Nathiagali

We went to Nathiagali in the mountains (elevation: 7,900ft) to escape the heat in Islamabad. The weather was warm there but much nicer.

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We rode/hiked to Mushkpuri peak (elevation: 9,200ft) which was a lot of fun and had beautiful scenery.

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On our way back, we stopped in Bhurban.

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Daman e Koh & Pir Sohawa

The almost seven year old wanted to hike up Margalla Hills but it was too hot.

We drove up to Daman e Koh and then had dinner at Monal Restaurant in Pir Sohawa.

Both places have a nice view of Islamabad.

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Transpack Moving Scam

Last year when we visited Pakistan, we decided we wanted to move our furniture, books and other things that had been at my parents’ for so many years since we have a house now.

My Dad contacted Transpack and they estimated the total volume to be in the range of 5-6 cubic meters and their charges from Islamabad to Atlanta to be $225 per cubic meter.

On packing everything, it turned out to be about 7.2 cubic meters. Their packing was reasonable, though they did pack some heavy books inside the china cabinet which wasn’t a good idea and resulted in one leg of the china cabinet breaking during the move.

Transpack’s Tausif Alvi recommended that it would be expensive for them to ship it to our home and might be better if we arranged the local transport from the warehouse to our home.

Even though Transpack had said that our container would be shipped within a week or so, it took more than 6 weeks for it to reach Karachi and put on a ship. The time from Islamabad to Atlanta was more than 2 months.

Transpack assured us that their invoice covered all the charges and we won’t have to pay anything at the destination except for some minor customs clearance. However, when the container reached the port of New York, I got a bill of $318 covering IT charges, handling, AMS, CDF, port security, and shipping. I contacted Transpack and was told that these charges were my responsibility since these were destination charges. That was not correct since the destination was Atlanta. But Transpack assured us that there won’t be any charges at Atlanta and these were the only charges we would have to pay.

Since our things were now stuck in New York and the argument with Transpack wasn’t going anywhere, I paid the New York charges, even though I had my suspicions about further charges in Atlanta. Of course, in Atlanta, there was more money, $250, to pay to the warehouse.

Since Transpack had promised to pay or reimburse any more charges, we contacted them. They said they would “investigate.” Of course, their investigation showed that the consignee, i.e. me, needed to pay everything and they were not responsible.

In the end, I had to pay 33% more than the original invoice and had to go through a lot of hassle. I don’t know why such moving scams are so common.

Help the Displaced in Swat

Please consider helping the people displaced in Pakistan due to the fighting between the army and Taliban extremists.

Due to the recent fighting between the Taliban and Pakistan army, a lot of the local people in Swat and surrounding areas have been forced to flee their homes. According to the UN Refugee Agency,

The number of people who have fled the fighting in northwest Pakistan this month and been registered or recorded by authorities reached 670,906 on Wednesday, up from just over half a million the day before.

[…] Together with more than 550,000 registered displaced people in the North West Frontier Province and some 21,000 in the capital Islamabad and urban areas of the Punjab, the continuing exodus brings to 1,248,715 the total number of people displaced in Pakistan since August, 2008.

[…] UN High Commissioner António Guterres has called urgently on countries around the world to come to the aid of the growing number of displaced. “This is a huge and rapidly unfolding emergency, which is going to require considerable resources beyond those that currently exist in the region,” he said earlier this week.

I’ll try to collect links to different organizations collecting donations for helping these internally displaced persons (not refugees, since refugees are defined as moving across an international border). Please try to help.

I talked to the Edhi Foundation people in New York and they are also accepting checks and money orders for their Swat Fund. They don’t have an online donation page but here is their contact info:

UK:
316 Edgware Road
London W2 1DY
Phone :+44 (207) 723-2050
Fax: +44 (207) 224-9774
Email: edhiuk@yahoo.com

US:
4511 National St
Corona, NY 11368-2741
Phone :+1 (718) 639-0633
Fax: +1 (718) 505-8001

Canada:
Bilquis Edhi Charitable Shop
1801-1805 Danforth Ave
Toronto M4C-1J2 Canada
Phone/Fax: +1 (416) 699-1388

Thanks!

