49] From April to September, domestic and international visitors to these areas bring tourist income to the local people.

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Culture & Religion

Religion breakdown in Pakistan

Pakistan is a very well respected nation because of their age and position. Older people are respected and are seen as wise; they are always served first in a social situation, treated as royalty, and hence are expected to make decisions that are of best for the interest of the group. Pakistan follows a hierarchical system where titles are very important to them. The majority of the Pakistan population follows Islam (96.6%) while Christianity, Hinduism and other religions comprise of the remaining 3%. [50]

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