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The Shame Of Being A VIP In Pakistan

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Two men stand near the port in Gwadar, Pakistan. NPR's Phil Reeves unexpectedly ended up a VIP there — and it wasn't a good feeling.

Have you ever felt bad about something, and wanted to get it off your chest? That's how our correspondent Philip Reeves feels right now, which is why he sent this essay from Pakistan.

You won't believe me when I say this, but trust me, it's true.

Journalists like me really do not like irritating people. We try to not to interfere as we go about our work. That's why I am feeling guilty.

You see, the other day I more or less brought a town to a standstill.

In south Asia, a day can be ruined when a VIP is on the move. The police block the roads. You sit for ages, in the heat and fumes, waiting for a politician or a general to sweep by in a blaze of guns and flashing lights.

I'm lucky to have a car with air conditioning. For the multitude perched on motorbikes with their tiny helmetless kids, it is misery.

My guilt is about a brief visit I made to a town called Gwadar by the Arabian Sea. Western journalists rarely get permission to go there.

It's in Pakistan's Balochistan province, where separatist insurgents and the government are locked in a low-level war. The authorities see Gwadar as a sensitive area, not least because it has a strategically important port.

I wasn't surprised to see the police waiting for me when I walked out of Gawdar's tiny airport. But I was not expecting them to close the roads and escort me everywhere I went with a group of anti-terrorism commandos carrying Kalashnikovs.

You often hear Pakistanis grumbling about what they call the VIP culture. They feel VIPs are too often exempt from the law.

"There's too much groveling to VIPs!" they'll tell you. They resent the idea that a politician's time is more important than theirs. Sometimes their anger boils over.

A while back, furious passengers confronted a couple of VIP politicians after they delayed a plane by two hours. When they finally boarded, the politicians were met by cries of "Shame! Shame! Shame!"

Now I know what that shame feels like.

The police in Gwadar were very polite. At one point they asked me not to go out for a while — because all the men they had out there blocking the roads needed a break for lunch.

That thought only made me feel worse about my brief stint as a VIP — a Very Irritating Person.

You'll hear more of Philip's reporting from Gwadar on Morning Edition.

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