UPDATE: After thinking a lot, we have contributed to Oxfam’s Pakistan Crisis Fund.

Khudkushistan

While late, here’s the account of our trip to Pakistan in October last year.

Khudkushistan, Land of Suicide Bombings, formerly known as Pakistan, Land of the Pure, is where our parents live. Thus we have to visit once in a while despite these statistics from September 2008.

Suicide attacks have killed almost 1,200 Pakistanis since July last year, most of them civilians, according to military statistics released Monday that highlight the ferocity of the militant threat facing the country.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting between Pakistani troops and insurgents on the Afghan border has sent some 20,000 Pakistanis fleeing into Afghanistan, the United Nations reported.

Figures released at a military briefing in Islamabad showed 88 suicide attacks have taken place across Pakistan since the Red Mosque siege, killing 1,188 people.

Of that figure, 847 were civilians, while the rest were troops and police. More than 3,000 were listed as injured.

So we bought tickets in mid-August for a trip in October. A week later, more than 70 people were killed in twin suicide bombings in Wah Cantt, the city where my in-laws live and thus was one of our destinations.

And just two weeks before our visit, there was a suicide bombing in our other destination, Islamabad, when Marriott Hotel was destroyed and more than 40 people killed.

So we were a bit apprehensive about our visit. I mentioned this to a few people who live in Pakistan. They seemed nonchalant and argued that they lived there and the risk was in any case minimal. I agreed that the risk was low but while they lived there, I did not and thus I was worried about visiting a war zone.

On October 3, we flew to Islamabad via Kuwait. At the Atlanta airport, it was difficult to get the ticket agent to understand that Kuwait was a city and a country and was not Iraq. She kept saying Iraq and I got so angry that Amber had to intervene. Our flight was uneventful except that Kuwait Airways food sucked and no one cares about No Smoking signs at Kuwait Airport. Also, Michelle grabbed my usual window seat and had a lot of fun watching the plane take off, fly and land.

When we reached Islamabad, we realized that my bag was lost. So we had to wait until all baggage had arrived at baggage claim and then file a missing baggage complaint. So the first order of business was to buy a toothbrush and some clothes for me. Fortunately, we got the bag the next day.

While we were in Islamabad, there was a suicide bombing at the Islamabad Police HQ, which just goes to show how appropriate the name I have coined, Khudkushistan, is.

There was a lot of road construction going on in Islamabad and Wah area. Some roads have also been widened since the last time we were there. Also, this was the first time I drove on the limited-access toll highway. After I saw the condition of the GT Road, I decided to use the M-1 motorway(Pakistan) to drive between Islamabad and Wah Cantt. Interestingly, most of the vehicles on the motorway drove nowhere near the 120km/hr (75mph) speed limit and I had a lot of fun.

One new thing on the roads of Islamabad and Wah Cantt were the blockades by the police. There are usually two or three fences or other barriers right after each other so that the vehicles have to slow down completely and zig zag through them. Some of these blockades were quite dangerous with sharp metal pointing towards you probably to dissuade anyone from running through the blockade.

We also noticed that signs of any military related buildings that used to there were nowhere to be seen now. For example, the Pakistan Military Academy near Abbottabad has no signs on the main road pointing to its location. Similarly, the Naval Sailing Club at Rawal Lake in Islamabad is difficult to find without any signs.

Unlike our last visit, I didn’t have huge allergy issues and stayed mostly healthy during our trip. Michelle had a lot of fun with her grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins.

Here are some random photographs from our trip.

