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Scary moments 2: Quetta
Islamabad (Pakistan), August 5th 2007
You probably know them as well, the movies with a second episode, whose story is almost the same as the first movie. We also have a second episode on our story “Scary moments in Tripoli”, but this time in Quetta, Pakistan.

Last night we had a long (12 hours) and exhausting bus journey. We crossed the border between Iran and Pakistan, and took the bus from Taftan to Quetta. Because of the bad condition of the road, it was impossible to take a sleep. We arrived very early in the morning in Quetta, and took some hours in the hotel to rest. Afterwards we left our hotel on Prince Road to explore Quetta, which is still a very traditional Pakistan city. It is one big bazaar where you still see horses and wagons to provide the bazaar shops with products. You will also see very few women in Quetta. Life of the Quetta women takes places in the houses and not on the street. The traffic is chaotic. Besides cars, buses and motorcycles, you will also see very much auto rickshaws on the street. These small and agile vehicles are the best way of transport within the city.

Because Quetta is still very traditional, it is also a very photogenic city. Old men with long beards, beautiful painted busses, and a colourful bazaar are great ingredients for nice pictures. At the moment that we want to shoot a picture of one of the beautiful buses, two men in civilian clothes approach us. They ask us if we are journalists, and of course, we deny it. We are just travellers taking pictures of the beautiful city of Quetta. They still want to see our passports. As we belong to do, we ask for the identity papers of the two men, just to be sure that they are real cops. It sometimes happens that bogus police try this trick to rob travellers from their passport and/or money. They refuse to identify themselves, which means that we neither do show our papers. If they still insist on seeing our documents, we suggest going to an official police station. In the presence of the ‘real’ police we have no problems showing our papers. They still refuse, so we decide to walk away.

A couple of hundreds meters further, a motorcycle with two soldiers approaches us from the front. The motorcycle passes us, but stops a few metres behind us. Some seconds later, the two military people ask us to stop. They are both armed with a Kalashnikov, but fortunately they point the barrel to the ground. Also the two men in civilian clothes appear gain. We have to walk with the four men to a small alley, where the want to see our passports and photo’s. We also get a small explanation about the problem. It seems that we were in a ‘sensitive’ area at the moment we tried to photograph the bus. When we looked closely at the map afterwards, it seemed that we were close to the railway station (out of sight) and the Afghan consulate. The men glance through the pictures on our camera and on one of the pictures is a bus with a long bearded man in the door of the bus. One of the men wants to know who it is. Of course we don’t know because he is just an extra on the picture. It is an advantage to have a digital camera, so they can see the pictures without developing the film (like it was in Tripoli). After they saw the pictures several times, they are convinced that the pictures do not show any sensitive objects or persons, but they still decide to write down the details of our passports. If we ask them why they do so, they don’t answer. When we ask them again to show their identity papers, they refuse again, but we do get back our papers and photo camera. They guarantee us that there is no problem and we are free to go.

Because we do not have a good feeling about the incident (especially because they wrote down our details while we did nothing wrong), we decide to go to the PTDC (Pakistan Tourist Development Corporation). This government organisation has the task to inform travellers to Pakistan in case they have question, or help them in case of problems. When we tell them the story, they also confirm that there is no problem. Because Quetta is close to the Afghan border, means that taking pictures in the whole of the city is sensitive. The two guys that approached us are just undercover agents that take their jobs seriously.

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