Cool Pakistan: The Origins of Anime and Manga, How They Took Root in Pakistan, and A Brief Look at The Impact They Have Had on Pakistani Media and Culture

Globalisation has been a topic of much debate in the last two decades. The exponential increase in the rate of exchange of information has led to not only the breaking down of economic barriers, but the large-scale acceptance of relatively unique cultures as well (“When did globalisation start?”). At the forefront of this cultural and economic interchange, ironically, has been the xenophobic country of Japan located at the far-Eastern edge of the world (Alix “The Influences of Japanese”). Despite its xenophobic nature, which has been recently deemed to be an inevitable shift towards nationalism (Karube “The Illusion of”), two interrelated Japanese mediums have caught the world by storm. These mediums are “anime”, the short-form for animation in Japanese, and “manga”, a blanket term for comics or any scene drawn in a panel accompanied by speech bubbles or sound effects (“What are manga and anime?”). Anime and manga have had humble beginnings in their native country and even more so in the Western world. Unfortunately, though, both the rise of consumption of the two mediums and the effects they have had on the South Asian, particularly Pakistani, consumer and intellectual environment have not been well documented. Therefore, the aim of this text is to carry out this broad task – while keeping the limitations of both the research and analysis of primary data in mind. Thus, it has been reasonably concluded that anime and manga had taken root in Pakistan due to the relatively more meaningful and mature themes, such as coming-to-age, involved which both children and adults seemed to be more interested in. This interest then later served as a gateway into the depths of Internet culture that surrounded the two mediums and, as such, prompted them to remain a part of the largely contradictory Pakistani context. But before this essay can discuss the relationship between the two artistic mediums and Pakistan, a brief overview of the native origins and the Western adoption must be touched upon first. This overview will prove useful later as a foundation when considering the cultural impact on Pakistan. As such, this essay will be divided into two sections: The first section will deal with the international discussion while the second will look at the local sphere.


Of the two mediums, manga came first. Manga were mainly a Japanese folk product for local consumption (“What are manga and anime?”). Around the end of the First World War, the cross-cultural exchange of gunfire and ideas had brought a vast interest in the art of animation in Japan. This led to the production of the very first Japanese animation in February of 1917 called Dekobo Shingacho – Meian no Shippai (Dekobo’s New Picture Book – Failure of a Great Plan). Twenty other such animated shorts, by classic mangaka (artists) such as Oten Shimokawa and Junichi Kouchi, had also been released in the same year (Cooper “The History Of Anime”). One would realize that while the art styles and animation practices were different at the time, the content was still very much the same as today’s seasonal offerings. These and other animated films that followed for the next fifteen years were art-house projects helmed by small-time film studios with extremely limited budgets (Cooper “The History Of Anime”). Major additions came to the anime production movement in the 1930s when Kenzo Masaoka created the first anime film with pre-recorded voices called Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka (Within the World of Power and Women). Right after the release of this scandalous film came his second offering titled Chagama Ondo (The Dance of the Chagamas) which was the first anime made using cels, transparent sheets used for traditional animation – a technique still in use today (“Kenzō Masaoka”). Again, these were very important in a local sphere, akin to how Walt Disney was making ripples in a large pond with his smooth Mickey Mouse cartoons (Polsson), but not as much as globally. That is, until the debut of Osamu Tezuka.

To highlight Tezuka’s importance in bringing anime to the global stage, the role of the company that had first hired him needs to be appreciated. The Japan Animated Films was founded in 1948, right after the Second World War, and was then bought by Toei, a film studio, to become its animated division in 1956. Two years later, the very first Japanese animated full color feature-length film, titled Hakujaden (The Tale of the White Serpent), was created. Almost three years later, this became the very first film to be screened officially across the Pacific in the United States of America. Around this time, Osamu Tezuka proved himself as the “god of manga”. He became so influential that he managed to coerce Toei’s major animation figures to join him and found his new studio Mushi Productions. With the advent of television, his studio began producing Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy) which captured not only the hearts of the Japanese but many others all over the world as well. Mushi Production’s arduous endeavor was proclaimed to be doomed to fail by critics but Tezuka’s genius formed many techniques under the name of “limited animation”, reducing the number of frames per second and putting different parts of a character on different layers of cels so that only the part of the body moving needed to be animated in each scene, which drastically streamlined the animation process and made weekly shows both possible and profitable (Cooper “The History Of Anime”). Then came the controversial, in hindsight, Kimba the White Lion from Mushi Productions in 1965, commissioned by the American NBC. Kimba the White Lion was such a huge success that petitions and letters regarding plagiarism were being sent left and right around the globe after the release of Disney’s The Lion King in 1994 (Bradley “Was ‘The Lion King’ Copied”). This is it for the classical origins of anime. This counts for manga as well since many of the anime produced until the 1970s were based on their respective manga counterparts or created by renowned mangaka. The discussion will now move onto the golden age of anime and manga and how this cemented the two mediums as a major force of entertainment in the West and their increasing importance as art and literature.

