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Emergency rule in Pakistan
Thursday, 15 November 2007
As preparation for our 2007/2008 winter tour to the south of Iran we stayed at the campsite for foreigners in Islamabad. First to apply for the Iranian visa, second to refill our supplies. As in October 2006 – Islamabad felt largely the same. But this time the political turmoil peaked with Benazir Bhutto returning to Pakistan and Pervez Musharaf declaring the state of emergency. However life at the campsite was unchanged with travellers still coming in from China and Iran.

The campsite for foreigners is located opposite Aabpara market and about 3Km away from the red mosque. Here at the Lal Masjid mosque and Jamia Hafsa madrassa a battlefield erupted in July 2007. Now in October 2007 there isn’t much to be seen – the red mosque is now yellow and its   adjacent madras has vanished – levelled to rubble.  We passed numerous times seeing people walking, standing as if in deep thought and some going through the rubble.

Just about 800 meters from Lal Masjid mosque the big Holiday Inn hotel is located. Now with all it’s signs and advertising removed – making it a big white unmarked building. Not completely to our surprise.   Aabpara market about 1 Km from the battle ground was closed during the siege of the Lal Masjid mosque. It’s a market / bazaar for the average Pakistani with a plethora of small shops. Now in October 2007 it’s as lively as before.

The only thing we noticed at the 3rd of November 2007 was the wearing of steel helmets of the campsite guards. The next day the helmets were gone again and life continued as normal. Moving around in Islamabad seemed unchanged – only round the presidential palace there where blockades by police and army.

The city of Rawalpindi was the scene of several demonstrations in the following 2 weeks after the emergency rule. At the day of the announced protest march by Benazir Bhutto – the main streets where totally sealed off. Next to that there was no problem at all visiting Rawalpindi.

The number of travellers in the campsite peaked during the first week of the emergency rule. In total about 20-25 people most with cars, some as backpacker. Most of them arrived for getting the Indian visa.

Compared to 2006 the number of travellers coming to the campsite in 2007 was about half. In the +30 year existence of this place it must have been the lowest number ever.
And this is the high season – the only time where visiting the south of India is do-able without getting completely fried.

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