A Travellerspoint blog

Pakistan

Salaam once again from an unbearably humid Pakistan thinking I’m stupid for being in a Muslim country at this time of year; the temperatures are getting into the 40s and despite drinking about 8l of water a day since you have to have everything minus your hands, feet and face covered my entire body is getting covered in rashes from my clothes chaffing and my torso is covered in milk spots cos of quite how much I’m sweating. It’s one of those countries where despite being a nuclear power virtually nothing ‘works’ and at this time of year having no power for 12 of the 24hours is horrific as when the fan dies at night you wake up very quickly bathed in sweat and if you take a nocturnal walk in the cities you see that most of the (male) population has to sleep outside. But a lack of power is the least of the worries of this deeply troubled country- things really aren’t going well here in virtually any way….

But before the bad stuff the first week or so was great as I entered Pakistan from China via ‘the most beautiful road in the world’, the unforgettable Karakoram Highway- ‘if looks could kill Northern Pakistan would be an Uzi’. Well, actually probably not as Uzis are Israeli but it’s really beautiful anyway. Home to the worlds highest concentration of peaks above 7000m and 3rd only behind only the polar regions in the size and number of glaciers it was an incredible achievement to have built the road through the youngest part of the Earth.

The mountains are continuing to rise and due to their steepness are commonly recognized as the toughest mountains in the world to climb with nicknames like ‘The Killer and ‘The Nightmare’, as one German mountaineer summed up quite nicely: “There’s a reason it (pointing at the 7788m Rakaposhi) doesn’t have a climbing permit fee- virtually no-one can climb it”. The sharpest elevation changes found anywhere on Earth are found in the Karakorams, as much as 7000m down to the gorges of the wild Indus below and as with elsewhere in the Himalayas I found it an almost intimidating landscape to be in. Whilst there are no longer ie organized 2wk+ style treks like in Nepal I did some fantastic day hikes scrambling over glaciers and moraines with the highlight being trekking to the jawdropping Rupal face of Nanga Parbat. It means ‘The Naked Mountain’ in the local language because it’s so steep that snow, let alone vegetation can’t stick on it and certainly staring up at the near vertical 4572m wall up to the summit felt more like the biggest skyscraper I’ve ever seen than a mountain.

And you have it all almost to yourself; I was ‘a bit naïve’ in what I expected in Pakistan. Hotels owners and the like said there was a trickle of visitors up until about 2 years ago but now there are virtually none so whilst the solitude felt amazing I also felt guilty signing into hotels and seeing they’d had a dozen guests this year- because in the North the people were so nice. The Hunza valley I found to be far and away the most relaxed part of the country where every man seemed to wanna shake your hand and have a chat and even the women would say hi to you. The people are Ismaili (an offshoot of Shi’itism headed by the super likable Aga Khan) which is much less dogmatic and has much more progressive ideas in areas like education than the other main branches of Islam. They were really peaceful and easy to chat to and during the harvest time of mulberries, cherries and apricots I found it very difficult to stop stuffing my face and head South to the heart of the country, which is where things have gone pretty wrong.

I found interacting with people (well, men) in Pakistan quite difficult to gauge at times as their reactions to me varied between being openly hostile and almost fawningly hospitable. As in other Muslim countries the culture of offering food and drink to ‘a guest’ is deeply important and amongst endless offers of the delightful green tea, in certain places like bazaars I somewhat embarrassingly found myself having to choose who to go to as the different vendors competed to have me sit and chat with them about philosophy and struggling to conjure up cohesive answers as to why I’m not Muslim.

But people could also be really hostile too, after leaving Hunza I realized that I was saying a few salaams and getting nothing but a glare in response. In order to try and get on with people I tend to trust the logic that ‘a wink and a smile’s always worth your while’ but in this part of the world that’s not really true as people would act more suspicious than friendly in response to a joke or laugh. Therefore I made the decision that as in Argentinian football games and bars I would be Irish for the month. I’d be on buses and the men would give me sly looks and talk to their peers and I’d catch the word ‘American’ quite clearly and that’s basically the problem, as a white person they think you’re American- and as the ever visible anti American graffiti shows, they don’t like them much.

