Unfortunately, the political situation in Pakistan was pretty horrible during the time we were planning our 2nd trip. Musharraf was being called on to step down, there were bombs every couple of weeks. Elections were supposed to be held while we were there, and everyone feared that there would be even more problems before, during and/or after the elections. My family tried to convince me to postpone the trip every time I talked to them about it.
Of course, things happened a little differently. It was much, much worse than anyone had thought it would be. Elections did not happen when we were there - they were postponed because Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.
It was TERRIBLE. I don't think I had ever heard gunfire before that, and I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life. And our 1 year old son was there with us.
We had just gotten home from some shopping. We were preparing for a wedding function, and there had been lots of last minute things we'd had to get. We got home in the late afternoon, and because our son had been late for his nap, M took him into our room to try to get him to sleep. (Of course, a late afternoon nap wasn't too late to put him to sleep - the wedding function wasn't even going to START until 10pm.) I was sitting in the front room updating the website we put pictures on when my youngest brother in law came into the room, told Abbu, my father in law, that something had happened to Bhutto, and turned on the TV. It was all in Urdu and they were talking really fast, so I didn't understand much. But I understood that she was dead. And I knew enough about Pakistan that this was going to trigger bad, bad things.
We were stuck in the house for four days. The first night was all about calling various family members in Karachi, making sure everyone was okay. We lived on a major street that served as a dividing line between a large group of Bhutto supporters and a large group of MQM supporters (another political party), so I was scared that this would be the place where more violence erupted, but what could I do? I couldn't leave the house. And where would we go anyway? Flights had been grounded.
All through the night was gunfire and rioting. The next day and night too. Day three there were less reports of any rioting, but was still somehow the scariest, for me, because there were these swells of voices you could hear coming from the street. It turned out to be roving mobs of young men who had been out of work for the past three days and had gotten bored, I guess - and they had cordoned off the street and were attacking cars that came by and robbing the people in them. A couples of times you could heard the Army vehicles and voice come by and make the men leave, but they just came back a little while later. The idea of God-knows-how-many men just down the street LOOKING for trouble was unsettling, even though it wasn't violence or rioting.
My family was, understandably, freaking out. I sent an email immediately after telling everyone that we were fine, nothing was happening near us (a bit of a lie) and that we were just going to hole up at home. My mother and I got into a huge fight a day or two after because she wanted us to come home immediately. Eventually my family was sufficiently worked up that we did go to the airline's office to inquire about leaving early. They said that they'd had to reroute so many people that the earliest flight with seats we could have gotten was three days AFTER our scheduled flight. (Although we did get pizza while on that outing, which after four days or Briyani was spectacular. The guy that owned the Domino's said his brother owned a Domino's in America - somewhere in New Jersey - did we know him? His name was Jamal?)
Thre was one thing I saw during the whole Bhutto aftermath that struck me most. I thought it spoke volumes about Pakistan and Pakistanis, their resilience and fortitude. As we were driving to the airline office, we passed a gas station (only a few feet from where we lived) that had been completely ransacked. Gas pumps pushed over, the whole place had burn & smoke marks, all the oilcans and windshield wipe fluid strewn about. It looked terrible. THe next day, it was open for business again, and you couldn't tell anything had happened.
For a while I thought I might not ever be able to go back. I don't think that anymore. I guess time heals all wounds.