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+ "Road to Nowhere"

from Martin Smith

click here for a larger map There is nothing like a six-lane highway to take the charm out of traveling.

About eight years ago, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif contracted with a South Korean road building outfit to construct the Islamabad-Lahore Motorway. Secondary contracts were awarded to his cronies. One got the center divider contract, another painted the lines, another erected the fences alongside, and someone else erected all the signs. It is complete with rest areas, emergency phones, and interchanges. There are huge signs every so often: "The Islamabad-Lahore Motorway -- We Believe in Excellence."

But it is empty. No one uses it. A truck or car might pass going the other direction every minute or two. I ask our driver why it is so empty. He gives me three reasons. One, it is a toll road: it costs about five dollars, so no one can afford it. Two, traffic laws are enforced, so those trucks or buses with passengers riding on the roof or hanging off the back are not allowed, and there are no auto rickshaws, or horse, donkey or camel-driven tongas. Reason three is perhaps the most compelling: the road doesn't go anywhere. That is, it doesn't pass near any towns along the way.

Few motorists travel Pakistan's Islamabad-Lahore Motorway. (Photo by Martin Smith).
The driver tells us that the Islamabad-Lahore Motorway doesn't even reach Lahore. It stops 20 miles outside the city limits near Prime Minister Sharif's family home. Apparently that's all the farther he wanted to go when leaving the capital, Islamabad.

We get off before it ends because we are going to Faisalabad. This is where Osama bin Laden's chief recruiter and director of operations, Abu Zubaydah, was arrested in a predawn raid on March 28.

When we hit the local roads, there are goats and water buffalo, families squatting near the narrow road tarmac with children running everywhere. I am back in Pakistan. I like it better than that road to nowhere.

< previous dispatch  +  next dispatch >

(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

(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

(Sept. 5-23)

+ Road to Nowhere
7 September, Islamabad to Faisalabad

Faisal Town
7 September, Faisalabad

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

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

(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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