After seven tumultuous years reporting from Pakistan, Guardian correspondent Declan Walsh reflects on the inspiring figures, the jaw-dropping landscapes, the deep corruption – and the day the Taliban came to town.
Even before you reach Pakistan there's reason to fret. "Ladies and gentlemen, we will be landing shortly, inshallah," says the Pakistan International Airlines pilot, 10 minutes outside Islamabad. To the western ear this ancient invocation – literally "God willing" – can be disconcerting: you pray the crew are relying on more than divine providence to set down safety. But these days it's about right – Pakistan, a country buffeted by mysterious if not entirely holy forces, seems to have surrendered to its fate.
Viewed from the outside, Pakistan looms as the Fukushima of fundamentalism: a volatile, treacherous place filled with frothing Islamists and double-dealing generals, leaking plutonium-grade terrorist trouble. Forget the "world's most dangerous country" moniker, by now old hat. Look to recent coverage: "Hornet's Nest" declares this week's Economist; "The Ally from Hell" proclaims the Atlantic.