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D I S P A T C H E S

+ "We Believe in God"


from Martin Smith

click here for a larger map I arrived in Islamabad last night and once again the airlines have managed to lose my bag.

In dirty clothes, I spend Saturday attending meetings and running errands, making general preparations for our stay in Pakistan. We drive about. The city has no real center. For miles, it sprawls across great, green-forested spaces crisscrossed by wide, tree-lined avenues with grass and flowers lining the edges and the center dividers. There are a few monstrous government buildings loosely clustered in one area and then another -- with armed guards perched behind sandbag barriers at the various intersections. The soldiers have erected canvas canopies to protect them from frequent late-August rain showers.

Islamabad was built in the 1950s, not long after the nation was founded in 1947. Pakistan's biggest city, Karachi, was deemed to be too far away from everything, and so the Islamic Republic of Pakistan established a model city up north, in the foothills of the Himalayas. They called it the City of Islam, or in Urdu, Islamabad. Though I'd read about it, I am still surprised by how sleepy this place seems, how courteous and friendly most people are.

On one of our errands we visit PanGraphics. Before I arrived in Islamabad, Marcela and Scott decided to design and print new business cards with our local phone numbers. As Scott and Marcela are looking over the proofs, a couple of Westerners with a teenage son walk in. These are the first Westerners I've seen outside our hotel. Naturally, I wonder who they are and why are they here.

Islamabad.
Then, as Scott is haggling over the delivery date of our order, I recognize a thick Scottish accent: "Just quadruple the cost and ask for rush delivery." Joking, I tell him to butt out, and he shoots back saying that he can say whatever he wants. "We are leaving the country." It's an odd response. Then, his wife, who's sitting next to me, adds, "Because we have to." There is a pause.

"What do you mean you have to leave the country?"

"We've been told to get out of the country. Sort of." He points to his boy. "His school was attacked."

Suddenly, I realize who I'm talking to. These are parents of the Murree Christian School. On Aug. 5, three armed gunmen entered the gates of Murree, about 40 miles northeast of Islamabad, and opened fire. I was still in New York getting ready to come here when I read that two Pakistani guards and a cook were killed.

"Six people were killed. Three others died in hospital," says the man. Like many people who've been through a trauma, he wants to talk. The boy, though, never says a word. In fact he hardly moves. "We were fortunate. My office overlooks the school, and I saw them after I heard the first shots. They tried to kick in the doors, but the teachers, the administrators, had already locked them out. They aimed their Kalashnakovs and fired at the building. Then they raised their arms and shouted, 'Allah akbar!' -- God is great -- and ran. "

The police say that the attacks were carried out by a group of Pakistani men, around 15 or 20 of them, who are tied to attacks on two churches in Pakistan since October, in which 20 people have been killed, including two Americans. They've also tied them to an attack on a Christian hospital near Islamabad, where four nurses were killed. It occurred just four days after the attack on the Murree school.

The man keeps talking about it. But when he finds out that I am a reporter, he asks me not to use his name.

Men hang off the back of a bus on the foggy, two-lane road from the hillstation of Murree to Islamabad. (Photo by Scott Anger)
"What are you going to do?" I ask.

"We're going back to Britain for a few weeks. We're looking for an assignment in Thailand. We've been in Pakistan for 29 years. Our son was about to graduate."

I look again at the boy. He still hasn't said a word.

The father goes on. "You know, 10 minutes earlier there was a recess. A lot of four and five year olds would have been in the yard. But they must have been confused, because they came 10 minutes late. The recess schedule had been changed a few days earlier. We think it was God who saved us. We believe in God."

I have been listening for a long time, but this remark is the strangest thing I've heard him say. I can't help myself. "Yes, you believe in God," I say, "but so do they."


< previous dispatch  +  next dispatch >

London
(Aug. 13-14)

Zubaydah Is Dead
13 August, London

Armchair Jihadists
14 August, London

Gulf of Oman
(Aug. 15-21)

Faces at a Dubai Mall
15 August, Dubai, U.A.E.

HMCS Algonquin
16 August, somewhere in the Gulf of Oman

On Board the Algonquin
17-18 August, somewhere in the Gulf of Oman

Like an Elephant Chasing a Mouse
17-18 August, Gulf of Oman

Dubai to Karachi
20 August

A Firehose of Information
20-21 August, Dubai - Muscat - Chennai

Pakistan
(Aug. 22-29)

Old Hash
22 August, Islamabad

Nuclear Neighbors
22-23 August, Islamabad

+ We Believe in God
24 August, Islamabad

Paranoid in Peshawar
27 August, Peshawar

Bombs or Dust Devils
27-28 August, Peshawar

Rumors and Half Truths
28 August, Peshawar

Pakistan Border Lands
(Aug. 30-Sept. 4)

On the Road to Chitral
30 August, Dir Khas

Prisoners' Dilemma
31 August, Dir

In the Northwest Frontier
30-31 August, Dir

Border Town
2 September, Chitral to Arandu

Don't Go to Timargarha
1-2 September, Drosh to Timargarha

An American Informer
3-4 September, Peshawar

Pakistan
(Sept. 5-23)

Road to Nowhere
7 September, Islamabad to Faisalabad

Faisal Town
7 September, Faisalabad

Frustrations
9 September, Faisalabad

The Plight of Women
10 September, Faisalabad

A Little Noticed Gun Battle
10-13 September, Lahore-Karachi

The Madrassa
14 September, Akora Khattak

The Next Big Get
20 September, Karachi - Islamabad

A Circle of Trust
21 September, Islamabad

Indomitable
23 September, Islamabad

Saudi Arabia
(Sept. 24-Oct. 2)

Inside the Kingdom
24-25 September, Riyadh

My Baffling Question
27 September, Unizah-Buraydah

An Obedient Dissident
27 September, Buraydah

An Audience with the Crown Prince
2 October, Riyadh

Yemen
(Sept. 25-Oct. 10)

Arriving in Yemen
25-26 September, Sana'a

The Wedding Party
27 September, Sana'a

A Talking Drug
28 September, Sana'a

The World's Most Ancient Skyscrapers
3 October, Sana'a

Americans Are Vampires
7 October, Sana'a

Waiting for Rahma
9 October, Sana'a

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