Safe Passage in Pakistan
April 26, 2008 7:12 PM   Subscribe

I am going to a wedding in Lahore, Pakistan this August (I am an American) and staying with the groom's family. I will probably be in Islamabad as well, and will be staying with another friend's family. What places are safe to visit while I am there? I know Baluchistan, Waziristan and the territories are right out, but are places like Karachi unsafe? I would like to see the northern areas of Pakistan, like Gilgit and Hunza, but I am having a hard time getting real advice on whether I should be worried for my safety there.
posted by Falconetti to Travel & Transportation around Pakistan (8 answers total)
Are you a woman? Are you small or large? Are you generally travel-savvy and aware of your surroundings? Do you have any previous experience traveling in non-Western or volatile countries?
posted by Madamina at 7:19 PM on April 26, 2008

Response by poster: Good questions, I should have been much more precise. I am a white male, very tall and am pretty travel savvy and have been to non-Western countries multiple times often alone, including Malaysia and southern Thailand, which have large Muslim populations. I don't have experience traveling in volatile countries though.
posted by Falconetti at 7:23 PM on April 26, 2008

I'm not the OP, but for the sake of the wider audience (and my own curiosity): are there any recommendations for a small inexperienced woman?
posted by amtho at 7:25 PM on April 26, 2008

Consult the State Departments travel advisory.
posted by mattoxic at 7:48 PM on April 26, 2008

Response by poster: I have looked at the advisory, which basically says don't go to Pakistan unless essential. But I am going, so if possible, I'd like to get some more nuanced advice.
posted by Falconetti at 7:57 PM on April 26, 2008

Best answer: I've traveled in the Middle East on a U.S. passport, and I urge people not to pooh-pooh State Department travel advisories and warnings. For Pakistan, the current travel advisory is here, and the current warnings (warden notices) are here. Northern Pakistan is not a great place to be obviously American, and traveling alone, at the moment. Even in the company of persons with family and friends in those areas, you represent an increased risk to them, as well as to yourself, as a potential kidnapping and crime target. The further off the beaten paths you go, the harder it is to get out, should there be any change in the international situation, which kicks up local sentiment against the U.S.

In my experience, words of official caution do not dissuade the adventurous. Perhaps 99% of the time, experienced travelers can traverse dangerous areas by simply avoiding standing out. But when things go wrong, even for them, they go very wrong indeed. In many abduction and robbery cases, the people doing it are inexperienced, and have unrealistic expectations for profit, ransom or recognition. They panic, or make mistakes, and even persons willing to cooperate wind up badly hurt, far from good medicine. And even being an innocent bystander, or an uninvolved third party, is little solace, if you're hit by a stray bullet or a shrapnel fragment, from somebody else's disagreement.

Hard as it may be to accomplish, stay in touch daily. Make sure people know your daily routes and plans, and stick to them. Report unavoidable changes and delays promptly. Be suspicious of overly solicitous persons. If you're getting out to areas where telecommunications are difficult, you're nowhere an inexperienced traveler ought to be.
posted by paulsc at 8:14 PM on April 26, 2008

Stick to major cities. Like paulsc said, try to blend in with the crowd (wear clothes like theirs, talk less, don't go out of your hotel unless you have to). Hide your money and valuables if you don't know what kind of people you're going to be with.

I'm not the OP, but for the sake of the wider audience (and my own curiosity): are there any recommendations for a small inexperienced woman?
Same advice as above. If possible, have a guy with you whom you can trust with your life.
posted by cyanide at 9:58 PM on April 26, 2008

Best answer: You've already been granted a rare honour (unless you invited yourself!). It is a huge deal to stay at the Groom's home and be part of the party while you are there. Firstly be prepared for a lot of waiting around and a little bit of boredom during the more formal parts of the week. He and his closest male relatives will all be hard pressed to get all their responsibilities sorted, they have to fetch and carry and transport and basically be in seven places at once.

If you express a desire to travel round they will be honour bound to find someone to accompany you, so I'm hoping you mean after the wedding days. Hospitality is a very weak English term for it, but it is likely that they will take your personal safety as a matter of family honour and may be able to arrange for a "cousin who lives in the states and is back for the wedding" to show you some places.

You'll be extremely lucky if they have a relative in the military or ex military as travel would be a cinch if that's the case.

As locals they are more finely turned to the signs that something is brewing, or to the kinds of places that may be flashpoints, so my strongest recommendation is not to travel alone.

Things have quietened down a lot since the bombs last month, keep an eye on the local news.
posted by Wilder at 2:15 AM on April 27, 2008

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