Tuesday, June 19, 2012 – At two o’clock in the morning, one half-hour ahead of schedule, our plane landed in Islamabad. We immediately spotted our ‘facilitator’ – an unknown stranger to whom we entrusted our lives for the next hours…
Not that we are cowards – after all nobody ordered us to Pakistan, we chose it on our own, with eyes wide open – but for those of you who don’t read the press relative to this part of the world, let me summarize a bit so that you understand in which context we arrived in Pakistan.
2011 had been the annus horribilis of the relations between the United States and Pakistan. In January a certain Raymond Davis killed two civilians in Lahore and, while rescuing him, his American colleagues unintentionally killed a bicyclist. In May the Seals killed Ben Laden which lead the media to two embarrassing conclusions: either the Pakistani were accomplices or they were incompetent since Abottabad is pretty much in the suburbs of Islamabad, not exactly a remote place. Several other incidents followed and finally in November, NATO (therefore the U.S.) killed 24 civilians near Salala. Despite proofs that miscommunications were more numerous on the U.S. side, the president refused to apologize forgetting the need to save face in Asian cultures. Because of this it took us months to receive our visas.
More recently, two weeks prior to our arrival, on June 4th, 2012, U.S. drones killed 15 people – while Pakistan has forbidden the use of drones. The same day they managed to eliminate the number 2 of Al-Qaeda. June 6th kamikaze Talibans activated 3 bombs killing 22 people. June 7th a bomb blasted in front of a school in Quetta, Baluchistan (South West) killing 15 people. June 8th, near Peshawar (North West), a bomb killed 18 government workers. Following a speech by Leon Panetta, the press wrote on June 10th ‘The United States and Pakistan are growing as stronger enemies day after day.’
As we were gently directed to the long queue for ‘foreign diplomats’, a second facilitator lead us to yet an even faster queue. We collected our luggage and pet quickly, and jumped in an armored car with such a large survival kit in the trunk that we had trouble fitting all our luggage. It was still dark so I did not see much of the road from the airport to the house.
We arrived at our house hidden behind a large metal door, guarded by a Pakistani guard armed with a Kalashnikov. High walls and barbed wires everywhere. That’s what I call a welcoming house!
Roughly speaking the house was about 190m2 (2,000 ft2), distributed on four levels, two large main floors, a lower small floor and an upper small floor for laundry and access to the terrace. At 4:30 am the sun started to rise as we discovered that we had a tiny garden planted with zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, a small fig tree and a young orange tree.
We unpacked as much as we could until exhaustion wiped us from 6:00 am to 9:00 am. Then we were driven to our gigantic Embassy compound in the Diplomatic Enclave, checked in with general services (GSO), the community liaison coordinator (CLO) and human resources (HRO). We had a quick lunch, visited our respective sections and were brought back in our neighborhood for basic food shopping
Home by 5:00 pm, sound asleep by 7:00 pm. This concluded our first day in Pakistan where we stayed one thrilling year (details to come).