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Pakistan. To say that the country has a bad reputation in the West

is like kicking in an open door. Suicide attacks in Karachi, terrorist

violence in Islamabad, stronghold of the Taliban, bin Laden's hiding

place for many years, not to mention the eternal border conflict

with India, ... The country is invariably in the news in a negative way

and there are a lot of reasons not to go there. But from friends who

were there, we heard how overwhelmingly beautiful the country is

and how amiable its population. We needed no more encourage-

ment. Only a Porsche, of course, but one was quickly found thanks

to the help of the Porsche Centre Pakistan in Lahore. Because if

you thought that there are no Porsches in Pakistan, you would be

wrong. Even better: we don’t just get to speak to one, but three

Porsche owners.

As not a single travel agency in Belgium offers Pakistan as a travel

destination and no recent travel guides can be found, we call on

the help of a local travel agent. Qasim Khan, of Adventure Travel

Pakistan, is the perfect man. We immediately see eye to eye and

he puts together a fantastic travel programme for us. On Friday

the thirteenth, for heaven’s sake, we fly with Qatar Airways to the

country of the Indus to check on the spot whether the many pre-

judices circulating about the country correspond to reality. Just

before we take off, we receive a text message from Qasim asking

what our clothing sizes are. Uhm, what does he need those for?

Probably for bulletproof vests, is our first thought.

RELIGION AS DIVISION

Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world that originated

directly because of religion. When India had had enough of the

British colonial yoke in 1947 and clamoured for independence,

the Muslims took advantage of the freedom struggle to claim their

own state. Hindus and Muslims had not been able to get along with

each other for some time and the Muslims feared being dominated

by the Hindu community in a sovereign India. The British used the

difference in religion as a yardstick to divide the Indian subconti-

nent into a large secular India that consisted of the areas where

the Hindus were in the majority, and a smaller state of Pakistan in

which the Muslim areas were united. Thus, India's independence

led to a rupture of the country, the so-called partition. The Muslims

may have won their battle, but their new Islam state was geo-

graphically unhappily arranged. Most Muslims lived in Punjab, in

the west of the former British Indies, but 1600 kilometres further

east, there was another province with a large Muslim population:

Bengal. This meant that Pakistan therefore consisted of two parts

that were far apart and that - apart from Islam - had very little in

common. Inevitably this spread out situation led to a new sepa-

ration. In 1971, after a bloody civil war, East Pakistan broke away

from West Pakistan and from that day forward referred to itself as

Bangladesh

TRAVEL

PORSCHIST