To continue, the golden age is the time when anime and manga began to be more widely accepted in the West (Kelts “Defining the Heisei Era”). This was the period of the 1980s when the talented and the revolutionary were given the chance to elevate the status of the mediums to that of literature: Academia began taking an interest in the unintentional export of the Japanese context which, due to many reasons, clicked with both the native and the Western audiences. This is evidenced by the former Japanese literature professor at the University of Texas, Susan J. Napier, whose reaction to Katsuhiro Otomo’s coming-of-age body-transformation epic Akira was, and is still, shared by many others: “I walked out of the theater completely blown away. I knew that it was a cartoon like nothing that I had ever seen before – visceral, intense, heady, and grotesque. I almost had to hide under my seat during the last 20 minutes” (Napier). Then there were also American film critic Robert Ebert’s comments on Takahata Isao’s depressing Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies), “[A]n emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation,” and “[O]ne of the greatest war films ever made” (Kelts “Defining the Heisei Era”). With Japanese animators and comic artists refusing to be shaped by wartime and post-war propaganda productions, unlike the American purging in the 1950s of “extreme content” from comics and animated features due to moral revulsion (Hoffman “Taking anime”), the mediums saw a natural progression of thought in Japan which strengthened their hold on Japanese adults.

Although the adults of the West were enjoying their share of whimsical Disney animated movies and the weekly Saturday morning cartoons, at the same time, they were starving for something more mature. Something that would make them think, that would deeply connect with them, and that would make their consumption of animation to be taken more seriously. Even before the advent of the unforeseen boom in the West during the 80s and 90s, film aficionados and hobbyists were importing reels, tapes, and comics (Cooper “The History Of Anime”). The acceptance of anime and manga was not even because people wanted to be open to Japan’s realization of the rising global popularity of anime and manga, that is, the banner of  “Cool Japan” (Brienza), but because the acceptance allowed them to discuss important issues without being obscured by regional specifics which is the approach Western media had mostly adopted at the time (González 275). Making good use of her Ph.D. in anthropology gained from the University of Chicago, Anne Allison noted succinctly in her 2006 book Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination that:

[F]or American youth, it is not so much Japan itself as a compelling culture, power, or place that is signified (despite the fact that this [is] precisely what the Japanese government tries to capitalize on in all the rhetoric and attention given to Japan’s new ‘soft power’ in the globalization of J-pop). Rather ‘Japan’ operates more as a signifier for a particular brand and blend of fantasy-ware: goods that inspire an imaginary space at once foreign and familiar and a subjectivity of continual flux and global mobility, forever moving into and out of new planes/powers/terrains/relations. (Allison & Cross 277)

This astute observation had been noticed earlier by Gloria Goodale, of The Christian Science Monitor, who stated that anime and manga have managed to accomplish what many other forms of cultural expressions have failed: To “become widespread enough to challenge America’s stranglehold on entertainment” (Goodale “Anime-ted Japan”). In the same year as Allison, Jean-Marie Bouissou, French Japanologist, was quoted to have said that growing appreciation for anime and manga was “new for Japan, and all the more surprising, as its culture was traditionally seen, even by the Japanese themselves, as being very specific” (Cooper-Chen 44). Following from this, one can safely assume that the situation should be, at the very least, slightly similar to the rise of the two mediums in Pakistan: A country whose identity was until recently held, and probably dictated, by Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters (Jawaid “The Dilemmas of Pakistani Cinema”).



As stated above, there have been aficionados and antiquarians in Pakistan who were well acquainted with anime and manga due to very much the same reasons as the Western audience. Financial stability, decent access to technology, international traveling and or connections, and a keen curiosity for the comparatively strange caused these certain Pakistani citizens to come across anime and manga. Unfortunately, though, these factors were not present for much of the Pakistani population. Coupling that fact with the stigma attached to animation as being only for children, one can easily guess why the first generation of anime and manga fans mainly kept to themselves in corners of the Internet until early 2004.

