Some Pakistanis have begun blaming Afghan immigrants for bringing “their” war into Pakistan—one Afghan baker’s story of harassment, corruption, and exile.
The baker sits cross-legged on the flour-dusted floor. His store-front bakery overlooks a narrow pitted street where taxi drivers sleep. Their sandaled feet stick out open car windows, before they rouse themselves and drive into downtown Islamabad seeking fares. Near the baker, a boy beats mounds of pasty dough into flat circles. Then he slaps the dough against the flame-seared walls of a clay-brick oven. He wipes his hands on stained aprons hanging on the wall. The aroma of baking bread rises invisibly around us lingering even as it must compete with odors already circulating on the awakening street: dew-damp garbage piles warming under the rising sun an hour past dawn, diesel exhaust from lumbering trucks jouncing down the pitted road, panicked chickens carried upside down by their legs and carried to a market by small barefoot boys. I lean against the wall and watch the increasing commotion of the street. I have been in Islamabad for nearly four weeks on a freelance reporting assignment covering the rise in violence from jihadi groups opposed to the government’s alliance with the U.S. and its war on terror.
But every morning before I begin making my rounds to the various ministries for news updates and press conferences, before I once again negotiate the countless bureaucratic hurdles required to see minister so and so, I walk one block from my guest house to this bakery for bread and a cup of tea. An hour or so later, I return to my guest house, check my email for messages from my Washington-based editor and then wait for my driver. I was pleased to see the bakery was open this morning. For the past few days it has been closed. I return to the states tomorrow morning. While I don’t pretend to know the baker well, he has been a steady morning companion. I didn’t want to leave without saying good-bye. However, something is different today. The baker did not greet me with his usual hearty As Salaam Alaikum. He did not offer me tea, a custom here for “guests” visiting someone’s home or business.