Every single Paki I spoke to blames the Americans for the problems the country faces with the logic being that before the invasion of Afghanistan, Pakistan was largely peaceful but the invasion sent the Taliban fleeing across the border and the spread of more hardline Islamist elements into Pakistan. A recent report puts the death toll of the ‘War on Terror’ in Pakistan at 40,000 with a catastrophic effect on the Paki economy- especially in overseas investments and tourism. But the American involvement has also become very emotive to the population too with the current big issue which people are really angry about are the drone attacks into the tribal areas. Ostensibly done as a risk free method of assassinating militants they’re of very dubious legality and as has frequently happened, when they start killing civilians accidentally it’s a guarantee the populace will get up in arms as the media parade images of dead children and the like. The fact that they’re a ‘faceless menace’ makes it very easy for the Taliban et al to drum up anti-Western feelings and at the moment means the battle for hearts and minds by the US is being resolutely lost.

As one guy put it: “America acted so shocked when the Twin Towers got hit and its civilians got killed yet they’re doing the same here and they think an insincere apology from Hilary Clinton will placate us. It’s total hypocrisy”. The Raymond Davis case earlier this year where a CIA agent shot dead a couple of locals in very hazy circumstances similar to the Blackwater killings in Iraq a few years ago has made things even worse. Under intense pressure from the US the Paki government gave him diplomatic immunity to the angry amazement of the population. It’s made travelling here as a foreigner a bit tenser too, when I got to Swat I was interviewed by the Major of the local regiment at his villa and he wouldn’t even let me go into his garden saying “If my neighbours see you and they think you’re American I could get in serious trouble”.

However, whilst the USA or India or even Afghanistan make for convenient scapegoats, Pakistan’s problems are multiple and one of the things I found most frustrating about the country is the ease with which everyone (government, media and the population) blames someone else for problems which are largely self-inflicted.

To me, countries which are based round a religion are something of an affront to the development of rational human thinking, as the likes of Saudi Arabia and Israel offer an abundance of evidence- it seems that as soon as an individual believes differently from what is considered the ‘right’ way of thinking then their position in that society becomes marginalized even to the point of their lives being endangered. Pakistan is another sad but even more nuanced example of this as with outside ‘help’ it’s sadly become ‘the front line of the civil war within Islam’ as they’re not even sure amongst themselves what the ‘right’ way of thinking is. Pakistan was created as a homeland of sorts for Muslims carved out of the most populous Muslim areas of India and the role of religion in the country is eternally being squabbled over. And if you’re wondering why I’m referring to them as Pakis- the point is to highlight the hypocrisy of calling themselves “The Pure and Clean” (as opposed to Indias ‘dirty and impure’ Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians…and 100+m Muslims) then getting angry when people (however ignorantly) turn it against them into a term of abuse.

Whilst the British left an efficient secular based legal and civil service, with virtually no other communities to influence things, over time the Imams have become ever more influential in public opinion on how things should be run. Once you establish that the country is 97% Muslim Pakistan is quite diverse in its beliefs, whilst it has a Sunni majority it also houses a big Shi’ite community and various other sects too. Most of the Muslims that came from India or near the country’s borders with Iran and Afghanistan were very poor and uneducated and seeing groups whose beliefs could be easily influenced, missionary money started pouring in from Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (Shi’ite). Tens of millions of dollars have been spent by these countries going into rural communities preaching and building religious schools (madrasahs) trying to convert the population but they’ve opened up a Pandora’s Box of bigotry and sectarianism- (and if you don’t know the difference between Shi’ites and Sunnis look it up and see how something seemingly fairly small nearly 1500years ago can cause so much bloodshed now). As the 2 sides have fought harder to win converts the type of things they’re preaching have got ever more radical and it’s resulted in a wave of violence which has gone on for more than 20 years. First the smaller Ahmadi sect (who believe there is another prophet after Mohammed) were made non-Muslims in the constitution then the 2% Christians started getting attacked before the Shi’ites and Sunnis turned on each other, calling the others infidels and bombing their shrines and mosques as well as assassinating key figures in the movements.

As with so much of Pakistan it’s a tragic state of affairs and much of the blame has to be down to successive governments who, intent on ignoring the outer regions and their millions of unemployed, disenchanted youths let the increasingly militant preachers encourage violence for far too long and when they finally acted it was too late. And a similar line of logic explains the growth of the many faceted terrorist movements in the country.

As a foreigner you’re most certainly not allowed into these border areas but on a smaller scale the gorgeously forested, bucolic area of the Kalasha valleys showed a great example of so much of what’s wrong with Pakistan.

