Far from the border of Afghanistan and the right wing Islamification of Pakistan, lies the ancient city of Lahore. A strategic trade route through Central Asia, Lahore has been fought over and conquered by marauding invaders since it was first written about by a Chinese traveler in 630AD.
Lahore is the cultural, artistic and intellectual capital of Pakistan. Once you get past the heat, noise and crowds streets, Lahore’s inner beauty unfolds with gardens, mosques and Sufi shrines, providing blissful tranquility from the mayhem outside. The city seems to politely ignore the influence of the Taliban, cinemas play Indian fims, CD and DVD stores flourish and women hawk their wares in Pakistan’s only red light district.
Foreigners, however, are hard to be found. As I walked the streets, exploring the old city, Shamsi, my 78-year old self-appointed guide, complained to me of the lack of tourism in very broken English. “The Taliban has ruined all of Pakistan. No tourism. Clean them all.” The last comment referring to the Pakistani government’s offensive in Swat.
This has been the prevailing sentiment for all Pakistanis with whom I have spoken (though some do blame the US for pushing the Taliban out of Afghanistan into Pakistan). They are victims of the Taliban; they live in terror of suicide bombings and losing their freedom. “This is not Islam,” Shamsi states. “Islam is peaceful.” Get rid of the Taliban and return Pakistan to the Pakistanis.