Baluchistan Liberation Army
Locations in this report:
Written: 17.08.2012 16:35:30
Somehow we arrived in Zahedan - without any getting robbed, killed or even injured.
But additionally to our late departure (the bus was going about one and a half hours later than the one we booked), the bus was late by several hours. The train would departure in less than 20 minutes from our arrival.
But at least it stopped raining a while ago.
Fast we thanked the bus personal, graped our things and without big bargaining we took a taxi to the train station. 10 minutes left. We entered the entrance of the station. But there was no obvious entrance. So we were asking in the guards house for the train. Big confusion. No one speaks proper English and no one seems to know anything about the train. Even a few calls bring no result. By now the train should have left. Damn.
Suddenly someone speaks in good English to us. It is a man with his daughter. His English is pretty good and soon is sure: The train hasn't been going for a few month now. He offers us his help and we go with him and his daughter.
He told us, that he has a pharmacy nearby and today is his free day. So he decided to go for a walk with his daughter. She spoke some English, too. Both seemed relaxed and somehow happy. They seemed to have a good relationship.
He told us, that we would have to take a taxi for the last 50km to the border. He could call a friend, who is a taxi driver. But he has no mobile with him, so we have to go to his pharmacy. On the way we enter a police station. We would probably need police-guardedness.
(The region around Zahedan and in Pakistan until Islamabad (Baluchistan) is a quite dangerous area. One reason is, that the area is next to the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. A lot of terrorist-related activities are going on there: Smuggling, plundering, attacking. Therefore there are many military checkpoints etc.)
They say, they don't have enough men, but we can pick one guard up at one of the many check posts.
We went on. He asked us if we were hungry - of course we were! He invited us for a breakfast in a Hotel. It is free for him, because they often ask him for help when foreigners only speak English. It was a good breakfast. The more we talk to him, the more we get the feeling, that he is a great, sensible and responsible man. We were talking about their plans to go to Canada. They didn't sound like unrealistic dreams - they sound like though-through and realistic.
We went on to his pharmacy. A small but busy place. Employees greeted us. We entered a small back room and put down our heavy bags, sat down and relaxed for a moment. He called his friend, found out the price for us.
We agreed on a price (about 5? per Person - for a 50km taxi ride!). While waiting for the taxi he asked us, if we needed anything (medicine), after a short though I remembered, that I still had to get Malaria medicine (I decided not to take prophylaxis, so you should carry emergency medicine with you then). He gave us some, but wouldn't accept money for it.
His friend arrived. After a hearty "Thank you!", "Good-bye!" and the promise to write him an eMail as soon as we reached Islamabad, we hit the road.
The drive felt like a drive to Mordor. Left from us (around 50km to the north) the Afghanistan-war, in front of us a long road through the desert and dark clouds in the sky. And new adventures to come. I couldn't stop thinking about good positions for ambushes. The abandoned military posts and skull-signs to both sides of the road didn't make that better.
We stopped a few times at checkpoints, but they told us the risk was quite low at the moment and we wouldn't need a guard.
We reached and entered the border station. People were sitting, obviously waiting, luggage was lying around, people standing in a row for passport-check. We lined up with them, but someone told us to just pass by and hand-over our passports directly. Checking us out from Iran took some while, but we finally could continue. We entered something like a gangway - when we reached the end and stepped through a door, we were suddenly in the middle of - nowhere.
Desert all around us - just a few houses here and there and many people standing, walking and sitting around. Someone dragged us to one of the buildings. We had to fill a form and got stamped into Pakistan. We were dragged to the next building. Filling another form, assuring, that we were offered a guard. We talked a little to the soldier on duty and he showed us the register of 2009: Only 595 foreigners (except from Iran) entered that year. We were "the two foreigners of the day", as I called it.
Dragged to the next building. Obviously the police station of the village. We had to wait in a room from some while. An old radio-telephone was standing around, a few AK-47 leaning at the wall.
Our guard was ready to go and brought us to the bus station. Bus tickets turned out to be expensive (20? per person) and we had to change many of our few euros we had left. After a few hours the bus was finally going, the guard came with us. Later we were told that these buses get attacked often, everybody would have to leave it. "Wrong" Muslims and foreigner get separated and shot, everybody else may go on. But the guard also didn't allow us to talk to locals.
