F IRST came the missile crisis, which badly affected tourism in the NWFP. Hotels, chaikhanas and tour operators suffered. Up in Chitral, I suddenly found myself engaged in evacuating the foreigners from Chitral, taking on the job of voluntary warden for the British High Commission.
I set up a network of communication between myself, a British friend, who acted as warden in Peshawar, the British High Commission and a friend in Dir who was manager of a hotel. Subsequently, I found myself travelling between Chitral and Peshawar in some form of disguise. Mostly to run the gauntlet of the police check posts.
This was a preview of things to come. 9/11 changed everything. Or rather I should say the reaction of the United States. Again, hotels, tour operators, travel agents were all hit. Hotels and chaikhanas where we would stop on our journey North, closed due to lack of business. Hotels in Chitral and the valleys faced a slump.
Many people found themselves out of work. My tour guides, whom I had been paying out of my own pocket, in the hope that I should be funded by a foreign donor who had promised but welched (9/11 gave them a perfect excuse), found themselves without salary.
Immediately after the horrendous events of September 11, and the name of Osama bin Laden was resounding around the world, I had a slew of emails from friends concerned about my safety. Some even urged me to pack up and leave forthwith. Why? I replied. This was my home. I was in no danger. Neither were any other expats, although security measures were taken at the behest of embassies, and many were evacuated.
Those of us, who lived here or stayed on, ignoring the warnings, shared many of the same sentiments as our Pakistani and Afghan friends. Many of my Pakhtoon friends, like myself, had either lived there or had sons or daughters studying at American universities. We had all been horrified about the attack on the WTC building.
In Chitral, people were complaining of the lack of rain.