From a conversation with Nicholas Schmidle, author of To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan:
Pakistan has been called the world’s most dangerous country. Do you agree?Visit Nicholas Schmidle's website.
To some extent, I do. All the reasons some people cite as factors for why its the most dangerous - ethnic tensions, militant Islamist groups, an unpredictable ISI (Inter-services Intelligence) - certainly hold true. But rather than these issues leading to the breakup of the state, I see Pakistan continuing on in a troubled, conflict-ridden scenario almost indefinitely. And the biggest reason why it’s so dangerous is that there’s no central organization or leadership.
At just over six feet tall, blond and American, it seems an understatement to say you were a bit conspicuous, yet you were welcomed into a variety of places? What does this say about the character of Pakistani people and was it difficult traveling in rural areas?
Whether or not you find it difficult to travel in rural areas is almost directly proportional to your tolerance for tea. If you can drink upwards of a dozen cups a day, then it’s easy. If your limit is two you might think otherwise. But seriously, it really goes back to the hospitality I mentioned. I never had any problems with Pakistanis being hostile because I was a foreigner, and an American no less. On the few occasions when I felt unwelcome, it was always due to the intelligence agencies and not to people on the street.
As for being conspicuous, you’re right, no one ever confused me for a local. When I was reporting about the Taliban extensively in the fall of 2007, I always wore traditional clothes and spoke Urdu in public. Anyone who wanted to listen to my accent or actually take a close look at me knew that I wasn’t a Pashtun, but at least I wasn’t wearing jeans and gabbing in English. And for my hair? To try and blend in just a little more, I took to dying it a lightish brown every few weeks. I don’t remember the exact name of the color, but it was number 36, I think. Anyway, my wife didn’t like the idea at all. She wanted to...[read on]