This was expressed by our Pakistani guides several times during our stay together – as if stating that Pakistan is different. And truly Pakistan is different and this we experienced very clearly as we entered Pakistan from the Chinese border in the north by driving from Kashgar to Sost and then following the Karakoram highway. Firstly, the northern areas of Pakistan are stunningly beautiful with high snow peaked mountains crossing the Kunjerhab national park and the green Hunsa valley. But the beauty is enhanced since the people of Pakistan is so welcoming. Personally, I had never ever before visited a country where workers along the road waved to us as we passed in the car and where even casual police-officers on the street of Gilgit saluted me by shaking my hand and asking me where I was from. It can´t help but make you feel welcome.
Quite frankly, we also gladly exchanged the chop-sticks and the Han-chinese fare we had enjoyed during the last month in China, with knife and fork and Pakistani chicken with yellow rice. Our first meal in Pakistan was simply delicious.
Pakistan´s roads reflect the country´s harsh geography, in the northern areas with lots of mountains and valleys and in the south-west with stony and sandy deserts. Large areas of roads are under almost continuous repair, but quite passable if one is prepared for longer distances on dirt roads.
But really what surprised us in Pakistan was the contrast between the amiability of the people and the high level of social unrest and insecurity. Through many kilometers both in the northern areas and in the south towards the border to Iran, we were either guarded by having an armed police-officer riding with us in our car, or escorted by a police-platoon riding in a separate truck. Naturally, this was a little disconcerting, while the police at the checkpoints always was utmost correct and at many checkpoints offered us tea or water while waiting for clearance. It gave us, however, a strange feeling when realizing that the reports used by the police at many checkpoints included a column indicating the travelers´ religion and once, indirectly, being asked why we were not Muslims…
We, however, will never forget Pakistan – it´s hospitable people eager to embrace foreigners, the social contrasts, the food and social ambiance and, not least, the beautiful and varied landscape. During our tour from the north to the south-west, we talked to many Pakistanis – police -officers and other officials, businessmen, farmers and urban people, nevertheless, I could not help leaving Pakistan a little puzzled over the reasons for its internal struggles. Some people we talked to blamed religious Islamic extremists, other the influence of foreign powers and others again a faulting educational system resulting in a still high analphabetism.
I concur with the idea that education is crucial in fighting ignorance, religious fundamentalism and a building block for social development. However, with a population of more than 160 million and a society dominated by a mix of Islamic religious struggle and a male dominated tribe-based social structure, the way ahead truly is challenging. As one young man expressed, only three things matter in Pakistan and that is the Army, USA and the Taliban. Hopefully this will not remain so and, in any event we will be able to return to Pakistan soon.