Pakistan 1982

‘You need to get under the seat now, sir’, I said to the bearded stranger. Everyone around us watched carefully as he hid himself. They thought it was funny to be smuggling a foreigner into Baluchistan on the public bus from Karachi. The border guards didn’t usually board the bus but they often stopped it and looked in the windows. I asked him how, if foreigners weren’t allowed, by the government of Pakistan, to enter this part of Baluchistan, he expected to remain undetected when we actually reached the town of Bela? He didn’t know and didn’t seem to mind.

 

I offered to help him. We Lassi – residents of Las-Bela – are not Baluch and nor do we really feel Pakistani. The electricians at the building site I was managing agreed to put him up for the night, and to help me show him our town. We walked around the streets where people pointed and said ‘Isai’ (Christian) or ‘Farangi’ (foreigner). A few people shouted out ‘what are you doing here?’ but it wasn’t aggressive, and the reason foreigners weren’t supposed to be here, the stranger told us, was because of the ever-simmering rebellion by the Baluch tribes against the Pakistani authorities.

We took him to the cinema; we took him to see Colonel Sandeman’s tomb and, after an earnest discussion, in Lassi so he couldn’t understand, we took him to visit the Hindu temple which we Muslims would never otherwise be able to enter. We walked taller because we were with him, and gathered quite a crowd when he started choking and spluttering on the naswar we gave him after supper! (Naswar is dried tobacco mixed with lime and indigo).

Colonel Sandeman's tomb in Bela, Baluchistan

Colonel Sandeman's tomb in Bela, Baluchistan

The next morning, therefore, emboldened by our success, we took him to the bus station for the bus to Khuzdar. From there he could travel easily on to Quetta, where foreigners were allowed. We were joking about him staying under the seat all the way there when there was a loud shout. We shrank back quickly into the crowd as a Major in the police force walked the stranger firmly away from the Khuzdar bus stop and marched him up the steps of the next bus back to Karachi.