On Landing, Pakistan Defies My Expectations

For one year from 2007-2008, Amar traveled around the world reporting on how people from all walks of life view the United States through text and video.  The following is one of a number of posts from Pakistan. For more, click here.

  llama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore, Pakistan.

llama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore, Pakistan.

Lahore - Waiting in the New Delhi airport, I feed Kurkure (spicy Indian Cheetos) to a stray cat. My flight to Lahore is delayed by hours, no way to know how many. Nothing to do. It’s a fairly rundown place; only two duty-free stores and a few food stands -- an unimpressive airport for the capital of an emerging global superpower.

Finally the plane arrives. Eighty 30-something men rush to the boarding gate. A Pakistani airlines representative barks at them, “This is not a bus! You have assigned seats. Step back!” These laborers are rushing to leave India for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, transiting through Lahore, trying to earn more money. I board the plane, smile at the anxious worker beside me and stroke my beard.

Fifty minutes later I’ve landed. It’s nighttime. The runway glistens with new rain. I disembark, board a coach, and am released onto a clean marble floor. Signs are big and bright. The airport glows. No stray cat. Already Pakistan defies my expectations. It is far more clean and orderly than the Indian airport I just left.

A few other things stand out, things more in line with my expectations. The flight attendant praised God when we landed. That seemed odd. In line I see there's a separate passport control counter for “Families” where only a man need appear on behalf of his wife and kids. And there’s a counter for “Children, Elderly and Unaccompanied Women.” I want to get in that line.

I stay where I belong, and without trouble pass through immigration control, get my bag, board a taxi, and go out into Lahore’s night. The roads are wide and quiet. We pass through a military cantonment. My driver, an old man in a grey kurta named Muhammad Javid strikes up a conversation; I ask about America.

He tells me he’s driven many Americans, “they’re very good” but the U.S. politicians are bloodthirsty. He knows about what Obama said, that he'd unilaterally send troops into Pakistan to catch Al Qaeda. A red news ticker bridges the highway, giving the latest headlines. "America has no right." Moreover, U.S. politicians only help Pakistan’s elite and “don’t care at all about the common man.” Bush uses Pakistan like a condom, he says, disposing of it when it's no longer useful.

I ask about Musharraf, expecting the driver to evade the question. When things get turbulent and violent, I expect ordinary people to duck out of political speak in fear. But he pounces. Musharraf consents! Javid exclaims. "I hate him....I can only afford one meal a day now. Musharraf’s ruined the country.” With that, he pulls smoothly up to my gleaming hotel.

So much for fear and disorder I expected from Lahore.

Maybe it’s time to shave too.

PakistanAmar Bakshi