We feel alone here, and certainly are a novelty whether we’re on our bikes of just strolling down the streets. The reason istourists are nowhere to be seen.
Tourism took a hit in 2001 after 9/11 but it really collapsed in Pakistan in 2007 when the Taliban took over Islamabad’s Red Mosque and demanded that Pakistan impose sharia law. It has never returned which makes our visit very unusual, and explains the local’s reaction to the novelty or our presence – as well as the heavy police protection we have had as we’ve moved along the fringes of the semi-autonomous tribal areas of Kohistan in which the strict conservative code is practised and where the towns devoid of any women at all on the streets apart from 1 or 2 dressed in that enslaving blue shuttlecock burqa. How Pakistan can tolerate such blatant denial of human rights within its borders and be a signatory to the UN Declaration of Human Rights illustrates how wracked in helplessness the government in Islamabad remains. The KKH police and army have “Heroes of the KKH” embroidered on their polo shirts as it remains a real effort to keep the road open aroundthe Chilas area in particular where the lawlessness of Taliban-influenced insurgents remains a constant threat. After being displaced as the government of Afghanistan by the US post 9/11, the infiltration of Pakistan by the Taliban seems to be getting steadily worse. They have a ready recruitment base in the impoverished villages which are already ultra conservative and boys rule the roost from a young age. It doesn’t take much incitement by mullahs whose ongoing power lies in preventing education enlightening the simple, ignorant rural tribal communities. They have a ready supply of young men willing to wage terrorist activity against the innocent as a means to wage war on the imperialists and elites that rule Pakistan society. Widespread corruption, political patronage and appointment of cronies to positions of power has seen the divide between the have and the have nots get ever greater. Ever since General Zia staged his bloodless coup in 1977 and declared Pakistan an Islamic state it really has been an environment ripe for the rise of the lawless strand of Islamic fundamentalism that has been the Taliban, who originated amongst the Pakistani-trained mujahideen that was formed to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Amongst the young men of the poor and dispossessed – signing up brings excitement to a pretty hopeless life. It was Zia’s fear the Soviets would set their sights on Pakistan that fuelled the fire in the belly of themujahideen and those that were to become the Taliban. A monster was born.
Is there any chance of Pakistan not sliding deeper and deeper into tribal and religious conflict? The standard antidote would appear be to keep modernising and break up the ruling cliques so far more than the elitehave a taste of the good life. But so long as the country is so corrupt and subject to political patronage and cronyism, this is unlikely. Behind their walls, razor wire and armed guards the elite live such a different life to the poor – which is just fodder for the increasing influence of the Taliban, with its nihilism and ready supply of poor young poor males to execute the . Education may be the key to liberalism but it is the sworn enemy of the mullahs and the Taliban who need their foot soldiers to remain ignorant and resentful.
Gareth’s temperature settles down enough so he can get back on his motorbike and begin racking up some k’s on the amazing Karakorum Highway. He soon finds himself in an area that is ripe for recruits for the Taliban, plus where have all he woman gone?