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.
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.