THAT MORNING IN AN OFFICIAL STATE CEREMONY, a wreath had been laid at the mausoleum where Pakistan's independence hero, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was buried. Tens of thousands of people stood outside its gate and in the immense white courtyard, where Jinnah's body lay in a domed tomb. Some of the pilgrims had painted their faces the national colors, green and white. On the street thousands danced to Indian disco music. Children ran around, and the mood was chaotic, but peaceful. As we visited the mausoleum our uninvited special branch escorts asked us if they had time to get gas for their vehicle.
In Karachi the celebrations ended without incident, but in Balochistan, the largest of Pakistan's four provinces, Independence Day brought trouble. A series of bombs rocked five well-to-do neighborhoods in the capital, Quetta. There were also explosions in railway stations, airports, government installations, and power plants, as well as small-arms fire against military checkpoints. Members of the Baloch minority, after whom the province is named, were spotted wearing black armbands in protest.
When I arrived in Quetta, the two university students who introduced me to the dusty town were terrified of Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and other "agencies." They worried that my hotel room was bugged and asked me to turn the television up high while we spoke. They worried that once I left they would be harassed or punished for associating with me. Nevertheless, they took me to the Quetta Press Club, where Baloch activists were protesting the jailing of three of their comrades. In a parking lot outside the press club, two dozen hunger strikers sat silently on carpets beneath a tent. They were members of the Baloch Student Organization (BSO), which had about 6,500 members and often used the image of Che Guevara. Two emaciated men were lying down with IVs containing glucose hanging above them. They had chosen to strike until death. In a weak voice, one of them explained to me that "hundreds of people are captured by the agencies, but the government denies it."
Seated next to the strikers was Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch, a representative of the BSO (many Baloch activists take the name "Baloch" as a gesture of solidarity). I asked him who had arrested the three men. "There are a lot of agencies and we do not know which one," he said. "There is no democracy in Pakistan." He explained that they were seeking the independence of Balochistan. "They do not treat us like a nation, or humans. The government is taking our resourcesgas, gold, the deep-sea port."
As Dr. Nazar was speaking, a man in his 60s arrived to introduce himself as Dr. Abdul Hayee Baloch, president of the National Party (Balochistan). The National Party did not call for an independent Balochistan, he said. "We stand for Pakistan as a multinational state. It should be a real federal parliamentary system. Now it's total dictatorship. There is no rule of law, no constitution. There are arrests without charges." He complained that in Pakistan, a few thousand families controlled all the wealth.
Dr. Nazar of the BSO interjected, telling me that it was Punjabis who control everything. Dr. Hayee snapped that he should not interrupt his interview. They began arguing in English, then switched to Balochi. "We struggle just for Balochistan," Dr. Nazar told me. "We are slaves." Dr. Hayee jumped in, "The whole country is slaves."
On the other side of the tent was Dr. Imdad Baloch, chairman of the BSO. On March 25 he had been arrested along with six others, all BSO activists, who had gathered in a Karachi apartment. At midnight a knock had come, and several dozen men in uniforms had taken the group to a detention center. "They asked, Where are you keeping arms and ammunition?' But we are just students. They beat us with leather or rubber. We were kept in a cell the size of a box and we did not see the sky." After two months, four of the men were released, but there was still, in August, no news of the remaining three. I asked Dr. Imdad if he thought they could achieve independence through hunger strikes. "We will succeed by our courage," he said somewhat unconvincingly.
That day, the union of newspaper sellers in Quetta called a strike to protest the arrest of several of its members for selling publications that had recently been banned. The vendors sat in front of their shops, drinking tea. One old man blamed America for the ban on radical Islamic publications. "Musharraf is the agent of Bush," he said. He complained of the double standards he saw: "Our army preaches jihad in the name of Allah," he said, "but newspapers cannot." Another seller fretted that "we did not get a list. We don't know which books are banned. We are afraid."
The following day, when the newsstands were open again, I returned to see what they were selling. Alongside books and journals with inviting pictures of Indian pop stars was a book entitled In the Grip of the Jews. On its cover was a snake with a Star of David slithering around the American flag. Another book cover depicted an American hand holding a cobra and giving it to a Muslim hand, while the Muslim world was shown in crosshairs. I managed to purchase two magazines that everyone seemed to agree were banned. One was called Way of Faith, and this particular issue was dedicated to the battle of Fallujah, which had become mythic throughout the Muslim world. An article claimed that hundreds of Americans had been killed in Fallujah, but the American government was silent over its losses, which were like Vietnam. There was a summary of 10 Koranic chapters that discussed jihad. Statistics were provided for the daily deaths of allied forces in Iraq.
I also purchased a weekly magazine called the Friday Special, published by the Jamaat-e-Islami political party. Its cover depicted Pakistan as a tree from which hung the "fruits of secularism," such as music, dance, Western television channels, the promotion of pornography, changes in Islamic textbooks, the crackdown on madrasas, and the cancellation of religious publications. For a reason I could not divine, the characters of The Simpsons were standing next to the tree.
As I was going through the newspaper stands, I noticed a man with a mustache and nicely pressed clothes asking the shopkeepers what I had asked them. Later, in a clothing store, I noticed him again, browsing without interest through children's apparel. When he realized I had spotted him, he hurriedly entered a building.