From Constantinople to Kashmir the Kalasha are virtually the only non-Muslim tribe with their colorful clothes, unscarfed women and pagan beliefs making it one of the most culturally interesting places in Pakistan but they’re coming under serious pressure to retain their identity. They’re regularly derided as infidels by the rent-a-quote clerics which take up so much space in the Paki media and various Islamic institutions have spent lots of money and effort trying to convert the population. They’ve had some success and they’re now down to just 3,000 people, one of the village chiefs explained how they’re forced into a poverty line existence through the government selling off their forests for timber and offering no help with development- because they’re not Muslims. He said therefore the young people are in the position that if they want to do an educated job (or virtually anything beside farming) their education has to be sponsored by a Mosque and they’d therefore have to convert to Islam. As a result the community has very few options and are being slowly squeezed out by the regressive, unlovely system that Pakistan is based round.

A few days ago I also managed to go to a Sufi music concert which was a fantastic experience; Sufism is a mystical, more animated sect of Islam which like other smaller sects has come under huge pressure in Pakistan from hardline clerics and their supporters resulting in various bombings and attacks at their meetings. The concert went on for most of the night and felt something like a Pentecostal or similar Church service with a very excitable preacher and blokes shouting stuff out in (seeming) religious ecstasy right throughout. The crowd could spontaneously start chanting or dancing as they lost themselves in the music and the copious amounts of hash that everyone was smoking. Visually it was really entertaining to view but you can see why clerics detest it so much as it’s an absolute world away from the austerity of worship normally associated with Islam. Either way the inability of other sects to tolerate different beliefs has come to be one of the defining features of the country and paints Islam in a terrible light regardless of what the US or anyone else is doing in the region.

The very idea of basing the country solely around religion and that it would somehow act as a glue to hold the country together was naively simplistic and never likely to work because, what’s now Pakistan had always been home to a wide range of ethnic and tribal groups whose loyalties can’t be easily bought.

Thanks largely to the sense of religious superiority and the attempts by the military to unite the country it’s self-identity is utterly contradictory. On the one hand there’s a strong and very visible crass form of nationalism. All over Pakistans roads are signs saying ‘We Love Pakistan!’ or ‘My Blood Type is Pakistani!’; to the names of the country and it’s cringingly titled capital Islamabad (Islamtown) to the absurd border closing ceremony and even the nationwide school uniform for boys includes a Pakistan cap. But then on the other hand Pakistan is very much a political construction and most Pakis would describe themselves as being of the region they’re from first before the nation as a whole and indeed the army has had to crush several separatist movements since independence. These problems have been greatly exacerbated by the failure of its leaders to govern fairly and this has become one of Pakistan’s biggest problems where instead of aiming to spread development evenly across the country politicians have merely tried to line their own pockets and keep their own geographical power base happy with little thought for elsewhere in the country. As a result regional disparities and tensions between different parts of the country has been a constant problem and at total odds with the ‘one Pakistan’ the government likes to portray itself as. And again going totally against the spirit of why the country was established the one group who don’t have a strong identity –the Mohajirs (refugees) from India were pushed to the poorest regions away from the centres of power and their arrival has been loathed by the natives. In a country of high unemployment and very limited economic opportunities the natives have ended up fighting e newbies, most famously in the biggest city Karachi where the never-ending ‘gang wars’ have led to one of the highest murder rates in the world.

But of more international concern is the Western part of the country which is home to various tribal groups who’ve long been super-resistant to any attempts to colonise them; when Pakistan was being established the tribes agreed to join the new country but only on the condition that the police couldn’t operate and their own tribal customs would trump Pakistan law. The police and courts have to defer to tribal councils called panchyats, who (in a country of 170m which hasn’t convicted anyone of rape in the last 10years) can make judgements like sentencing women to be raped which the Western press loves reporting on and under the system in Pakistan are legal in these areas. The tribal areas run along the porous Afghan border and have become monumentally lawless with Nato (and Pakistan) forces powerless to stop opium smuggling and allowing Taliban fighters shelter and a free rein to operate in a far larger area than they should be able to. There’s even a gun town called Darra Adam Khel near Peshawar where the bazaar is made up of nothing but stalls selling homemade guns costing as little as $50! Unsurprisingly Pakistan has an estimated 20m unlicenced firearms and again I found talking to the people, even army officers spectacularly naïve in thinking they could bring the security situation under control yet somehow still maintain this dual legal system.

Beyond that though when India was split the way it was, all the non-Muslims living in what’s now Pakistan thought they wouldn’t be safe and fled East to the new India; and culturally Pakistan is much the poorer for it.

