Still addled by my adventures in Candy Land, and three days on the punishing mountain roads of Pakistan, I was initially somewhat confused, and I thought that Mrs Donkey had just farted in her sleep again. But just as I was working out where the hell I was, and wondering why I had a hankering for Lindt and girls in tie-dye minis and knee-high boots, there was a second earth-shattering explosion which sent me to the floor with a nasty expletive as I discovered that the bed was solid; my stinging forehead informing me that there was no where to hide from the impending collapse of the ceiling.
I couldn’t believe this was happening - we were under attack! I shouldn’t have been surprised; in the last four days, my journey through Pakistan had been brought to you by the term “extreme military hardware”, and the Pakistan landscape was littered with it. Indeed, the first monument to the fresh eyes of a visiting tourist on the way from the airport to the capital is of a massive, stern-looking President Musharraf sitting atop a mountain in full, imposing military regalia, and beneath it, Hollywood-sized letters bestowing the virtue, “Discipline”.
The military theme was further emphasized by a massive collection of surplus military machinery decking out tiny town-squares in even the smallest backwaters of the country. Single-pilot jet fighters were arranged in poses of active flight outside all government buildings, and beside the bazaars, (hopefully) demobilised, camouflaged tanks hulked imposingly, their guns pointing up the main streets as a reminder to all “visitors” that their hosts were ready for any false moves. And then there were my favourites; real missiles mounted on cement buttresses and pointing to the heavens like enormous, military penises the likes of which feature in George W’s wet dreams every night. Add to these ‘monuments to the death of nations’ a sizable military academy in every large town and three ordinance factories, the smallest of which would dwarf Monaco, and it’s not hard to appreciate that Pakistan spends upwards of seventy-five percent of its national budget on the military, even while most of its population are illiterate and losing their children every year to vaccine-preventable diseases.
And there I was, stuck in the middle of a full-scale attack and wondering why my security briefing hadn’t mentioned anything about what I was supposed to do when receiving fire while dressed in nothing but a pair of boxer shorts decorated in humorous pictures of monkeys. “That’d be right!”, I moaned, “Twelve years of suffering under the right-wing military regime of John Howard, without finding myself within even a dull roar of some military intervention, and yet my unwitting membership of the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ was unlikely to save me now, all the way up here in this remote border region, miles from any of my wonderful Pakistani coalition allies, who would be the only ones who could save me from the marauding hoards of Afghani militants who must surely be surrounding my hotel right at this moment, firing mortars directly at my room”.
On the floor next to my bed, in a snivelling, quaking mess, I was praying to God for my life, and I even tried a bit of an offering to Allah as well, although in my panic, the only Urdu I could remember was “As salaam alaikum”, so in my final hour, all the Most Holy would hear was me rapidly squealing “Hello”, in a very shrill voice, over and over again.
After half an hour, there had been no further explosions, and I had dozed off until an insistent knock at my door at 8am. Preparing to meet Osama himself, I opened to see my colleague tapping her watch in a frustrated signal of my tardiness. “But … but the explosion? Aren’t we under attack?”, I stammered. She shrugged and assured me that the Chinese were building a hydroelectric dam next door, and that they sometimes have to explode holes in the mountain. She then fixed me with The Stare, which told me in no uncertain terms that I’d I better get out of those ridiculous shorts, and get moving immediately.
So hang-on, maybe it’s fair to suggest that my initial assumption of an Afghan invasion of Pakistan was a bit far-fetched, but in my defence, do our East Asian engineer friends really need to do their practicing for Chinese New Year at 4am? Here I was in one of the most harsh and brutal regions of the world, in a country where children are taught to disassemble and reassemble a Kalashnikov while suckling their mother’s breast, and I’m supposed to know the difference between nocturnal excavation and an enemy attack?. As I sheepishly approached the vehicle under the glowering gaze of my impatient and unforgiving team, I surmised that Pakistan, Donkey and un-forewarned explosions DEFINITELY DO NOT MIX!