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Day 24: Rawalpindi

Michael Palin - HimalayaIslamabad, its critics say, is 12 miles outside Pakistan, and this morning, as we drive out past the well-fenced government buildings and onto the wide, landscaped, highly under-used modern highway that surrounds the city I know what they mean. Everything is discreet, tidy, straight and planned, and it's not until we reach the outskirts of Islamabad's twin city, Rawalpindi, affectionately abbreviated to Pindi, that Pakistan comes back to life.

Not far from the airport, we're diverted off the main road by hundreds of police. After some time a convoy of outriders, some in open cars with gloriously conspicuous scarlet berets, races by on either side of three blacked-out Mercedes, any one of which, or possibly none, contains President Musharraf. Significantly, he doesn't live with the civil servants in Islamabad but in Rawalpindi, where the army is based, and this whole extravagant process, an entire six-lane highway closed for a half-hour, is a reminder of where the power lies in Pakistan.

At Independence in 1947, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, known to all as the Quaid-e-Azam, Father of the Nation, wanted Pakistan to remain a secular state but, divided as the country was into West Pakistan and East Pakistan (later to secede and become Bangladesh), the only real bond that held the disparate tribal groups together was religion. In 1956 the Constitution accepted this and declared Pakistan an Islamic Republic. The army, seeing power drifting away from them, staged their first coup two years after that and, despite various attempts to hand power to democratically elected leaders, Pakistan still is a military state, and one of the most hotly debated issues is whether or not Musharraf should give up his uniform and run for democratically elected office.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 24: Rawalpindi
  • Country/sea: Pakistan
  • Place: Rawalpindi
  • Book page no: 49

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