The paucity of the country’s film, music and literature output since independence stands in sharp contrast to India’s and to my surprise even the food here has been surprisingly bad- unlike the wonderfully diverse cuisine across the border most restaurants here have just a beef, a chicken and a vegetable dish to eat with roti and pretty quickly gets monotonous. In a far cry from the colourful tales and descriptions of people on the Grand Trunk road by Kipling et al, in a country where based on who you actually see on the street 80% (rising to 99% in Pashtun areas) of the population is men, all wearing the uniform like and deliberately unflattering kurtas (Islamic pyjama suit) in terms of the visual stimulation of the place it compares very poorly to elsewhere on the subcontinent.

Things still might have been OK but for the 60years of its independence Pakistan has been ruled for 30years by the army and 30years in a democracy and for different reasons both periods have gone badly. It’s been like a negative jigsaw where they’ve got virtually every piece of managing the country wrong so that nothing fits positively and the final result being that Pakistan is one of the most underperforming countries in the world.

During my travels rounds the continent one of the biggest criticisms I’ve realized you can make of Asian societies is the lack of meritocracies. Across the continent whether in business or politics it’s quite clear that’s it’s not who you are that ultimately matters but who you know or what your name is. Even in the most developed countries like Korea or Japan power or influence are still obtained via informal relationships with the ‘right people’ in back rooms rather than by someone’s innate abilities.

So for example on the surface an observer might think women are highly empowered in Asia as most countries have had at least 1 female leader including the worlds first (Mrs Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka) and the 3 biggest Muslim countries; however what each and every one of them has in common is that they’re either the daughter or the wife of a dead president. Power tends to be shared amongst a small clique of people, often just a few families as dynasties rule and as I’ve written about in many other countries (Philippines, Indonesia etc) this gives rise to corruption and nepotism which has a terrible retarding effect on a country’s development.

And unfortunately Pakistan is another prime example of this; if you’ve been following the latest storyline in the Pakistan cricket ‘soap opera’ you’ll know the latest story involves a selector going on hunger strike and eventually resigning because his fellow selectors refused to pick his son in law!

More seriously though, since independence just a few families known as “The 22 Families” have shared power in the army, business and via the 2 main political parties and have a very blinkered, uneven view of running the country. The 2 most important families, the Bhuttos and the Sharifs hold an immense amount of political and economic power and via rock solid local power bases the competing dynasties have been slugging it out for national control for much of its democratic history. Pakistan is traditionally a very feudal society with local landowners having decision making powers over nearly everything. Local constituents weren’t used to any other system and even with the arrival of democracy, through bribery and gerrymandering etc. the landowners will be elected almost unopposed as the local MP and it’s very much in their interest to vote to keep the status quo- i.e. their own wealth and privileges. When those in charge die or retire their offspring will take over their position and continue the dynasty with this idea sadly highlighted after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007, when her husband had been convicted on too many corruption charges (even for Pakistan) to take over the party leadership quite ridiculously her 19yr old son took over, despite the fact he was at Oxford and hadn’t actually spent all that much time in Pakistan.

The kleptocracy indulged in by its MPS has meant basic sanitation and infrastructure improvements just don’t happen but most seriously this has meant that Pakistan has never organized a proper nationwide tax collections system as the landowners unsurprisingly vote to a)not pay much tax and b) ensure that as much of local peoples incomes returns to them. As little as 1% of people actually pay the correct amount, and as a result the government repeatedly has had to take huge loans from the World Bank and IMF to pay for stuff. Aside from their scandalous spends on the military this means they have to pay huge amounts of interest servicing its debts so is permanently broke and in todays world simply can’t afford to fund the schools, hospitals etc. which can improve the quality of life of the people. It’s much of the reason why the country has become such a slave to American wishes- because the estimated $20bn in annual aid it receives is pretty much all that keeps the government solvent. But whilst the politicians (and cricketers) like a bit of graft they’ve still been better than the military who’ve run the country for the other half of Pakistans life. The worst governed countries in Asia (North Korea, Myanmar, Indonesia etc) offer a multitude of evidence why soldiers should never be allowed to run things; it tends to make for a better administration when you actually understand areas like economics.

Pakistans military rulers have been terrible for the country, whilst they’ve been appalling administrators, in the longer term they’ve set various national positions which have gone a long way to bring the country to its near failed state. With an adolescently macho, misplaced mindset they’ve authorized genocide in Bangladesh, repeatedly lied to the media, population and the rest of the world about what they’re doing and through meddling in virtually all of their neighbours business Pakistan has become absolutely detested in diplomatic circles due to the way they’ve conducted themselves.

