Visitors treated with care in this terrain
As we thankfully get off the tiny Fokker-27 after a 30-minute flight at 6:30am from Islamabad, the first thing that strikes about Peshawar is that it's different from the rest of Pakistan.
As we walk into the tiny airport (remarkably different from the swanky ones in Lahore and Karachi) and are seen out again by a friendly customs official who smilingly refrains from checking our baggage tags, that feeling of being in alien country hits us again.
And then we suddenly realise why. Peshawar is nothing like the Pakistan we've seen so far. What we've seen thus far has been like India -- the sights, the smells, the people, the mixture of modern and traditional women who can be seen in innumerable Indian cities. Other than the fact that it's really clean too, Peshwar is dissimilar in most respects.
For starters, it doesn't seem modern at all. Then, the Pathans here look different. They are handsome, strapping men, they speak a foreign tongue and wear a different headgear --- called the "patki" in Pushtu. Then, there are just no women in the streets, at least not too many in the areas we've seen. Those who are there, are completely covered from head to toe in black or beige burqas, the ones with enough space only for the eyes to show.
It is also clear that the rest of Pakistan treat Peshawaris with a certain amount of wariness. "Don't get into any argument with anyone in Peshawar," one Lahore-based journalist tells an Indian scribe. "They have only one way of settling an argument."
The newspapers too, are full of stories everyday on what's happening in the 'tribal agencies' of the North West Frontier Province that this beautiful city is the capital of. They have their own code of justice and governance. The jirgas (council of elders), like the jirgas of Afghanistan, decide what happens here and to whom.
Just a couple of weeks ago, a meeting of various tribes decided to set up a force of tribals to flush out militants who were coming from across the border and "despoiling their beautiful region".
A couple of days ago, eight men were executed in a public slaying (hundreds of volunteers shot them simultaneously) in the province. These men had been found guilty of various heinous crimes including robbery and kidnapping that were bringing a bad name to the community.
To the outside world, it might seem barbaric but to a world plagued by violence and a stream of alien militants coming in to hide from across the border, it is an effective method to stem the rot.
However, all this aside, this is natural, ruggedly beautiful terrain. The people, by all accounts are tremendously friendly and your being a visitor (and visitors stand out like sore thumbs) is a passport to being at the receiving end of lavish and charming hospitality. Unfortunately, this place needs more than a couple of days to be figured out and completely understood. We don't have that.
Most of us are rushing to leave this land of fascinating prospects the minute Friday's third one-dayer is done with. We don't like what we don't know.
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