For all the wonders offered by a train journey across Pakistan — a country of jaw-dropping landscapes, steeped in a rich history and filled with unexpected pleasures — it also presents some deeply troubling images. At every major stop on the long line from Peshawar, in the northwest, to the turbulent port city of Karachi, lie reminders of why the country is a worry to its people, and to the wider world: natural disasters and entrenched insurgencies, abject poverty and feudal kleptocrats, and an economy near meltdown.The railroads suffer from all the country's ills: mismanagement, corruption, violence. As a result, service is terrible:
Early last year, dozens of protesting passengers laid their children across the tracks in Multan, in southern Punjab Province. They were angry because a journey that should have taken 18 hours had lasted three days — and they were still only halfway to their destination.Accusations of corruption finally forced out the nation's long-time rail minister, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. In the usual Pakistani, way, his story also brings in elements of fundamentalism, violence, and an ambivalent attitude toward western culture:
When Peshawar erupted in deadly riots last October over an American-made video clip that insulted the Prophet Muhammad, enraged protesters attacked the city’s movie theaters, including one belonging to Mr. Bilour’s family. A day later, the minister made a controversial offer: he would pay $100,000 to anyone, militants included, who killed the offending filmmaker. That gesture ingratiated Mr. Bilour with the Taliban, who offered to remove him from their hit list, but deeply shamed his party, which had suffered fatal militant attacks. In Peshawar, people viewed it with irony: the Bilour cinema was notorious for showing racy films that the Taliban surely would not appreciate.I fear for Pakistan. A nation with only two attitudes toward life, violent fundamentalism and weary irony, seems headed for even worse trouble.