However, since the moment of independence the Kashmir issue has been Pakistan’s Achilles Heel and the military governments have taken the nations obsession with it to an almost pathological level. It reminds me strongly of Argentina and The Falkland Islands where the issue is used as a default story to unite the country in a common cause against an enemy- without there being any real justification. In Pakistan through all forms of media and endless government speeches and declarations the public are fed a never-ending diet of propaganda about the atrocities India are committing and how the Kashmiris are not being allowed to rejoin their brothers on the other side of the border. But there’s only a sliver of truth in it, when I was in Kashmir I was impressed at how articulate the locals were in expressing what they wanted and to a man they gave their preference as Independence, followed by remaining part of India and joining Pakistan being a distant 3rd, with the understandable justification that Pakistan is a complete mess. Pakistan has always spent an unforgivable amount of its GDP on the military (upwards of 1/3 but it’s now up to 75%!) and launched 3 wars over the issue, all of which they comfortably lost cos it’s a war they cannot win. Even with so much spending, its army is still only half the size of Indias’ and massively outnumbered in terms of tanks and other weapons. In recent years though it’s responses have been dangerous and morally unforgivable; a couple of weeks ago the UN atomic weapons commission reported that Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear weapons programme in the world, making 30 last year alone which in the current domestic security climate and huge poverty its citizens face is simply incredible.

Realizing they won’t win an open war they’ve tried to do it by proxy, creating groups of terrorists to do damage to India then saying it’s nothing to do with them. The Mumbai attacks in 2008 were almost certainly planned by the Pakistan military but their biggest contribution to the world has been the creation of the Taliban. The Taliban were a group of Afghan refugees from the Soviet war in the ‘80s and were initially trained in hardline Islamic rhetoric by the Pakistani secret service to go and fight covertly in Kashmir for the Pakistani cause. But as everyone knows they returned to Afghanistan, the ISI (Paki intelligence agency) gradually lost control of them and Pakistan now finds itself in a farcical position where it openly supports ‘good terrorists’ (i.e. ones that do damage to India) but is desperately fighting against ‘bad terrorists’ (i.e ones that want a Taliban style government and do damage to Pakistan). It would be laughable if it wasn’t quite so serious but Pakistans strategic location and the fact it has the ‘M’(uslim) bomb means that America and the West simply can’t walk away and leave the country to sort out its own mess, much as they’d love to.

Traveling in Pakistan almost felt like being in 2 countries, whilst Punjab and the Northern Areas almost felt like being back in India once I headed West to the legendary North West Frontier Province or as it’s now been renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa its bombs, guns, cops and terrorists meant traveling here became really quite difficult.

I must admit I never gave a moments thought to the idea of not coming to Pakistan because of the security situation, but obviously just about every other prospective Western visitor does. There were a few mountaineers in the Karokorams and a few in Lahore but after that I didn’t see any foreigners and the police don’t really know how to deal with you. In the KP there’s barbed wire and armed cops absolutely everywhere and I found myself getting increasingly irate as just about every single one of them wanted to check my ID. I don’t ‘deal well’ with the police anywhere and with their invasive curiosity, having to put up with them has been far and away the worst thing about travelling in Pakistan. On the roads there are checkpoints every half hour or so in the Western part of the country rising to every 15mins in Swat and I found it actually quite embarrassing on journeys as at every single one of them they’d do the American airport immigration game of 120 questions (What are you doing here? Where are you going? Etc) which meant a 10+min delay at each post so found myself constantly having to apologize to the other passengers.

When I got to Chitral in the NW near the Afghan border I had a very surreal few days as the police insisted that I had to have an armed policeman with me at all times, as in ALL waking hours and as much as I argued against them they wouldn’t let me go. I can not put into words how unpleasant a feeling it is, rather than make you feel more secure it does the complete opposite. I’d feel perfectly happy walking round by myself but walking with an AK47 armed shadow unsurprisingly gains you a lot of attention. Also despite him being 8 years older than me and a Father of 6 I ended up having a strange, almost parent-child relationship with him. He clearly wanted me to sit around drinking chai, chatting the breeze all day like a Paki tourist might but this is in the Hindu Kush and unsurprisingly I wanted to get out and enjoy it. Therefore I’d drag him onto 8hr hikes which he really didn’t enjoy. At all. An early morning conversation we had went something like this:

Me: Come on Haji get up I want to get out.

Haji: Oh but do we have to go? My leg hurts.

