The moment the bomb exploded, our Frontier Corps driver slammed on the brakes. I wished he hadn't. If ever there was a moment to floor the accelerator that was it. The October sun was dropping fast. Slopes and broken ground stretched above either side of the road. We were less than an hour's drive away from the battlefield in Bajaur and the loyalty of the surrounding tribes was far from assured.
Frontier Corps soldiers after the roadside bomb attack
Already, passing through the town of Mardan just a couple of hours earlier, we had skirted the immediate aftermath of a suicide attack that had killed seven people, most of them policemen. Our four-vehicle convoy was tiny. Most of the soldiers in it were returning from leave and appeared to be unarmed. Now, as this device detonated barely ten metres in front of us, immediately shrouding our escort vehicle in a wall of smoke and dust, halting in the middle of an ambush-ripe bend seemed insane, offering us as an easy target for follow-up fire.
"Go," we yelled at the man. So the soldier went - springing nimbly from his driver's door and running from sight. We gawped at each other for a while in the quietness that followed, as dumbfounded by our rude abandonment as we were by the bomb. But there was no follow-up fire. Through the smoke, one by one, bug-eyed with shock, the soldiers from the escort vehicle ran back past us. Perfectly sited, the roadside bomb had been miraculously badly angled, throwing most of its shrapnel payload skywards. A hapless civilian motorcyclist, passing in the other direction, was the only casualty. Eventually, as the smoke cleared and groups of silent, inscrutable villagers appeared from the fields to stare at us, our driver returned. He rolled a quick joint, murmured "Bismillah" rather sheepishly, then retook his seat and turned the ignition.
We proceeded towards Bajaur at speed in a cloud of hash. Daylight slipped to dusk. The track narrowed at every turn. Artillery rumbled ahead. The war already seemed way too schizoid. It seemed a spectacularly bad moment to get stoned.
There is a long queue of players jostling to criticise Pakistan, to chide and chastise its security forces over their failure to deal with the militant threat based on its soil. At best, its detractors accuse Pakistan of incompetence and denial. At worst, Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI, stands blamed for direct collusion with militant groups.
- Gambling On A Greater More Gracious Britain
- Xi Versus Trump: The Emperor And The Tycoon
- Can Trump Square The Circle On Fiscal Reform?
- Donald Trump And The Dividing Of America
- Theresa May Emerges From Thatcher's Shadow
- Not Tweets And Anger But Redoubled Vigilance
- Why France Is Revolting Against The Ancien Regime
- How The EU Elite Paved The Way For Populism
- Trump's America: The End Of Exceptionalism
- The Kaliningrad Contingency
- Mrs May Is Too Canny To Say Farewell To Arms
- To Understand Trump, Read Huxley — Not Orwell
- A Letter To Our Great-Grandchildren
- Trump Is No Loser, But Government Will Be Harder
- Trump's Appeal Is More Roosevelt Than Reagan
- The Trump Presidency: A Worst-Case Scenario
- We Cannot Take Liberal Democracy For Granted
- No Need To Fear Russia. The Bear Is Broke
- Who Will Do Justice To Our Judiciary?
- Trust Westminster On Brexit: It's All We've Got