In April of 2004, Cartoon Network Pakistan, created by Turner Broadcasting, started airing animated programs in Pakistan. The channel mainly broadcasted classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons such as Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry alongside other contemporary shows such as Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy and Courage the Cowardly Dog during most of the day. A single programming block named Toonami was dedicated to airing anime series for two hours. The block’s schedule included Pokemon, Digimon, Beyblade, and the gateway-anime for most of the population (Appendix), Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball Z (“Cartoon Network (Pakistan)”). Toonami resulted in the second generation of anime and manga fans in Pakistan – most of whom are now aged between 18 to 25 years old (Appendix). As the years went by, Nickelodeon India, Hungama TV, Disney Channel India, and POGO started broadcasting Hindi dubbed anime such as Hagemaru (“Tsurupika Hagemaru”), Ninja Hattori (“Ninja Hattori-kun in South Asia”), and the ever-controversial Doraemon (“Doraemon in India”). Some cable providers would illegally allow the broadcasting of these Indian channels and this resulted in those Pakistani children who were weak at English to be entranced by the tad mature and sexual themes presented in these children’s anime. It is to be noted that very few children, and even adults, knew that the series were of Japanese origin until Internet usage became commonplace in the country. Moreover, with the rise of the Internet, a reasonably decent amount of these children grew up to explore Japan’s animation and comic offerings more. As is shown by Google’s search trends in the Appendix, an interest was also then developed for manga which was what most of the popular anime at the time based on. This then leads to the question: Just how important was the Internet in making Pakistanis more familiar with Japanese content? As can be seen by the five-year-old petition on to launch a Pakistani version of the Indian-only anime broadcasting channel called Animax (“Sign the Petition”), the answer is, “Very much so.”

Since the late 1990s, Pakistan has been dominated by the visuals of American and Indian narratives, so without access to the Internet it was, and somewhat still is, very hard to broaden your horizons. The devoted and net-savvy made good use of the Internet join forums and image boards where they could gain knowledge of and gain access to the content of many countries. Granted, almost 99 percent of this access to such content was illegal but, with a country rife with piracy, that was of little issue. It still is not much of a problem since most Pakistani fans still pirate anime and manga today. Though, since the last three years or so, there has been a noticeable increase in Pakistanis buying, and wanting to buy, anime and manga related merchandise. This is evidenced by a survey conducted in numerous Pakistani geek-media related groups on Facebook, via Google Forms as shown in Appendix, which showed that 18.8 percent of 146 participants (mostly aged between 14 and 26) have had subscribed to anime-streaming and manga-library service Crunchyroll. In a follow-up question, it was revealed that 37.7 percent of the same number of participants own anime and manga related merchandise. Although the percentages presented may seem small, they are actually quite large when one is presented with the fact that Pakistan’s average piracy levels from 1999 to 2002 were above 70 percent for music and movies (Proserpio et al. 41). To give contrast, USA and Japan’s music and movie average piracy levels were below 6 percent. Even today the piracy rate in Pakistan is still very high (Proserpio et al. 41). When people are trying to illegally view American Netflix content in Pakistan using Virtual Private Networks (Tajammul “‘Why use Netflix Pakistan?'”) then it is no wonder Sanjay Raina, general manager and senior vice-president of Fox, stated in an interview that piracy in Pakistan “will never go away” (Clowes “Piracy will never be defeated”). Disregarding the issue of piracy for now, it should be made clear that piracy helped not only Pakistanis but most of the world to get untampered anime and manga.

It is thanks to piracy that the world now has unfiltered access to Japanese content. When Western publishers and licensors first started commercially importing anime and manga, they tended to change the content to suit the local bubble. As a result, you would have cases such as discontinuity in the plot in series like Mushi Production’s Kimba the White Lion, which NBC tried to make more child-friendly (Cooper “The History Of Anime”), and the modern day example of injecting Western social and political issues into dialogue in Hajimete no Gal (My First Girlfriend is a Gal) (D. “Funimation Responds”). To counter this, “fansubbing” began taking place wherein netizens rendezvoused in chat channels and forums to create amateur translations which are, most of the time, more accurate than official subtitles offered by companies. The process of fansubbing and distribution has been streamlined with the passage of time and is now currently seen by corporations to be a major source of piracy while fans deem it to be the final bastion against misrepresentation of cultural and universal ideas for commercial greed (González 275). For Pakistanis, though, fansub and scanlation (amateur translating of manga) groups were the major source of anime and manga acquisition via BitTorrent networks and cloud storage services (Cooper-Chen 44).

The consumption of anime and manga increased as the years went by and, with it, its impact on Pakistani culture. The biggest influence it had on Pakistanis was creating self-awareness amongst children and teens towards physical intimacy and the thin line between that and sexual open-ness. The Japanese are very polite and have a high regard for personal space and yet, they become very physical when it comes to camaraderie and sexual situations (Evason “Japanese Culture – Core Concepts”). This is the exact opposite for Pakistanis who barely have any concept of personal space and to whom, despite the love for Hollywood and Bollywood soft-core smut, the open discussion of sexual intimacy is considered taboo. So much that a political party had to recently impose a ban on the widely popular children’s anime Doraemon (“PTI wants Japanese”). The non-sexual presentation of children’s bodies is considered normal in Japan as, well, children are children (Hu “Japanese ‘Naked’ Festivals”). Also, Japanese children’s anime and manga are not afraid to mention puberty, the changes associated with this biological process, and the psychological effects it can have in an easy to understand way so that children can relate (Napier). This is commonplace in coming-of-age stories. Nobita’s antics whenever his muse, Shizuka, appeared on screen were considered by the Pakistani political party to be harmful to children whereas the children themselves related hard with Nobita’s curiosity and puberty induced awkwardness (Khan “Doraemon vs Doraemon”). Whether the decision was right or wrong is a matter for another paper, though.

