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About Pakistan

by: Walter Jahn, Associate partner of Hofstede Insights
Currency                Pakistan Rupee (PKR)
Capital                   Islamabad
Time Zone             Pakistan Standard Time, UTC+05:00
 
In this profile our experts have compiled important information for you to start doing business in Pakistan. The country profiles are meant as a general introduction and are linked to other documents from the platform that go into the details of each culture.

Overview

Pakistan was founded in 1947 comprising predominantly Muslim populated regions of what was British India. The eastern part of the country separated from Pakistan in 1971 and became the independent state of Bangladesh. The federal republic consist of 4 provinces, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh and 2 territories. The country has a population of 200 Million (est.). Urdu and English are official national languages but there are many others spoken.
 
Pakistan society has a high appreciation for hierarchical order and top-down structures in civic, public, and corporate organizations. People see themselves strongly attached to groups, particularly their families, on which they depend and are loyal to. People feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity and hence have an appreciation for strict rules, rituals and order to make life more predictable. Pakistan is a very restrained society, not to follow one's desires but rather refrain from any kind of indulgence. Overall, the image of a pyramid would appropriately visualize these cultural traits in one single image.
 
Pakistan, Bangladesh and India share a common history and culture. Pakistan and Bangladesh were one country after independence from British India from 1947 until separation in 1971. Therefore, there are many cultural similarities.

Some cornerstones of Pakistan culture

Religion plays a very important role in Pakistani society. Almost 97% of Pakistanis are Muslim (with a Sunni majority) and Islam is the state religion. Therefore, Islam shapes the way of life. The remaining population is Hindu and Christian. It is important to be familiar with religious festivals, and dates may vary according to the lunar calendar.
 
The population consists of different ethnic groups of which Punjabi are the largest (48%), followed by Pashtun, Sindhi, Saraiki, Muhajirs, Balochi and others.
 
The society is hierarchical and patriarchal. Women are generally subordinate and deferential to men, in particular within a family context. People are respected for their age and position.
 
The family is most important and family loyalty comes before anything else.
 
As a ‘collectivist’ society, relationships and knowing people personally is a vital source to judge trustworthiness and to build trust.
 
In a personal or business setting, people generally prefer polite and harmonious conversations, praise and other positive statements are much preferred (and expected) over criticism and ‘speaking one’s mind’, which may come across as blunt if not insulting. In contrast, you may observe outbursts of anger in public. Public political debates can also be very loud and hostile.
 
Here are guidelines for behaviour in a fairly wide range of situations when among Pakistanis.

Behaviour when in Pakistan

  • Keep a smile
  • Show respect
  • Keep your posture and temper in difficult situations
  • In business be punctual, for social occasions be a little late, say 15 minutes
  • When entering a home, normally remove your shoes generally, if you are not sure, watch what others are doing

Body language

  • Men greet men with a handshake. Never use the left hand. Greeting is not a fleeting gesture and may be accompanied with questions such as about your well-being, etc.
  • Women generally hug and kiss each other. As a female visitor let the female counterparts make the first move. Normally, women do not shake hands with men.
  • To beckon someone, motion downwards with the palm of your hand (widely practiced in Asia). Avoid pointing a finger at a person you wish to speak to.
  • Be careful with eye-contact, it is considered an invasion of space, and from a man to a woman a no-go beyond a cursory look.
  • Do not wink or whistle (as it could be understood as sexual advances)
  • Accept business cards with the right hand and read it with attention when given.

Dress code

  • Generally fairly conservative; dress soberly
  • For women, cover body in loose clothing, such as Pakistan’s national dress “shalwar kameez”, visit holy places with a headscarf
  • In business, formal dress is recommended. At a higher level, jacket, tie and trousers for men, otherwise trousers and shirt. For women, discreet western wear for more formal meetings such as pantsuits and a “shalwar kameez” as business casual.

Good to know

  • Sunday is a day of rest. All other days are working days. On Fridays, because of the congregational Muslim prayer (Jummah), lunch break is extended, and better not schedule appointments. During the month of Ramadan, working hours are reduced and business trips to Pakistan are better not scheduled.
  • Islamic holidays follow the lunar calendar, which vary by date
  • Drinking alcohol is officially illegal in the country. Non-Muslim visitors can order alcohol in licensed restaurants and hotels.
  • The most popular sport is cricket
Keywords to describe Pakistan culture:
 
Family, Hierarchy, Relationships, Honour, Reputation, Status

 

Doing business in Pakistan is challenging. Here you will find practical advice on what one should or should not do.

Expert’s Recommendation

First contact

  • When preparing a business relationship and first meetings, the boss or CEO should travel to Pakistan and head the talks/negotiations in order to speak to the top level on the Pakistan side. Assistants/experts on both sides will discuss details at their level.
  • When meeting a person important to you or your business for the first time, you should get introduced by an intermediary who has the trust of the person you want to meet.
  • Considering the importance of hierarchy, greetings and communication have to follow a corresponding pattern. Greet the oldest or person of highest position first and continue in descending order. Remember the importance of status.

