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Here's Why Pakistan Is Cracking Down On Valentine's Day

The country's commercial sector seeks to cash in on the holiday — but conservatives fear it's a Trojan Horse for Christian and Western values.
February 13, 2016, 9:40pm
Photo by Rehan Khan/EPA

Pakistan is cracking down on Valentine's Day, with some provinces even placing an outright ban on cards festooned with hearts.

President Mamnoon Hussain addressed on Friday a group of students, mostly women, and urged them to steer clear of the February 14 holiday.

"We should avoid Valentine's Day as it has no connection with our culture," Hussain said. Carelessly adopting such western traditions, the president argued, poses a threat to Pakistani values.

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His remarks were preceded by some provinces banning the holiday, which is usually celebrated in a wash of pink and red heart shaped balloons, teddy bears, chocolates, and roses. Maulana Niaz Muhammad, the Kohat district administrator told the BBC, "Valentine's Day has no legal grounds and secondly it is against our religion, therefore it was banned."

Pakistan Interior Minister Chaundry Nisar Ali Khan reportedly ordered a prohibition on Valentines day in Islamabad, the country's capital, promising "strict action" against anyone caught outwardly engaging with the holiday. Such reports have since been denied by the government.

Related: Officially Recognized But Publicly Shamed: Transgender Life in Pakistan

The fact that Valentine's Day — named for Saint Valentine — is essentially a Christian holiday is a source of concern for religious hardliners in Pakistan. One conservative newspaper ran an advertisement which described it as "a festival of obscenity."

"Just ponder," the ad states, "tomorrow our children will start celebrating Diwali of Hindus, Christmas of Christians, and who knows what other un-Islamic festivals."

In Peshawar, the capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, members of the district assembly unanimously voted to ban Valentine's Day festivities. "A particular segment of our society wants to impose Western values and culture on our youth by celebrating Valentine's Day," the resolution said. "There is no place in our culture and in our civilization for such an unnecessary and rude day, which aims to spread vulgarity and indecency amongst the youth."

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Despite the ban, an AFP reported that shopkeepers in Peshawar were openly selling red balloons and chocolate.

Nadia Khajawa, a gender studies student from Lahore, attributes the rising popularity of the holiday in Pakistan to the spread of social media. Before social media, Khawaja said Valentine's day celebrations were generally confined to wealthy, urban areas, and westernized schools. Now that it's becoming increasingly global, Pakistan's commercial sector is trying to capitalize off of it.

"A lot of people in my parents generation think that it makes love commercial and it puts a lot of pressure on people to waste money, which isn't the essence of love," she said.

It isn't just religious conservatives who object to the holiday. Khajawa said that there are some who reject the holiday based on the notion that love is something that can't be commercialized.

This won't be the first year that February 14 has sparked outrage. In 2013, people gathered in Peshawar to burn Valentine's Day cards. Women wearing black robes assembled in protest of the holiday, holding up signs condemning the tradition. That year, Pakistani rights activist Sabeen Mahmud staged a protest in the port city of Karachi in response to a religious conservative-led campaign against Valentine's Day. Mahmud held up signs saying, "Karachi says Yes to Love", while billboards around the city  told citizens, "Say No to Valentine's Day."

Mahmud reported receiving regular death threats after her protest and was assassinated last April after giving a seminar at a popular Karachi cafe.

Related: Cambodia's Valentine's Day Rape Problem

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