It was raining throughout the whole night. Water leaked into the bus - buses in the desert are just not designed for rain - and we got nearly no sleep. Not at last because we had to get up every 30-60minutes. Hurry through the rain into a small hut, armed with all kinds of weapons, wrote our name, passport-number, date of issue, validly, place of issue, visa-number, date of birth, name of father, date and time of passing et cetera into a register.
Four or five in the morning we arrived in Queta.
It was still pretty early, the town seemed still asleep. There was a building which looked like a place where you can get tickets. Inside there was an old man, an old woman and a maybe 15 year old, probably, girl. They sat around a gas stove and used it as a heater. We were really cold and they invited us to sit with them straight away.
The process of buying a ticket should be long and hard and leave us with an unsatisfying result.
With small drawings we made clear that we wanted to buy a ticket. They 'told' us the same way, that this would not be possible before 10am (it was something like 5 or 6 am). At 9 I started wandering around, finding out (as I assumed) that we wouldn't have enough Pakistani money to buy the bus tickets. But due to some kind of strike (which we should find out more about later) it was not possible to change money. After draw-talking some more to our friends around the heater, the old man called his younger brother, who spoke a little English. With him we could find out, that train tickets would be way cheaper.
With our first Rickshaw drive on this trip we went to the train station.
At the ticket counter there we found someone with really good English. He explained to us, that tickets would not be sold until one hour before the train would go. So he invited us for parota (a sort of more solid pancake) with sugar and milk-chai (probably the best fu*in the in the world :). I can not totally recall the conversation, but it was about his career, live and family. Though he had good education, he wouldn't earn much, life still was hard.
We got redirected to another counter, and another. As I told you, getting tickets would be the hardest on our whole trip at this station. Probably we only were possible to get any because we met Aamir, who was speaking relatively good English.
Even with him it still took us pretty a while. Finally we could get tickets. Because of our limited money it were only standing tickets (for a >48 hours ride!).
After a long while walking through the train and Aamir explaining our situation to some people the military allowed us to stay in their cabin (yes, right! The military guarded the train and had a few cabins for themselves. Also there were weapons - massive ones with bullets as big as my hand, as well as pistols and 'small' MP5's.)
We talked a lot about Qur'an, religion in general and the current situation in Pakistan. The train often stopped in between. Sometimes in stations, sometimes just on the track, sometimes short, sometimes for an hour. You could get of the train whenever it stopped (doors weren't locked), you just had to jump on it again, when it started moving again.
So it came that we didn't really realize, when the train stopped for already more than an hour in a station. Suddenly Aamir got a call from his father. When he hung up he was more serious than before. He told us his father just saw on TV that there where armed riots on the track, not letting the train pass.
He talked to the military guys for a while.
They confirmed that. We waited for another two hours. These riots where there, because someone shot the wife and daughter of the leader of that group (The BLA - 'Baluchistan Liberation Army'). That was also the reason for the strikes earlier that day.
Someone told us, three of the riots just got shot. Simply. They wouldn't leave, so the military shot them. The others retreated. But it was still darkest night, no one knew where they went to. Because they feared that they could hide in the forests the train waited for another two or three hours. Suddenly, without any change of the situation the train started moving again.
What now is about to come is one of the most emotional parts of the journey.
We sat in the train, expecting to be shot at any moment. There was no cover (the walls a few centimeters thick), no running away, nothing. It is hard to describe what happens to you when you realize for the first time in your life that you easily could die tonight, that you could end up like one of these stories on TV. You start thinking, about what people told you. Maybe you should have listened to your parents.
The leader of the military group, a hard guy (the one on the right in the picture), suddenly kissing the Qur'an I had with me. I still tear up, while writing this, or telling someone the story. It gives me a shiver. The same guy, who told us just five minutes ago, that he was not there to talk, but to kill. That his weapon was not secured.
At the exact spot where the riots where shot, the train stopped for half an hour. Why? We don't know. It was the climax and as soon as we started moving again a full load of feelings fell of us all.
Either the riots where to scared by the loss of their companions or something happened we don't know about, but that night there was not a single bulled fired on the train.
The soldiers left the train, we had to leave the cabin. Fortunately the train got emptier meanwhile and we could find some space to sit, two beds and a place to put my sleeping pad, so we could all sleep at night.
After four days of traveling in bus and train we got for the first time the chance to wash our hair and brush our teeth. We were like reborn princes/princesses.
Finally we reached Islamabad.
One of the safer places in Pakistan :)