M: No it doesn’t, you’re just saying that cos you don’t wanna walk.

H: It does. Can’t we stay in town, I wanna see my kids.

M: Fine, I’ll go off by myself.

H: No, I can’t let you. But we can’t go because…because I need to pray!

M: Fine, We’ll go once you’ve prayed.

H: Oh, but do we have to go….

What was most frustrating though was just being barred from going to places with the vague warnings of ‘there may be Taliban there’. I could kind of understand it in the hills but when we went to another valley things got a bit more serious when he fell asleep and I popped out to take a look around the next village. I’d been walking for 10 minutes when another cop ran after me and told me to head back, I’d never seen him before so just ignored him and carried on walking but then things went a bit wrong. As you may have seen in videos of police in India controlling crowds at cricket matches or train stations, in the subcontinent the police will just push or hit people first rather than talking to them and that’s what this guy did to me- and I didn’t exactly respond by saying “Oh sorry, my mistake- I’ll turn back shall I?” We then got into a potentially pretty dangerous position where he kept trying to use force to control me which didn’t exactly cool the situation down and I found myself in the strangely enjoyable position (cos I knew I was in the right) of being able to hurl as much abuse as I wanted at a cop aiming a gun at me! It was only solved when a couple of local guys stepped in and broke us up before his boss arrived and gave me the OK to continue, albeit with the cop following 10yds behind. Not good, but things got even worse when I went to the formerly peaceful holiday district of the Swat valley which you may remember in 2007 was quickly taken over by the Taliban. It was widely seen at the time as the turning point where the army had to take evasive action to reclaim it or the entire country could be set on the road to collapse. They succeeded but 4yrs later it’s still heavily militarized and they were ‘just a bit’ suspicious of me. On 3 utterly tortuous, tedious days I was interviewed for 3hrs, 1.5hrs then a head splitting 5hrs by various officers ascertaining who I was and what I was doing there. It was all very good natured and all being of the educated class they seemed to enjoy having a foreigner to talk to but I guess it just showed how far ‘off the beaten track’ Pakistan has now become.

Despite being so riddled with problems one of the things I find most frustrating about Pakistan is just how much everyone has their heads in the sand about how bad things are and how they can be turned around. Whilst the media is surprisingly free it’s also absolutely terrible. Egged on by jingoistic politicians they’ll report endless stories using ludicrously emotive language about the need to be vigilant against India (which has far better things to do- like growing its economy), petty inter party disputes or moaning about the ills America is doing them- yet there’s little analysis of how their own domestic problems have developed and how they can be solved. Pakis absolutely love talking about politics but neither the politicians, the media nor the general public seem able to grasp that the country is on the brink of failure and only being shored up by outside aid. To tragically highlight this point during the horrific floods that hit the country last year the president gave an international fundraising appeal describing it in emotive language ‘as the worst day in the country’s history’, ‘our hour of greatest need’ etc. etc. yet just three days later for reasons known only to themselves the Paki parliament thought its time would be best used passing a resolution condemning the atrocities committed by the Indian army in Kashmir (which I wrote about last September). Simply unbelievable. They absolutely love conspiracy theories and thanks to the media everyone seems to think the countries problems including the Taliban and all the bombings are down to RAW (Indian intelligence agency). Or if not them then the CIA. Or maybe Mossad. No-one I spoke to believes Osama bin Laden is really dead and despite the seriousness of how bad things are there’s a sense of unreality about the place.

I don’t actually think its problems are unsolvable by any means, if they abandoned the Kashmir issue and started trading with India, stopped supporting any terrorists then massively toned down the military spending many of its problems would begin to get under control and then finally the country might start to move forward. But unfortunately it just seems fixed on a self destructive path and its future is woefully uncertain.

About half the people I went to school with used to say things like “Proud to be a Paki’ but I think there are few countries on Earth whose citizens should feel less proud of. Being here reminded me of traveling in Indonesia and The Philippines earlier on in the trip as whilst large parts of it are stunningly beautiful and the people are often very friendly I think when traveling in other countries you have to be a bit more analytical in judging them and based on an idea of religious superiority and utterly mismanaged since then, frankly Pakistan is a shocking place. I’m sorry the email is so ridiculously long but it’s definitely somewhere I can’t help but feel very passionate about for lots of reasons. And even though they’re the ‘wrong’ reasons I’m still really pleased I’ve been able to go and certainly feel like I’ve learnt a lot from.

From Lahore,

Barney

Posted by carlswall 14:39 Archived in Pakistan

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