Hunger for Western food and fashion grows in Pakistan

Pakistanis embrace American fast-food and foreign labels despite poverty, sectarian violence

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 4:56am


American fast-food and Western fashion outlets are taking Pakistan's growing middle class by storm, defying stereotypes about a conservative Muslim country plagued by al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked violence.

The rupee may have nosedived, a third of the population may live in poverty and sectarian violence may be at a record high, but remarkably, consumer spending is up among a resilient elite fond of imported luxuries.

In a smart corner of Karachi, a new mall offers wealthy clientele the chance to lunch on an American burger, buy French cosmetics, shop for cocktail dresses or sip an afternoon cappuccino.

The female sales assistants dressed in jeans and T-shirts buck the idea that "service industry" jobs are unsuitable for women, even if many of them commute into work heavily veiled to avoid being harassed or insulted.

"It is time when Pakistanis are getting branded. It is a new phenomenon," said Samiullah Mohabbat, the chief executive who brought American franchise Fatburger from Beverly Hills to Karachi, a city troubled by shootings and kidnappings.

Far from seeing the country's troubles as a bar to business, Mohabbat says a US$5.50 burger is the perfect antidote. "Food is the only entertainment in Pakistan. People are certainly frightened because of the law and order situation, so they don't go anywhere except food outlets," he said.

Analysts say there is enormous potential in Pakistan as a market for consumer goods.