Saturday, March 19, 2011

My first week in Islamabad

Lunch at Qaim’s

I am about to conclude my first week in Islamabad, and in the process of collecting and reorganizing initial impressions and sensations.

Well, the conclusion is that, strangely perhaps, I hardly managed to build a well-defined 'first' impression of this city. I have to say I have seen very little of Islamabad, tossed about from the hotel to offices and back to the hotel, and this may have somehow prevented me to spend enogh time understanding and digesting the city. A couple of evenings out to a restaurant, my dinner at the French Embassy, a blitz to a commercial center nearby the hotel to look for a pharmacy, and today lunch at Qaim’s were in fact the only escapes from this ‘back-and-forward’, hotel-offices-hotel, this week…

What to say then of Islamabad. Well, perhaps the first thing that somehow struck me is that it didn’t respond at all to the image of chaotic, crowded, dirty, noisy Asian megalopolis that perhaps I was expecting. Just to be clear: Islamabad is not the Pakistani version of Delhi. Planned and designed ‘on paper’ to be Pakistan’s temporary capital and built from scratch in the 60s, Islamabad is on the contrary clean, neat, characterized by broad and straight avenues, green parks, and very little, if not at all, traffic or pollution. Organized as an American city with roads that intersect perpendicularly, dotted by houses that are obviously ‘new’, I felt Islamabad lacked a bit a ‘soul’...

Chapter security. Well, I didn’t have the impression to be constantly ‘under fire’, but have also to say that I have never seen so many road-blocks in my life. Basically there is one at every intersection, and you need to slow down, stop and show your documents basically at each of them. To get in the hotel there are two checkpoints within 30 meters from each other. At each of them the car is scanned by guards that look in the engine and under the vehicle to make sure there are no bombs attached. And once by foot, you have to pass by two x-ray machines before you can finally walk in the lobby. Despite I didn’t perceive any imminent threat in the past days, a few times we were required to either enter or exit the hotel using secondary exits because of ongoing demonstrations outside, and on Thursday several of my meetings were cancelled because of a security alert.

I don’t want to scare anyone, and be reassured my mood is good and my general impression is that these are mainly precautionary measures - and that we are not in danger. However I have to say that this is the first time I work in a country where the level of alert is so high.

And tomorrow, off to Kabul…

(Ps: I realized that in the past weeks most of the posts, this one included, directly or indirectly focused on food, restaurants, dinners, lunches, etc. As far as I am concerned, this is absolutely accidental, and there is no specific reason for that. But I’ll pay more attention in the future, and if I come up with an explanation, I’ll share it with you. Likewise, if you find a possible explanation, please let me know J).


  1. Facile: sei incinto ed hai le voglie!

  2. ottima spiegazione, non ci avevo pensato!