It was at Taxila Museum where I had an unusual encounter with two youngish gentlemen. In the middle of a spiel by Zaheer, my museum guide, I was asked my name by one of the two strangers. As this has become a fairly common occurence I gave my name and thought nothing more of it. However when he asked for my passport details I immediately became suspicious. Without complying, I asked the sour-faced stranger (via Zaheer) why he needed my passport details. The reply was for “for security reasons”. I asked Zaheer if this was normal and eventually gave only my passport number.
After Mr. Sour-face and his more friendly accomplice left, I queried Zaheer about who they were. Zaheer replied that they were with the ISI (the Inter-Service Intelligence) – Pakistan’s main intelligence organisation. Apparently they were checking on the movements of all foreigners in the area. Who knows why? Paranoia on their part, I guessed and continued with my museum tour with Zaheer.
Bizarrely, this was not to be my only encounter with the two strangers. After I left the museum I hired a rickshaw to take me to some of the main ruins, some of which were about 5-6 km away. As we were leaving Mr. Sour-face came over and, I presume, asked the driver where he was taking me as the driver rattled off the list of ruins I had just given to him. And so, every time we stopped at a ruins site, sure enough another stranger dressed in the same outfit/unifrom would arrive shortly thereafter. When I returned to the museum, some two hours later, the two strangers were there again hovering around 20-30m away. After a short break for lunch I hired a different driver to take me to a different area and, lo and behold, Mr. Sour-face reappeared and again asked the second driver where he was taking me. It came as no surprise that another stranger turned up shortly after I arrived at the next ruins.
By mid-afternoon I was “templed” out so I returned to the museum where, not surprisingly, Mr. Sour-face put in another appearance. Again he spoke to the driver. I obviously couldn’t understand the conversation but I heard the word “BMW” and the driver pointed over to where I had parked the bike while I wandered around all the ruins sites. Fed up with all this unnecessary shadowing I decided to call it a day and return to my guest house in Islamabad. As I was leaving the carpark I gave Mr. Sour-face a friendly wave good-bye. It was not reciprocated.
I am at a loss to explain the strange events of today. Have I suddenly taken on the appearance of a suspicious foreigner? Was it a really slow day for the ISI? Or have they been keeping a track of my movements ever since I crossed into Pakistan a week ago? Whatever the reason it certainly made me feel a bit uneasy. Up until now, everyone I’ve met in Pakistan has been amazingly friendly and welcoming.
I just hope the two strangers are not following this blog-site. I will be really paranoid if the number of followers suddenly increases by 2!