Communicating

  • Listen and watch carefully how people communicate with you and what is said. Asking questions which could possibly be tricky to answer like delivery deadlines or adherence to product specifications, may not produce ‘straightforward’ verbal answers. Harmonious face-to-face communication overrides ‘truthful’ responses, which may be perceived as uncomfortable or negative. When talking to equals and younger people, the communication style may be more direct.
  • Be inventive in the way you ask difficult questions or deny requests.

Negotiating

  • Pakistanis are very skilled negotiators and inventive in finding arguments. Negotiation can be lengthy and you need patience and perhaps several trips to come to a conclusion. Prepare yourself for circuitous communication rather than linear step-by-step arguments or topics. Negotiations are not perceived as a win-lose situation but both sides should gain from an agreement. Prepare for hard bargaining and when it comes to prices, give yourself enough buffer to be able to reduce. Bargaining is quite enjoyed in Pakistan (and in neighbouring countries), so try to overcome your own reluctance to do so. If you practice, you may also begin to enjoy it.

Leadership and management style

  • Pakistani leadership style is “directive”, and this style is required to be accepted as a leader and to be effective.
  • Be strict with subordinates but show a ‘benevolent’ attitude.

 

 

Dimensions

The appreciation for hierarchical order and top-down decision making is shown by a moderately high score of 55 on the cultural dimension of “Power Distance” (PDI). Inequality regarding holding power, wealth and status tends to be accepted. It also explains the appreciation and respect shown to older people and those in higher positions. An often-observed consequence is also the prevalence of corruption. If holding power by some individuals, groups or classes of people is seen as an existential reality – especially by the less powerful -  it tempts the power holders to abuse their position and some find it hard to resist the temptation. However, this is not to say that the general acceptance of inequality and its consequences remains unchallenged in Pakistan’s society, which is also expressed in the not so high PDI score (below 50 is considered a ‘low PDI’ culture). This and all other dimensions have a scale from 0 to 100.

The very strong family orientation to be part of a collective, and the interests of such a group overriding individual interests is shown by the low score of 14 for the dimension “Individualism versus Collectivism” (IDV). Therefore, if you meet an individual and get to know his or her opinion, interests and concerns, you also meet the extended family, although invisible to you. As one of the consequences, it might be difficult for a Pakistani business person not to employ a member from the wider family circle (if so desired by the family) if such a person would have to compete with a highly qualified ‘outsider’. The overarching values of pride, honour (izzat) and shame (sharam) are also a consequence of the strong collectivist traits.

With a high score of 70 for “Uncertainty Avoidance” (UAI) this dimension explains the high anxiety level vis-à-vis the uncertainty and ambiguity of life and the need to reduce this volatile feeling. Rules, rituals and structures, written-down or implicit, help to avoid uncertainty. Hierarchical order also reduces uncertainty and ambiguity. This is an additional explanation in terms of the cultural dimensions, apart from the high score of Power Distance (PDI). Because the PDI-score of 55 is just past the mark 50, below which inequality is not readily accepted as the natural order of things. PDI in combination with high UAI provides the explanation for the high appreciation of a strong hierarchical order.

It can certainly be said that Pakistani society feels restrained by various social norms and prohibitions and indulging too much in worldly pursuits is the wrong thing to do. This is expressed in the dimension “Indulgence versus Restraint” (IvR), where Pakistan scores very low with 0 on the Indulgence side. By the way, almost 2/3 of all surveyed countries score on the Restraint side of this dimension.

On the remaining two cultural dimensions of Masculinity-Femininity (MAS) and Long Term Orientation (LTO) no particular preference could be determined in Hofstede’s surveys for Pakistan society. The score for both dimensions is 50. The dimension of Masculinity-Femininity expresses assertiveness on the masculinity pole and modesty on the femininity pole. Please note that men can behave in a ‘feminine’ way and women in a ‘masculine’ way. The dimension Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Orientation (LTO) expresses itself in societies as either normative (short term) or pragmatic (long term).

Generally, if the score of your own country culture for any of the 6 dimensions differs at least 10 points from the host country score, you will notice the difference.
 
For a more detailed analysis on the Cultural Dimensions, and how Pakistan compares to other countries, please visit Hofstede Insights’ Country Comparison tool.
 

Interesting links

Wikipedia on Pakistan (history, economy, infrastructure and more): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pakistan
Wikipedia on Etiquette in Pakistan: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etiquette_in_Pakistan
Wikimedia Atlas of Pakistan: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Atlas_of_Pakistan
WikiHow: Pakistan: http://www.wikihow.com/Say-Hello-in-Pakistan
CIA World Factbook entry for Pakistan: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/pk.html
Country Profile by the World Bank: http://databank.worldbank.org/data/Views/Reports/ReportWidgetCustom.aspx?Report_Name=CountryProfile&Id=b450fd57&tbar=y&dd=y&inf=n&zm=n&country=PAK
European Commission / Trade / Pakistan: http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/pakistan/index_en.htm
Ease of Doing Business, a World Bank publication, for Pakistan see: http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/pakistan
The Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017 by World Economic Forum (downloadable, Pakistan pages 122, 288): https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-competitiveness-report-2016-2017-1
The Express Tribune, daily Newspaper, print and online: https://tribune.com.pk/
PakWired, a source for entrepreneurs and startups: https://pakwired.com
The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce & Industry: http://fpcci.org.pk/