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Driving across Pakistan is a nerve-wracking proposition. Along with the problems of bad roads, heat and dust, there are also suicide bombings, gun battles and the occasional assassination attempt. Yet, one man behind the wheel in Pakistan refuses to allow the violence to interfere with his travel plans. NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Islamabad.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Every now and then, you meet a character who stands out against the landscape. The landscape, in this case, is the sweep of terrain between the Arabian Sea and the Khyber Pass. The character is a stocky man wearing a baseball cap and dark glasses, a quirky grin, and an air of stubborn optimism. His name is Mohsin Ikram.
The reason Mohsin Ikram stands out against this landscape is because he's driving across it in a sportscar made in Britain when Winston Churchill was still alive. Traveling across Pakistan in a museum piece with no roof is not for the fainthearted. But Mohsin is a man in love.
MOHSIN IKRAM: This car thing, I don't know how it got into my head.
REEVES: This car thing is a burning passion for vintage cars. Pakistan was founded in 1947. There are still a few cars around that were shipped in here before that, under British rule. Mohsin, who is 50, started collecting at 16. Restoring classic cars is Mohsin's life, though he does have a real job.
IKRAM: I'm a travel agent and an events manager, but I hate doing all that. I wish I didn't have to work for money and spent my time on cars. (Laughing)
REEVES: Mohsin is founder of Pakistan's Vintage and Classic Car Club. A few weeks ago, with a group of fellow enthusiasts, Mohsin set off from Karachi on the coast of south Pakistan to Peshawar, close to Afghanistan. The journey's about 1,000 miles. Mohsin's wife, Saira, traveled with him.
Pakistan has some fine freeways, and many new cars. But driving here is often also a battle with dust and potholes, with rickshaws, horse-drawn carts, cycles, gaudily decorated trucks, and goats. Mohsin and Saira are in a dark green 1954 Austin-Healey. When visibility is bad, Mohsin switches his dark glasses for World War II flying goggles.
IKRAM: We are only five inches from the ground. It's a funny feeling. It's like a go-cart. We get all kind of reactions, but mostly people like what they see. They have smiles. They give me a thumbs-up. They appreciate the car. Some people laugh. I don't know why.
REEVES: Mohsin and his friends started these road trips a few years back. These are partly just about enjoying their cars. But for Mohsin, this journey is also a statement of defiance against those creating havoc in his country.
IKRAM: I want to be free. I want to be free enough to go anywhere in Pakistan, wherever I want to go to. Why should a terrorist keep us off the streets?
REEVES: In Pakistan, violence is patchy. In very large areas, life carries on as normal. Earlier in its journey, Mohsin's convoy had to make a big detour because of a rumored riot. He lost a fog lamp and broke a spring after going off-road for hours to avoid a 60-mile traffic jam. But they've arrived here in Islamabad unscathed. All that remains is the final leg, a three-hour drive to Peshawar.
More than 1,000 people have been killed and injured by bombings and shootings in that city this year. Mohsin's accustomed to this. He's from Karachi, where there is bloodshed every day. But some of his group won't be going any further.
IKRAM: Some people have dropped out because there's a warning that there might be some terrorist attack in Peshawar. And I told them if you're not going, I am going alone. And my wife said, if you're going, I am also going with you.
REEVES: Stubborn optimism paid off. Mohsin and Saira and a handful of others set off to Peshawar and make it. Mohsin's now planning more trips, more acts of defiance aimed at the men with guns.
IKRAM: People don't realize the people power. If we unite, if we get together, we can do anything.
REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.
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