30 Jun 2010
I think I’ve mentioned the checkposts in most Pakistani cities in this blog before. Basically here’s what they are: metal structures that block part of the road and make it a pain to drive and possibly question why you were given a driving license, policemen/soldiers armed with really large/scary guns with a right to shoot anyone who does not stop and a sprinkling of flashlights for the night when many streetlights might be off thanks to the electricity shortages, but that’s not always the case.
I don’t know what criteria the agencies use to ask you to stop and identify yourself before they let you pass. If they do stop you its not really that long before you’re off (I’m assuming that’s if you’re not carrying a bomb, otherwise my guess is that some more investigation might be involved). If there’s a female, or many females for that matter in your car then you will not be stopped.
So last year whenever I drove alone, or with a male friend etc., I would almost always be stopped. They’d look at my license or national ID card and I’d be off. I’m guessing that was to curb underage driving (not that big a deal, although rampant, at this point) or illegal immigration, seeing as the Afghan refugee problem was gaining more traction in critic circles.
This year however, I’m never stopped. It might be the glasses that make me look geekier, it might be that I’m now somehow giving off my supposed American accent (I still deny picking one up despite numerous claims by other people who are of course, obviously biased (note: please sense sarcasm)) or something else. It’s probably something else, but whatever it is I don’t get it.
This happened not just in Lahore but also in Islamabad, where I was recently on a trip with some friends. The worst I’ve gotten is policemen asking us to step out of the car while they frisk it as we exited Islamabad and again as we entered Lahore. They asked us whose car it was and looked for the registration booklet. Stolen cars seems to be a target here, but I’m sure they’re are others as well.
More often than not though, I’ll get a gesture to stop, have a policeman stare at me for a couple of seconds while he thinks of how dangerous I might be before letting me go by another wave of his hand. There is one or more men with a gun ready behind a bunker all the time while this happens.
These security forces do however, have possibly the worst jobs in these times. They have odd hours, through the cracking heat and through the dark night, have very little margin to escape if they do run into a vehicle with explosives that’s going to go off, and are also one part of society that’s constantly been targeted as a symbol of resistance to the government. They are risking their lives for all of us at this very moment, like they are at all other times of day. Please don’t give them an excuse to shoot you.