Arab travel influencers discover a local specialty: Pakistani hospitality

Arab travel influencers discover a local specialty: Pakistani hospitality
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Saudi vlogger Ragdah Al-Howaish, who traveled to Pakistan by herself in November last year, had to confront questions of safety from friends and family back home. (Screenshot)
Arab travel influencers discover a local specialty: Pakistani hospitality
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When Jordanian travel vlogger Joe Hattab visited Pakistan for the first time two years ago, he experienced something he never expected to: Unparalleled hospitality that has kept him coming back. (Screenshot)
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Updated 27 November 2020

Arab travel influencers discover a local specialty: Pakistani hospitality

Arab travel influencers discover a local specialty: Pakistani hospitality
  • Arab News interviews popular vloggers Joe Hattab, Kasem Hato and Ragdah Al-Howaish, who recently visited Pakistan
  • Al-Howaish describes Pakistan trip as ‘life-changing,’ Hattab says coming back was an ‘easy decision’

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan: When Jordanian travel vlogger Joe Hattab visited Pakistan for the first time two years ago, he experienced something he never expected to: Unparalleled hospitality that has kept him coming back.

The 30-year-old filmmaker runs his own YouTube travel channel, which has over 5.7 million subscribers, mainly from Arabic-speaking countries. He has been to Pakistan thrice since 2018, each time visiting a different part of the country and making videos about the country’s heritage, landscapes and people.

“My friend in Pakistan, Ali, hosted me and told me, ‘I will show you something you have never seen before.’ And it was the hospitality,” Hattab told Arab News in a recent interview from Dubai, where he is currently based.

“As we traveled between cities, the people’s hospitality was striking,” he said.

“They wanted to be on camera, they wanted to share their stories with me and the channel.

“Coming back was an easy decision. There are still so many places to discover and to film, and I love sharing that with my audience, with the Arab people and with those who speak Arabic. Every time I visit Pakistan, it surprises me more and more,” Hattab said.

Pakistani hospitality also overwhelmed Kasem Hato, another Jordanian travel vlogger whom Arab News interviewed in Islamabad last Saturday.

“I had heard about the hospitality in Pakistan. It really is the best hospitality in the world,” said the 26-year-old, who calls himself Ibn Hattuta after the famed 14th-century Muslim explorer and storyteller from Morocco, Ibn Battuta.

“People here not only want you to see the best of their country, but they want you to feel like the country is yours too.”

 

Hato began documenting his travels in 2015 and has since visited more than 50 countries. His YouTube channel, Ibn Hattuta Travels, has over 760,000 followers.

“The beauty in the north of Pakistan was so unexpected,” Hato said, referring to his trip to the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

“It is my hope that when people — including Pakistanis — watch my videos, they will realize just how much is out there to discover.”

But did he feel safe in Pakistan?

“It’s sad that people think Pakistan is a dangerous country, a country that is off limits to them,” Hato said.

“It’s very safe. You have so many people visiting neighboring India, and Pakistan can provide similar experiences, as well as additional ones that you can’t have in India.”

Saudi vlogger Ragdah Al-Howaish, who traveled to Pakistan by herself in November last year, also had to confront questions of safety from friends and family back home.

 

“A lot of people asked me, ‘Ragdah, you went to Pakistan, are you crazy? How did you do that? Why did you do that?’” she told Arab News, adding that many had even urged her not to go at all.

Their perceptions changed, she said, when she began sharing her videos from Pakistan.

“After I sent them videos, they understood that Pakistan was really like any other country and certainly not something to be afraid of.”

Al-Howaish, who studied film and media, estimates she has been to some 90 countries, but it was only in Pakistan that she became serious about vlogging. Watched by hundreds of thousands of viewers, her videos showcase her daily adventures and street food reviews.

“People would help guide me, give me advice on what to do. It was amazing,” she said. “People there do not ignore you; they want to help you,” she added, describing her Pakistan trip as “life-changing.”

“I love Pakistan. I have traveled all around the world, but I have not been to a place that stole my heart the way Pakistan did,” Al-Howaish said.

“Even now, no matter where I go, I think about Pakistan. Pakistan left something in my heart, and I didn’t want to let it go.”

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Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
Updated 19 January 2021

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
  • Taliban spokesman says first vice president wants to sabotage the peace talks

KABUL: Afghanistan’s First Vice President Amrullah Saleh on Monday demanded the execution of Taliban prisoners as violence surges in the country in spite of US-sponsored talks between the government and the militants.

Under mounting US pressure and following months of delay, Kabul released last summer thousands of Taliban prisoners from its custody as part of the landmark accord between the group and Washington.

But now there has been a spike in arrests of suspected Taliban fighters linked with recent attacks.

“These arrests should be executed so that it becomes a lesson for others,” Saleh told a routine security meeting in Kabul.

“The arrested like nightingales admit (to conducting attacks), but their all hope is that they will be freed one day without real punishment … any terrorist detainee should be executed.”

Known as the staunchest anti-Taliban leader in government and consistently opposed to talks with the Taliban, Saleh said he would raise his demand for the executions in the High Council of the Judiciary. His spokesman, Rezwan Murad, said the first vice president has also shared his demand with President Ashraf Ghani.

“Currently, around 1,000 Taliban prisoners have been sentenced to capital punishment,” Prison Administration spokesman in Kabul, Farhad Bayani, told Arab News.

“Such news is provoking, he wants to sabotage the process of talks,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, when reached by Arab News for reaction to Saleh’s push.

“We will severely take the revenge of any type of inhuman and cruel treatment of our prisoners.”

The Afghan government was excluded from the US and Taliban deal signed last February in Doha, which as per the agreement is also hosting the current peace talks between Kabul and the insurgents.

In spite of the ongoing talks, violence has surged in Afghanistan and both the government and the Taliban accuse each other for its escalation.

Hundreds of civilians have lost their lives in the violence, which has displaced tens of thousands of people since the February deal, while Kabul has endured a resurgence in assassination attacks and magnet bombs.

Prior to Saleh, some residents and lawmakers also demanded the executions of Taliban members suspected of being behind major attacks. Heather Barr, interim co-director for Human Rights Watch, told Arab News: “Human Rights Watch opposes the use of the death penalty under all circumstances. It is a uniquely cruel and irreversible punishment and we are glad to see that there has been some global progress towards abolition of the death penalty.”

She added: “Afghanistan has already seen so much violence and death and continues to experience this violence every day. There is an urgent need for accountability for the many human rights violations that have been inflicted during Afghanistan’s many years of war, but executions will not bring the justice Afghans so badly need.”