Additionally, there have been other, more direct influences as well. In recent years, there have been several conventions, or cons, held in Pakistan to appeal to the geek fanbase and to serve as an outlet for them to socialize (Kazim “Fans dress up”). These conventions have seen a decent attendance by both fans and curious onlookers who marveled at the attendees dressed up as characters from their favorite series (Qamar “Looking kawaii in Karachi”). This has all been thanks to a non-governmental organization promoting Japanese culture called Metal Seinen that began operating in 2006 (“Metal Seinen is bringing”). Their efforts have been fruitful as there have been at least three cons held in 2016 alone. Then there is the effect that anime and manga have had on content produced in Pakistan. Minako OóHagan, currently an Associate Professor at the School of Cultures Languages and Linguistics (CLL), reckoned the extent to which anime and manga served as inspirations for Western productions; Hollywood films such as The Matrix and Kill Bill, adapting Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet “into a contemporary story set in Japan”, and the birth of “Amerimanga and Euromanga” which is basically the “adoption of [the] manga form” by Western artists (Oóhagan 242). Extrapolating her observations, one can see the same happening in Pakistan with the creation of Aaron Haroon Rashid’s television series Burka Avenger in 2014, which is Pakistan’s first directly anime-inspired animated superhero series (Zaidi “Burka Avenger'”), and Azcorp Entertainment’s heavily manga-influenced comic series Team Muhafiz in 2015, which is seeing relative success as a good tool to raise awareness on social issues amongst Pakistani teenagers (Anis “Team Muhafiz”). Perhaps the biggest cultural influence of anime and manga on Pakistani media, at the time of writing, is the christening of Sheesha-Ghar (The Glassworker) by Usman Riaz’s team Mano Animation Studios on the fundraising platform Kickstarter. Due to its crisp and fluid animation and its art style serving as a tribute to beloved pioneer Japanese animation company, Studio Ghibli, it garnered international attention in 2016 when its prologue was shown on the studio’s website after successful collection of funds (Salahuddin “From paper sketches”). Just as “Japan’s cartoon arts have made inroads overseas because of their odorless, un-Japanese look” (Cooper-Chen 48), Riaz said in interview that he wanted to apply the same to his own film as “people both in Pakistan and around the world will have their eyes and ears opened in some small way to the riches of [Pakistani] culture and language – just as [Riaz’s] eyes were opened and [his] curiosity sparked of faraway cultures as a child” (Hasan “I want to show”).



It can be argued that this essay tried to bite off more than it could chew given the word count limitation and that the introduction to anime and manga in the beginning may have been somewhat long-winded. Both are, to be honest, fair points. The detailed history of anime and manga in Japan could have gotten even more in-depth but was not done so as to properly address the situation of the lack of formal research into the subject in the Pakistani context and its related inquiries. This essay’s author hopes that, in the future, one would capitalize on the secondary research gone into penning this essay and also overcome the shortcomings brought forward by the constraints of the primary data to delve even further into the impact anime and manga may have had on Pakistani culture, society, and how our media is slowly transforming into a delicate yet progressive mixture of highly different cultural sentiments. Just as Japan had hoisted the banner of “Cool Japan”, it may soon be the time for “Cool Pakistan” if the advantages gained by anime and manga influences are capitalized on to form the fusion of our rising animation talent, popular musical avenues, and reviving interest in Urdu literature.





A survey was conducted via Facebook in many geek groups (such as ACCP).


Out of 149 participants:

85.9% was male while 12.1% was female. The age range of the participants was between 16 and 24. 97.3% of participants had watched anime on television (for example, Pokemon, Beyblade, etc on Cartoon Network) when they were children.


Out of these 146 participants:

The responses of 145 participants were analyzed to reveal that most find Dragon Ball Z, with Pokemon coming to a close second, the anime they remember the most from childhood. 97.3% of 146 participants revealed that they still watch anime. Of 143 participants, 27.3% downloaded, 20.3% streamed, and 52.4% did both when acquiring anime series and films from the Internet. 18.8% of 146 participants were, or are still, subscribed to online content services such as Crunchyroll. 37.7% of the same number of participants used to own, or still own, anime and manga related merchandise.


Figure. 1: Using Google Trends to see the rise of anime related searches on Google between 2004 and early 2019.
Figure. 2: Comparison between anime and manga searches on Google between early 2009 and early 2019. The sharp spikes for manga situated to the left of the graph are due to the marketing for and release of a Bollywood movie.


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