Travel bloggers have flocked to Pakistan in recent years – but have some of them become too close to the authorities?
Long before she became headline news in Pakistan, Cynthia Dawn Ritchie was simply a tourist. In 2009, Ritchie, an American woman living in Houston, Texas, took a trip to Karachi, the sprawling megacity in southern Pakistan. At the time, Pakistan was beset by terrorist violence, and the travel advice of most western countries could be summarised as “don’t go”. But Ritchie had been persuaded by friends who knew the city. “My Pakistani friends said: ‘Cynthia, you’ve travelled much of the world, but you haven’t been to Pakistan, why not come?’ I was like: ‘Sure, why not?’,” Ritchie told me.
After a couple of weeks eating seafood and sightseeing, Ritchie went back to Houston, where she worked in communications and other roles for local government. The next year, she made a few more trips to Pakistan, funded by various Pakistani-American organisations. Houston is twinned with Karachi, and Ritchie told me that back then she “represented the city as an informal goodwill ambassador”. As foreigners in Pakistan often are, she was immediately offered exciting opportunities – working with local NGOs, advising the health department about social media, giving lectures. That year, she decided to move to Pakistan permanently. “I just felt a kinship here, that I belonged here and had a sense of purpose,” she said when we first spoke earlier this year. She settled in the leafy, relatively secure capital city, Islamabad, where most westerners in Pakistan – diplomats, journalists, aid workers – also lived.