Whilst in Kabul I went for a walk around the markets, my parents had been adamant that I stay away from the crowded markets places, but I accidentally found myself amongst one when I was walking around the centre one afternoon. And thought whilst I was there I would try and buy something, as Its not everyday you’re in Afghanistan. On my return I found out that there had been a report of a leader from Al Quaida urging his brothers in arms to kidnap westerners to trade for captive jihadists. I was then told that there were branches of Al Quaida in Pakistan and it made me even more nervous about getting the car to Islamabad. There seemed to be this acceleration to harm westerners and my timing there was dreadful. And everywhere I needed to go I was told that I would need to use a specialist taxi firm that supplied the car, the driver and an armed escort for the dangerous 200km drive to Torkham which would cost was $250, but people told me at least I could be sure that I wouldn’t be abducted from the road or sold by some taxi man I would otherwise use. I was also told by some that the Pakistan side of the border probably wouldn’t let me in, but in the back of my mind that was the least of my worries.
After a morning of getting my things ready and flaffing around in the centre I was able to get some help from the military men who had got me to Kabul in the first place and who had told me to contact them once I was ready to leave. They managed to get me in a car to Torkham safely. We stopped once for lunch in the mountains , at a place that was funnily enough named after my sister, and there seemed to be a lot of stares at the person who definitely wasn’t afghani (me). That evening we got there at about 5pm, once there it was manic. Thinking I would just slip by unnoticed, I was hastily given my exit stamp for Afghanistan (was amazingly simple) and then proceeded to the Pakistan border, which would be a complete change in pace.
There it wasn’t as easy, I was the only one asked into the office after they questioned where my parents were born, after the answer for that question threw them I was asked if I was of Indian origin. I was sat down and asked what the purpose of my visit was and began the explanation I knew I would have to give at some point. Then I started what would be a kind of travelling circus, I was taken from one office to another about five times. I told each one my story of walking through on my way to Australia but that didn’t seem to please anyone. The final room I was taken into was a little room, home to a jolly looking bearded man sat down behind a desk cluttered with papers and mobile phones that would light up periodically. He seemed to be more in the know and spoke English. Everything that happened after this point, even with his jolly look, took a very more serious tone. We spoke for an hour… He questioned me about the Indian secret service, my response was “I didn’t even know India had a secret service”. Asked if I was part of MI6, to which I responded, “I’m not clever enough for that” and then he asked outright if I was involved in any espionage and if I worked for any security agencies. I obviously said no, but he wasn’t happy. With the help of two men who I can only assume that worked for him, but didn’t really know what they were doing started going through my things and asked me to empty my pockets. Which led them to find a few key items that didn’t really help me in my case of trying to convince them I wasn’t some sort of spy.
My small outdoor sports camera in the waterproof casing…. They looked at it with intrigue asked what it was and once I told them said “show me the pictures”… I responded with “it doesn’t have a screen”… He responded with “this is illegal”
My small palm size GPS Spot device I have for emergencies. “This is illegal”
My credit card size holder that my TravelTalk SIM card came in (I cannot make this stuff up…). This card means nothing to people who would normally see it but this man managed to look at it and see a collection of words that to him spelt out the word “mission”. (I will try to include a picture of this SIM card holder and you can judge for yourself, if you see the word ‘mission’ or not).
Eventually I can only assume he got bored of interrogating me about those items and then they later moved onto my religion. He asked me if I was Hindu or Sikh and when I replied Sikh they looked at me and had many questions about my hair (because you’re not suppose to cut it) and just general questions about Sikhism. They were assuming I was Hindu but lying about it. He eventually ended the discussion about Sikhism with:
“The only reason I’m showing you any respect is because you are Sikh, if you were Hindu, we would ???? you.”
Because of his accent I wasn’t sure if he had said hate or hurt so asked him to repeat the last half of the sentence, not very keen on hearing either. He repeated it and it still sounded like “hurt”, I told him to write it down so he did in capital letters on a piece of paper infront of me, H.A.T.E.
Only slightly relieved to know it didn’t say hurt, I immediately asked if I could leave. He still had some questions left but eventually told me that I was not going to be in Pakistan longer than three days and I had all of those three days to get to India, as if he was being generous. Not wanting to argue and feeling very intimidated, more so than I had ever felt in Afghanistan whilst being questioned (and I had been questioned at gun point in the middle of a field with fingers interlocked behind my head there) I decided to just agree and leave. They said they would organise an armed escort through to Peshawar and then to Islamabad and then from there I was put on a bus, which I was not allowed to get off of until Lahore.
From the border to Peshawar, an autonomous tribal region, I was sat in a car with two armed guards and a driver they organised who could speak some English. One of which was sat next to me in the back with his rifle on the floor facing up and towards me. Now I’m not Rambo but in my humble opinion, that surely couldn’t have been the best direction, facing me or even facing up in general, for either one of us. Especially as the road we we’re on wasn’t actually a road but more of an boulder littered dirt track making it a pretty uncomfortable ride. So I, as slowly as I could, bent over toward his gun with him watching me and probably wondering what I was doing, with my single index finger stretched out, pushed the business end of the rifle away from me and towards the window. The guy watched me and once realised what I was trying to do, nodded in agreement and grabbed the gun to fesilitate to transition of what I have come to call the ‘death zone’, from being my face to the car window .
At one point we stopped and one of the men went ahead and checked the areas we were crossing. He came back with an all clear thumbs up and we carried on. We aventually came out of the mountains and the guards decided they needed to get the car washed. The only person this was going to inconvenience was me apparently, as one of the guards turned to me and passed me a comb. Signalling me to give myself a side parting… Obviously confused I just did what he wanted and upon handing the comb back everyone had a quick glans at me, smiled, nodded and said “Yes, Pakistani”. Only just before exiting the car they told me, what would be a crucial bit of information, that if spoken to by anyone, under no circumstance say anything back, to which I thought why are we stopping then.