A Pakistan Holiday for a British Journalist
The notion that Pakistan is more dangerous than Iraq is absurd. I hired a car in Islamabad and headed out onto the partially completed M2 motorway that will eventually connect Lahore (near the Indian border) with Peshawar (the last city on the road to the Khyber Pass and Afghanistan). Suicide bombs, battles in tribal areas, and states of emergency tend to put off casual tourists. But the impression such events convey can often be misleading and unrepresentative of a country as a whole. My destinations were Chitral, an isolated valley in the far-north-west on the Afghan border and Gilgit, close to China and Tajikistan. I gave lifts to more than 20 people, learned how to say “You’re welcome” in Urdu (Koi Batnahi), and had to hold back tears when two children said thank you for their lift and offered me money to help pay for the petrol. The round-trip was more than 1,200 miles (nearly 2,000km) and included mountain passes almost half as high as Everest. Parts of Pakistan are deeply conservative, devoutly Muslim places, and I was not signalled for lifts by many women. But there were some. A mother and grandmother, sitting in the back, their heads covered but not their faces and one-year-old Anis and his father Samir in the front with me.