Ayub Market, Islamabad
Ayub Market, Islamabad
Karachi Company, Islamabad
View of Islamabad
From Pir Sohawa
From Daman e Koh
A mosque
Faisal Mosque
Sunset at Rawal Lake
Gun in Wah Cantt
Weapon worship in Wah Cantt
GT Road, Taxila
Vase shops, Taxila
Intersection closed, Islamabad
 

On our way back, it took me a long time to go through immigration in New York City and we barely made the flight to Atlanta. Thus we waited at baggage claim at the Atlanta airport for a long time without any bags. All our bags were delivered to our home the next day.

Suicide Bombings in Wah Cantt

Twin suicide bombings in the city of my birth have affected me a lot more than I thought possible. 63 dead according to latest reports.

The city of my birth, Wah Cantt, has seen twin suicide bombings today:

At least 63 people have been killed in twin suicide bombings outside a munitions factory in the Pakistani town of Wah, hospital sources say.

The attack is the deadliest on a military site in Pakistan’s history.

The bombs hit the city, 30km (18 miles) north of Islamabad, as workers left. Many people were injured.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taleban said they had carried out the attacks, which he said were a response to army violence in the country’s north-west.

Correspondents say Wah, in the province of Punjab, is a strategically important town normally under heavy security as it is home to a large industrial complex producing conventional arms and ammunition.

Local police chief Nasir Khan Durrani told the BBC: “Many others have been injured and we expect casualties to rise in the coming hours.

“At least 25 people have been critically injured.”

Mr Durrani said none of the dead was military personnel.

The first blast took place outside the gate of the factory as workers were leaving work during a shift change.

Minutes later, another blast took place at another gate of the same factory.

The two bombings were just outside Main Gate and Aslam Market gate. According to my information, the Main Gate was mostly for workers on bicycles and motorcycles and that’s where most of the casualties were. The other gate is for cars and officers. So the Taliban murdered poor workers.

Wah Cantt is home to Pakistan Ordnance Factories which has a huge campus and is the biggest employer there, employing 25,000 to 30,000 people. The suicide bombings happened at their gates.

Wah Cantt is a somewhat restricted area as any private vehicle going there has to stop at a security checkpost and identify themselves. However, public transport is not stopped.

I am still in shock at these bombings. I lived in Wah Cantt for a total of 15 years. My inlaws still live there. All I can say in response to these killings is: Fuck the Taliban! Fuck Jihad!

POSTSCRIPT: I forgot to mention the suicide bombing of a hospital two days ago.

Thirty-two people, seven policemen and two health officials among them, were killed and 55 others injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up near the emergency ward of the District Headquarters Hospital [in Dera Ismail Khan] on Tuesday.

[…] The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Inhuman scum!

Charlie Wilson’s War

The movie is fun to watch, but it’s the book that’s a must read.

We watched Charlie Wilson’s War in the theater. It is a movie about the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion and how Congressman Charlie Wilson and how he and CIA officer Gust Avrakotos helped the Afghan Mujahideen.

It is a good movie, but it does focus more on the flamboyant and scandalous than the nitty gritty details of congressional funding. Also, Om Puri did the worst impression of Pakistani dictator General Zia ul Haq that I have ever seen.

While I liked the movie, these deficiencies mean I can rate it only 7/10.

Watching the movie reminded me that I still hadn’t read the book Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times by George Crile that the movie is based on. So I got it from the library.

It’s a great book and I finished it as fast as I could. It reminded me more of fiction than of reality. And it scared me. The book includes a lot of details about how the Afghan war was funded and details the way Congress and its committees work behind the scenes. As someone very interested in politics, it was a bit scary to realize how something of the scale of the US funding of the Afghan war could happen with just the personal connections and chit-calling and no open debate in Congress.

My conflicted feelings towards the Afghan war don’t help matters. I was and am a fervent anticommunist and hence did support the fight against the Soviets. At the same time, those Mujahideen groups, including Ahmad Shah Massoud, were not exactly good for Afghanistan. And the Afghan war (and Zia) is a major reason for why Pakistan is in such bad shape today.

If you are interested in the Cold War, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the war on terror, CIA, or US foreign policy, Charlie Wilson’s War is a must read.