‘You Can’t Ban Love’: Pakistanis Defy a Valentine’s Day Prohibition

So, for the second year in a row, red “I Love You” balloons and heart-shape boxes of chocolates were essentially contraband. Police officers in Islamabad searched through streets and shops in recent days looking for Valentine’s Day sales. A concert by Atif Aslam, a popular heartthrob singer, that had been scheduled for Wednesday was postponed.

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A couple in Islamabad last year. The city’s High Court ruled last year that celebrating Valentine’s Day was “against the teachings of Islam” and a sign of growing Western influence.

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B.K. Bangash/Associated Press

Some restaurant managers reported receiving calls from unknown numbers asking whether boys and girls had exchanged gifts on their premises, and whether they knew of other establishments that might be observing the holiday. A number of florists and gift shops in Islamabad complained that they had lost significant business as customers stayed away.

But there were also many in Islamabad who didn’t mind taking a risk for love — or to make some money — in defiance of the ban.

In the affluent neighborhood F-7, where Obaid Malik, a young businessman, was parked outside a strip of flower shops, sellers elbowed one another to show him the long-stemmed roses he had asked for. Before the ban, the street had typically been jammed the night before Valentine’s Day, but now the shops stood quiet and sellers seemed more desperate than usual to make a sale.

“What does Valentine’s Day have to do with the government? Why are they bothering people?” Mr. Malik said as the florists showed him different types of roses. Three defiantly red helium balloons hovered in the back of his car.

“Three balloons because, you know, ‘I love you’ is three words,” he said.

Mr. Malik said that he would not take his wife out for Valentine’s Day lunch or dinner this year, but that he planned to surprise her…

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