TRAVEL in PAKISTAN
No more complaining about Pakistani police
13 December 2016
Lately, we have been complaining a bit about our lack of freedom. Quite often we would go somewhere only to be told we could not continue due to safety issues. Or we would travel somewhere and at some point receive mandatory police escort, which slows the journey down tremendously, and at night we would be forced to sleep in certain hotels where we would be grounded.
Seeing as we like to consider ourselves as free and autonomous spirits and not to forget badass overlanding worldtravelers, we do not particularly like these situations. More than often, we were on the brink of lashing out to a police officer. In Multan, for example, we suddenly met a guy who introduced himself as special agent. When he told us we would get escort to Islambad, I was about to get really angry. I felt so powerless, having to give up my freedom again, unexpectedly. He told us it was his boss giving orders and he had to obey. David told him ‘Well, then I want to talk to your boss. Let him come by the hotel or we will come by’. The poor man didn’t really have an answer to this. We shouldn’t have been angry at him. But we were, we were sick of being told where to sleep and where to drive. To only complain about the issue, however, would be very childish and unreflective, so fear not, we have made a more anthropological-sound observation. Here it goes:
In Quetta our hotel manager said they were so happy with tourist like us, who just accepted the situation as it was. We found it quite surprising, seeing as we tried multiple times to convince them to let us leave the gates to do some grocery shopping and were obviously a bit annoyed with the situation when we first arrived. We did however realize quickly that it was not their decision to make and thus seized arguing with them. When they told us the above, we even felt a bit sorry for them, they must get a lot of whining tourist. They then continued telling us about a Spanish tourist who came cycling to Pakistan about five years ago. He encountered the same situation at the border: mandatory police escort and no freedom to draw your own plan. He apparently refused putting his bike in the police pick-up because he made a vow to travel every meter by bike. As they could not convince him otherwise, he cycled and the police car followed. The convoy was then attacked. A few police men died, the Spanish guy was injured. Horrible story of course, but it does prove that the precautions are there for a reason. It was not the last real-life horror story that we heard.
When we were forced to turn back after a four hour drive to Astore, we were very annoyed, but not much later our friend in Hunza told us why. Last year, a group of ten tourists was killed there while hiking in the area. We could continue with a story of two Czech girls being kidnapped, but I guess you get the point. Some parts of Pakistan really are not that safe. And the fact that Pakistani’s government was unhappy about that and decided to take measures is quite impressive, to say the least. To put it in perspective: These are a few isolated incidents. There are many other countries in the world for which you could tell similar stories. I dare even say that there are more dangerous countries than Pakistan. And I wonder whether they all offer police escort. So really, we should be very thankful.
Besides, can you say you have ever been escorted by your private policed vehicle including five armed guys, flashing lights and wailing sirens? Consider it a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience/VIP treatment. Watch in amazement how the AK-47 carrying guards wave everyone aside, putting the whole local market bustle on hold, while you and your escort drive through town. Ignore for a few moments that lingering feeling that this is somehow wrong and enjoy the moment while it lasts.
At times, it also brings a smile to our face to notice how much effort the police put in to ensure our safety and well being. In the Shandu Pass example, previously described by David on Instagram, the police had been up all night looking for us because we went wild camping and thus vanished off their radar. We, unaware of how much they actually keep track of us, did not suspect any trouble. They were very nice when they eventually found us and we laughed about the situation over a cup of tea.
In Pattan, one of the places where we were grounded in our hotel again, there were two officers on guard outside of our room all night. One of them took his job so seriously that he would even accompany us to our car, located on the drive way, well within the gates. He would then get out a flashlight and shine it wherever we would look for something, offering to carry all that we would take from the car. When we walked back to our room he went in first, telling us to stay back and checking every corner for some kind of hidden assassin. We felt like we were playing a part in some Hollywood movie.
Often they are just friendly guys hoping we will have a good time in their home country and it is nice to see they really care about our safety.
Okay, I hear you thinking: “Would it not be better to just make the country safer?”, so yes, fair question. Of course that would be better, but it’s not done overnight. Plus, absolute safety is difficult to guarantee. Pakistan is working on its safety issues. Whether their current approach is successful is another discussion.
The officers we meet repeatedly tell us that our safety is their priority and it’s heart-warming to hear. We do wonder about Pakistani people and whether their safety is a priority as well, but like I said, the army is working hard on homeland safety and progress is made!