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D I S P A T C H E S

+ "Paranoid in Peshawar"


from Marcela Gaviria

click here for a larger map After an incredibly hectic day at GHQ and ISPR and many other acronyms within the Pakistani Army, we are finally ready to head out to Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. It's 7 p.m.

The trip lasts three hours on the four-lane highway. Most of the time, I try to keep my eyes shut, just as I do when I see a scary movie. It pays off. One hour into the trip, we witness the hit-and-run death of one man. It is unclear if he has fallen off a Bedford bus or been hit by one. Scott asks our driver Faizal to turn around to help. Faizal simply says, "This is not Europe." An hour later, while everyone else sleeps in the van, I watch another car squash a dog. Forty minutes after that, we finally arrive in Peshawar.

Peshawar, or "Frontier Town" in Urdu, is a bustling dusty town that outrivals Islamabad in every sense. It is bigger, noisier, dirtier, uglier, hotter, poorer, and definitely more charming. I like the place instantly. With its pock-marked streets cramped with auto rickshaws and Bedford buses and horse-drawn tongas, the place is the perfect setting for an Asian-style spaghetti western.

Sadly, we end up in the one hotel that doesn't fit the part. The place is decked with marble floors, mirrors, and even organ music to accompany you while you register.

While the place is a magnet for foreign correspondents, we only bump into one Carl from Sweden and one Phillip from Austria. There is even a convention for pharmaceutical salesmen sponsored by Smith Kline Beecham.

After a long day on the road, the Westerners congregate on the fifth floor, in a room holding a sign that says "Non-Muslim Westerners Only." This is of course a watering hole for journos, spies, agents, and the rare businessman. Only beer is available, but no one complains.

By midnight we make our way back to our floor to find guards (or spies) stationed at every end of the hallway. I feel uncomfortable to find one man standing at attention at my door. He has a key to my room as well, and as soon as I enter it, I bolt the door behind me.

I am awakened by a knock on the door asking me if I need anything. Which is annoying as hell. That is what the telephone is for. 0 for the operator. 4 for the receptionist. 5 for room service. 6 for laundry. Soon, there is another uninvited caller at my door. The man wants to know if he can do my laundry.

Two boys stare into the camera at a market in central Peshawar. (Photo by Marcela Gaviria)
By 8 a.m., I am thoroughly fixated on all these people that follow me everywhere. The tiny manager in his late sixties, holds me hostage at the lobby and greets me. "Ms. Gaviria, I do hope you are well rested this morning. What are your plans for the day? Will you be staying for long? What are you doing in Peshawar?"

At the business center, the attendant looks over my shoulder as I write a letter to a Brigadier down in Islamabad. At breakfast, waiters hover about closely. We lower our voices to discuss the day's agenda. We soon give up talking about anything of substance. We make our way up to one of the bedrooms, to debrief a source who is willing to take us through some back channels into territory that has thus far been off grounds for journalists. Again, someone knocks on our door to see if we need anything.

Either I am paranoid or someone is very interested in what we are doing.


< 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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