Taxi Motifs in Islamabad/Rawalpindi: The Origin of R-A-K

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On the rear of nearly every taxi in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and surrounding areas are decals with the letters R–A-K. The letters are capitalized, printed in a bold font, and sometimes appear with a variation of the Australian or New Zealand flag beneath the A. There are variations on the selection of letters, but RAK is almost as much a symbol of a taxi as its yellow color or the standard make of taxis, the Suzuki FX800. Red and black taxis exist, but these are most easily recognizable by the R-A-K additions.

An R-A-K taxi. Note the USA decals below the bumpers

Almost as inexplicable as the R-A-K sequence are the other decals that appear on taxis. Below the bumper is frequently a British flag, and decals that say “USA,” or “Japan.” The presence of a USA sticker is especially surprising as in a recent Pew survey of Pakistani public opinion only 16% of Pakistanis viewed the US favorably. Only one country had a more unfavorable opinion of the US. According to another poll, Pakistanis view the US as more of a threat than India.

The explanation proffered for design choices is similar between taxi and truck decorations. Most taxi drivers shrug when asked why RAK appears on their taxi and usually suggest that it is just for decorative purposes. Similarly, truck drivers seldom articulate the rationale behind why a flower appears in one panel of their truck and a women or idyllic scene in another.

When decorative styles vary from the norm, there is often an explanation. A taxi driver chose to use the letters UAH instead of RAK in honor of his children, Usman, Asma, and Haroon. Another taxi driver, has changed the R to a P and drives with PAK on his rear to support his country. The same is true for truck art. Unique paintings often commemorate a lost family member.

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