Pakistan – Awaiting A Savior

Pakistan – Awaiting A Savior

Pakistan – Awaiting A Savior 150 150 ComfortAid International

I visit Pakistan December 12 – 17, 2012.
These five days are filled with painful emotional upheavals and furtive
arrangements by my hosts to keep me safe. This narrative will, hopefully, give
you an idea of rot that is gripping this once wonderful and proud nation. There
is not one person who has a good word to say about the overall health of this
country and many ruefully mull the good old days of military rule, unanimous this
is the only institution that has a shot of changing Pakistan’s fast eroding
kismets. After a haunting emotional day December 13 visiting with victims and
families of sectarian shooting in Karachi, I head for Multan and dangerous NWF
provinces. CAI has built hundreds of one-bedroom homes for flood victims in Punjab;
I want to inspect these and close the project file.
December 14, 2012
I wait for flight PAI332 to be announced but
nothing happens by 11AM departure time, so approach the information desk manned
by an elderly man reading an Urdu newspaper. I wait for him to notice me but he
is much engrossed with the news or ignoring me. Sallam, I say. He raises tired eyes to look at me then elevates
bushy eyebrows in a question mark. I ask him about the flight to Multan. He
mutters something ineligible, but speech is difficult; his mouth is full of
paan spit. Sorry, I say, I do not understand. Irritation flashes
in his eyes. He turns his mouth to the skies and mumbles ineligibly again.
Frustration and irritation flash in my eyes. He gestures me to wait, gets up and
spits into a nearby trashcan. Aree,
he says, flashing paan stained blood-red teeth my way, wait by gate number 17, you’ll be called when the flight is ready.
I wait by gate 17 in apprehension for another
thirty minutes. My schedule in Punjab / NWP is tight, many housing and other
projects to visit / inspect, awesome exotic Punjabi teeter curry to devour. The
time by flight PK332 on the monitor suddenly flashes and changes to 14:40; there
is pandemonium in the waiting area at the same instance. About thirty men
surround the desk by the gate, there is shouting and mayhem; I can’t understand
a word as everybody is yelling. The pretty PIA counter clerk panics and bolts, clacking
high heels making her flight to safety comically awkward. A uniformed PIA man
replaces her sentry but is instantly besieged and the mayhem continues. When he
tries to flee, the protesting group surrounds him, blocking escape; a scuffle
ensues. This continues for sometime before several armed security men muscle in
and temporarily disperse the crowd, rescuing him. The crowds gather again and
begin denouncing PIA; colorful curses and accusations of corruption, theft and
incompetence gain momentum. I get into a conversation with a fellow passenger
who informs me our flight to Multan is diverted to Islamabad because the scheduled
Islamabad flight is technically air-unworthy. The order comes from higher-ups;
there are two senior military officers who have to be in Islamabad pronto.
So I wait in the lounge, which now has a
deserted look, except for the protesting Multan group, whose energy levels have
much mellowed. Ignoring no-smoking signs throughout the terminal, several in
this group light up. There is an immediate request and caution over the
intercom for passengers not to smoke; it is smugly ignored. Since my sect is a
target, I recite my dhor salaat stealthily, then lay down among empty cushions.
When I awake with a start at 14:30, there is little change in the flight
status, still shows 14:40 departure. I wait until 15:00, still no change. Very
worried, I cautiously approach the help desk again, now manned by an attentive
and eager to help young lady. She speaks English as well; my fortunes have much
improved. Aree, she says, puzzled, this flight is cancelled! Sorry Sir, you’ll have to go to PIA counter outside
and reschedule for next flight.
And when is the next flight? Only PIA can tell you Sir. And why am I
not told about the flight cancellation, why is the status still showing 14:40
on the monitor? Aree, kya boolu. So sorry
Sir.
I have a staggering headache by now; I call
my host and he is on his way to pick me up. There are other disquieting events brewing
in Karachi. I get frightening news alert on my cellphone; a midair collision
between Emirates and Al Etihad airlines over Panjgor, Sindh is averted at the
last minute due to non-functioning radar. The Shia ulemas of Pakistan have
begun a protest sit-in in the center of city (I later learn sixty thousand
people join the protest; the Governor agrees to meet with leaders of community)
in protest against the governments inability / unwillingness to stop sectarian
killings, so the already snarled Karachi traffic goes overtime, delaying my
drive to Mehfil e Murtaza. All gas stations in Sindh are boycotting the sale of
CNG due to their displeasure with the Supreme Court; queues of vehicles stretch
for miles all over the city. Then, at about 10PM, shops and businesses come
under fire from snipers; the entire city center empties out within ten minutes.
Scared shitless, I make it to my hotel safe. I am to take a flight to relatively
safer Islamabad tomorrow at 10AM; I can’t wait.
December 15, 2012
I am awake by five today, eager to go to the
airport, but the day starts ominously; a news alert informs me that entire
Sindh is gripped by fear, all businesses, schools and public transport is shut.
Sweet Mother Mary, what next?! My host’s driver takes less than fifteen minutes
to reach the airport on deserted roads, an otherwise forty-five minute drive.
The flight to much cooler Islamabad is eventless, the PIA flight arriving five
minutes early even though we take off fifteen minutes late, thanks to strong
tail winds aloft. My host takes me to visit a remarkable high school for
financially challenged boys outside the city, Uswa College – remarkable what
few dedicated individuals can accomplish. These boys come from very remote,
financially struggling areas of Pakistan; this school turns them around and
boasts of fifth overall academic excellence in 2012 from all Islamabad high
schools.
Dingy Margala Hotel in Islamabad is a
sprawling state owned complex with so many armed security personnel, it is difficult
to figure who is a protector and who may be potential adversary. With almost
all men sprouting at least a fistful of facial hair, I stand out like a sore thumb.
Seeking refuge in my room, I retire early; dicey Hangu / Gowat beckons me
tomorrow. I am in deep slumber so it takes a couple of rings before I realize
it is not adhaan I hear, but my cellphone; it is my host from Karachi. I am truly sorry Yusufbhai, this Pakistan
trip of your is completely ruined.
Eh? I am a little groggy, so perhaps do
not understand him; this host is not prone to calling me wee hours for such
trivial protocol. We are cancelling your
trip to Hangu and Gowat tomorrow due to security concerns. There is an ongoing
rocket attack at Peshawar airport and people have been killed. The road leading
to Hangu passes through that general area so I am not taking a chance on your
safety or you getting stuck in Hangu or Gowat and missing your flight Tuesday.
Laa
ilaa ha ill’Allah!
I am now more than eager to head home but
cheap airline tickets are not changeable or refundable.
December 16 / 17, 2012
I am holed up in my hotel room with few sporadic,
guarded visits to progressive institutes Jamia Kothar Girls College, Hadi TV,
Jamia Imam Sadiq (A) and Jamia tu Zahra (A).
Wee AM December 18, 2012

Heading home.
I despair for this country, feel sorry for her.
And feel sorry for myself, ruing missed teeter curry.

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