ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan is better known for bombs than bombshells, militant compounds than opulent estates. A few enterprising Pakistanis hope to alter that perception with the launch of a local version of the well-known celebrity magazine Hello!.
They plan to profile Pakistan's rich and famous: the dashing cricket players, voluptuous Bollywood stars and powerful politicians who dominate conversation in the country's ritziest private clubs and lowliest tea stalls. They also hope to discover musicians, fashion designers and other new talents who have yet to become household names.
"The side of Pakistan that is projected time and time again is negative," said Zahraa Saifullah, CEO of Hello! Pakistan. "There is a glamorous side of Pakistan, and we want to tap into that."
But celebrating the lives of Pakistan's most prosperous citizens is not without its critics in a country where much of the population lives in poverty. Advertising one's prosperity could be risky as well since kidnappings for ransom are on the rise and attracting attention from Islamist militants can mean death.
Wajahat Khan, a consulting editor at Hello! Pakistan, said they were cognizant of the sensitivity of publishing a glamour magazine in a conservative Muslim country where many people are struggling and planned to be "socially responsible and culturally aware."
"We are trying to be happy in a war zone," Khan said Saturday at a news conference with Saifullah and other members of the magazine's editorial staff. "We are trying to celebrate what is still alive in a difficult country."
Khan said they would do everything they could to protect the security of the people they profile, but he wasn't overly concerned.
"I don't think terrorist networks are going to be reading Hello! anytime soon," he said.
Pakistan already has a series of local publications that chronicle the lives of the wellheeled in major cities like Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, especially as they hop between lavish parties. But the producers of Hello! Pakistan hope the magazine's international brand and greater depth will attract followers.
Hello! was launched in 1988 by the publisher of Spain's Hola! magazine and is now published in 150 countries. It's well-known for its extensive coverage of Britain's royal family and once paid $14 million in a joint deal with People magazine for exclusive pictures of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's newborn twins.
The market for English-language publications in Pakistan is fairly small. Most monthly and weekly magazines sell no more than 3,000 copies, said Khan, the consulting editor. But they hope to tap into the large Pakistani expatriate markets in the United Kingdom and the Middle East as well.
Hello! Pakistan will be published once a month and will cost about $5.50, twice as much as what many poor Pakistanis earn in a day. The first issue will be published in mid-April and will focus on the Pakistani fashion scene.
Saifullah, who grew up watching her mother and grandmother read Hello! as she hopped between London and Karachi, said it took her two years to convince the magazine to publish a local version in Pakistan.
"They were concerned about whether Pakistan was ready for a magazine like this," she said.
But Saifullah thinks the timing is perfect to showcase Pakistan's too often hidden treasures, citing Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who recently became the first Pakistani filmmaker to win an Oscar for a documentary about the plight of female victims of acid attacks in the country.
"We want to tap into the aesthetically beautiful, the athletic, the fashionable," said Saifullah. "There is so much going on on a daily basis that nobody ever covers. It's totally unexplored."