Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Security Risk

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I don’t know when they started it – it seems to have always been around – but this paranoia of security against the ‘enemy state’ (dushman mulk) pervades the national psyche deeply. This so-called security entails only a moratorium on photography, all else like blowing up PNS Mehran or Kamra apparently being kosher.

In nearly seven decades of the country’s existence, the painter of the ‘Photography Prohibited’ sign has never known poor business. Though the powers-that-be keep the identity of this person a tantalisingly guarded secret, his artwork adorns every bridge, culvert, railway station, airport, dam, power grid and rubbish dump around the land. For his meritorious and assiduous service to the country he must have received the highest awards from the government.

For some curious reason archaeological sites like Moen jo Daro, Harappa and Taxila have escaped the sign installer’s attention. However, minions of the security apparatus masquerading as guards of the Department of Archaeology are at hand to forestall photography. If you don’t know other enemy agents overtly working as government officials and ready to help you, a brother spy, you are doomed. But not willing to compromise myself, I prefer to rely on that monetary consideration that can buy a few minutes of peace to do the needful for the files of Mossad and RAW.

Back in 1986, I was accosted by a local busybody in the ruins of the Miri outside Turbat (now once again Kech). (Ah, what great times when I, a Punjabi, could roam the beautiful country of Balochistan). Photography, he said, toying menacingly with the club he carried, was not permitted. It was only after some money had changed hands that I was permitted the dastardly and unpatriotic act. Trained as I am in the devious crafts of spying, I realised the silo-like clayey remains of the old castle were actually just that: a missile silo where we were hiding our warheads to bash the daylights out of Hindu India.

Ditto the Dharmarajika stupa at Taxila. And if you retards think the Moen jo Daro stupa that the Sindh government recently tried to demolish with some cultural clowning is what they tell you it is, you have another think coming.

In forty years of rambling around the length and breadth of Pakistan there have been few places and fewer times that I have not been warned against using my camera. But being a dedicated agent of the Jewish-Hindu lobby with $$$ in my eyes I have become well-acquainted with the interiors of several police stations from Chitral to Nagarparker and even with that of one army intelligence den (in Umarkot). This latter is a story and some from 1987. Now, if the camera was enemy business, one on a tripod is just straightforward outlawry.

Recently in Makran, we were tooling up from Gwadar along the new and wonderful Makran Coastal Highway when we drew up to the fork where the road bifurcates for Turbat in the north and for Ormara and Karachi eastward. In the mid-morning light under a speckled sky, the blue road signs looked picturesque. So, out with the tripod and camera.

With instructions streaming in from Moshe Levinson in El Al Amien (it being secret, I cannot divulge the name of the city where Mossad is based) by satellite phone, I got to my third shot of gin and tonic – oops – of the super-secret highway, the lovely blue and yellow road furniture and the gleaming red lorries when the Pakistan Coast Guards men lounging in a lean-to received word of my nefarious activity. The word obviously came from ISI.

They sauntered over and told me to cut it out. I promptly took out my Barbie and Ken in Bermuda cut-out book and gave them each a nude of the two Jewish agents. They asked to confiscate the ‘film’ and I showed them that mine was actually a dummy camera because it had no back to open for the film to be inserted and that I was only checking them out for alertness. There followed a round of good-natured back-slapping and joshing. Since we were now friends, the Coast Guards men told me that the poles holding up the blue signs were actually missile silos and therefore top secret.

Now that’s quite reasonable. I mean if we are not hiding our nuclear warheads in archaeological mounds and under bridges and highways, where the hell else are we going to put them? Not in the Kala Chitta hills of Attock and the Khirthar Mountains near Ghebi Dero.

Err, by the way, has no one told these jokers anything about phone cameras and Google Earth?

This also appeared in Herald March 2014

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days