02 November 2009

Taxicab Confessions: Pakistan's Descent into Chaos

By pure luck, I was able to get a firsthand perspective the other night on the recent string of violent attacks by Pakistani Taliban militants across the country (mostly in the major urban areas - a relatively new phenomenon).

I ended up being driven to a bar in DC on Halloween night by a Pakistani man from Lahore who has lived in the US for the last 20 years, but still has several family members living in Pakistan (including his mother). He said the destruction caused by the recent attacks across his country has him extremely worried about his family's safety. Explaining that Lahore had been considered a "modern, safe" city by everyone across the country, he was shocked and alarmed when terrorists were able to target two different police compounds on the same day a few weeks ago (see this LWJ story for a summary of the 16 major attacks in Pakistan over the last month). Clearly, things have changed dramatically over the last month and he said he was more worried than he's ever been.

Our driver was reluctant to offer his thoughts as to why the attacks had spiked so sharply recently, but he was very certain in asserting that all of the attacks originated from "the tribal areas" (NWFP and FATA, which straddle the AfPak border). From his tone of voice, he implied that this area is really only a part of "his" Pakistan in a formal, legal sense.

The most interesting thing he discussed during our brief cab ride, however, was the work his mother has been doing across the country for the last 30 years. She is a women's rights activist who travels to some of the worst areas in the country (including many villages in the tribal region) to raise awareness and promote women's rights. When I asked if she had ever been threatened or had problems due to the nature of her work, he quickly replied, "Oh yes!" Although we didn't have time to get into details, it was clear that he would prefer his mother quit her work and/or move here to the US with the rest of her family. He explained, though, that she feels her work is too critical and that Pakistan needs educated people to stay in the country and form a foundation for its future.

Against a backdrop of suicide bombs exploding across the country and the reported lack of confidence in Zardari's government, it was refreshing to hear a positive and inspiring story of someone who is still willing to risk their life to move their country forward in a positive direction...

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