Jackie, an American working for a social enterprise in Karachi and CHUP’s correspondent, describes her recent trip from Karachi to Lahore for the Eid holidays and her subsequent observations:
My lack of reporting over the past two months was due in part to the very long holiday season which I took as an opportunity to travel. The beginning of December was Eid Ul Adha, followed shortly by Christmas/Quad-e-Azam’s Birthday, followed by Benazir Bhutto’s Death Anniversary, New Years and finally 10 days of Muharram.
I spent the Eid Ul Adha holidays in Lahore with a friend’s family. After spending my initial months immersed in chaotic Karachi, Lahore was a much welcome change of pace. The weather was beautiful in December – cool, but sunny. The city is made up of wide boulevards lined with trees, lots of green parks, and, most importantly, I felt safe! I stayed in Model Town, an area developed in the 1920s for civil servants and middle class Pakistanis. Everyday, my friend and I walked to the park unaccompanied, without worrying about kidnapping, theft, or harassment. There were tons of people at the park – families out for a stroll, kids playing on the jungle gym and even women out for a jog on the track, unaccompanied. When driving in the streets, we didn’t have to take a guard with us and we were even able to wander the crowded streets of the old city late at night.
In addition to this more laid-back atmosphere, as the former capital of the Mughal Empire, Lahore has a certain historical charm that Karachi lacks. There are several remnants from the Mughal dynasty. The most impressive are the Lahore Fort and Badshahi Mosque [see above photo of the Badshahi Mosque]. The mosque is mammoth, yet very majestic and is comparable in its splendor to some of the most famed Islamic monuments such as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and even the Taj Mahal. The Old City, a very small area that comprises the original city of Lahore, is incredibly charming and full of life, and again, given that Lahore is relatively safer than Karachi, I actually had access to it. Lahore also has a very vibrant artsy scene. While in town, we visited several art galleries.
As always, the most fascinating aspect of my trip was meeting new people. I stayed with my friend’s family members – an elderly, now-retired diplomat couple. My friend’s uncle, Mansur, was a career diplomat. He was born in Lahore before partition, joined the Foreign Service in the 1950s and retired in 1993 – returning to Lahore after 38 years abroad. I spent most of my trip grilling him on Pakistan, its role in the current geopolitical scheme and how politics have changed over the past 40 years.
Unfortunately, Mansur painted a grim picture of Pakistan’s future. When he joined the Foreign Service in the 1950s, he felt proud and agreed, in large part, with Pakistan’s foreign policy. Things began to take a turn for the worse when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto rose to power and then really nose-dived during Zia Ul-Haq’s regime. Mansur actually spent more time out of Pakistan than is standard for a foreign officer as he belongs to a certain sect of Islam that was declared heretical during Bhutto’s time. In the 1970s, he was offered a chance to return to Pakistan to assume a position of prominence in the national government. This offer was later reneged at the highest level, and he was told to stay overseas due to his religious affiliations. As a result, he spent the last 17 years of his career abroad, without a single of the standard rotations in Islamabad. In addition to this unfortunate situation, as time passed, he felt it more and more difficult to represent Pakistan’s foreign policy.
Once Mansur retired, the Lahore he returned to was not the Lahore he remembered from his youth. Gone was the diversity – Christians, Parsi, Sikhs, made up his college classes, and now no one was left. Maulvis dictated rules and there was little room for discussion or disagreement. Mansur sees religious extremism as one of the greatest threats to Pakistan’s future, and expressed disappointment that this small segment of society had been able to chokehold the majority, as he believed most Pakistanis were fairly moderate people.
While this wasn’t the most uplifting perspective, this opportunity to speak with someone involved in Pakistan’s development since its inception, made my visit to the beautiful city of Lahore particularly memorable.
To read the rest of Jackie’s posts for CHUP, click here.