Philip Reeves

A black and white photograph captures a scene that could never happen today.

It shows an American president riding through the streets of a city in Pakistan in a gleaming horse-drawn carriage, as if he's the Queen of England.

The city is Karachi, in the days when American visitors were not obliged by the presence of Islamist militants to conceal themselves behind blast-proof walls, sandbags and razor wire.

"From the outside, we may look healed up," explains Samina Irshad, section head of the Middle School at the Army Public School in Pakistan's frontier city of Peshawar.

But don't be fooled by appearances.

Irshad continues: "Our internal wounds, they'll take time." In fact, she estimates, it will take years.

Who knows how long it takes to recover from a massacre that included the death of 132 students, mostly teenaged boys, and 12 of Irshad's colleagues, including the school principal?

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It has been a month since more than 130 children were murdered in an attack on a school in Pakistan. The government has responded with draconian measures; this includes victimizing the large number of Afghans living in Pakistan.

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In Pakistan, one month ago today, the Taliban attacked an army-run school in the city of Peshawar - 150 people were killed, the vast majority of them children.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)

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Every day, shortly after breakfast, more than 150 noisy and eager-eyed kids, coated in dust from top to toe, troop into a mud cowshed in a sun-baked village among the cotton fields of southern Pakistan. The shed is no larger than the average American garage; the boys and girls squeeze together, knee-to-knee, on the dirt floor.

Words scrawled on a wooden plank hanging outside proudly proclaim this hovel to be a "school," although the pupils have no tables, chairs, shelves, maps or wall charts — let alone laptops, water coolers or lunch boxes.

Winter is creeping down on northern Pakistan from the Himalayan Mountains. The skies are cloudless and bright blue. The air is as cool and refreshing as champagne.

This is the season for swaddling yourself in a big woolen shawl. And it's also the season when Pakistanis try not to ... let the bustards get them down.

I'm talking about the Houbara bustard. It's a bird, about half the size of a turkey, and with the same rotten luck this time of year.

In the latest vigilante attack based on an accusation of blasphemy, a young Christian couple in Pakistan was beaten by a mob and then incinerated at a brick factory.

There have been multiple cases in recent years in which Pakistanis are accused — often with little or no evidence — of committing blasphemy against Islam.

The police officer in charge of the investigation, Inspector Maqbool Ahmed, says he was told by local residents that the couple was still alive when they were shoved into a brick kiln.

The man whom some revere as Pakistan's greatest living philanthropist wears a long white beard, simple robes fashioned from coarse dark-blue cotton, and an air of calm authority that contrasts strikingly with the raucous port city that is his home.

Abdul Sattar Edhi is sitting in the ramshackle building that serves as both his house and the headquarters of his giant charitable foundation that has, for decades, been saving lives among the helpless, lost, abandoned, abused and destitute of one of the world's toughest, roughest towns — Karachi.

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It's hard to imagine a more compelling monument to the rise and fall of the Palestinian dream of statehood than the bombed-out ruins that the 1.8 million people of Gaza call their international airport.

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Hours before that cease-fire was announced, a tall office and apartment building in Gaza was hit in an Israeli airstrike. It was mostly destroyed, but not entirely. NPR's Philip Reeves reports that it's now a prominent emblem of the devastation there.

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It is Independence Day in Pakistan, an occasion traditionally celebrated with military parades and grandiose speeches, with poetry and prayers, and with a great deal of flourishing of the national flag.

But 67 years after this nation was carved out of the subcontinent at the end of British colonial rule, the capital is spending the day gripped by anxiety, and partially paralyzed by a government-enforced lockdown.

The people of Pakistan are all too familiar with the tidal waves of humanity that can roll across the landscape with the outbreak of war.

Living in their midst are some 1.6 million Afghan refugees who, over the last 35 years, moved eastward to escape the violence that periodically engulfs their own unstable country.

Now Pakistan is soaking up another human tsunami, this time from the North Waziristan tribal area, an oblong of land slightly larger than Rhode Island, set amid the forests and mountains along its turbulent north-west frontier.

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You don't often see a man cheerily quaffing from a half-pint mug on a street corner in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

But the drink in this gentleman's hand is as innocent as a newborn kitten.

It's called aloo bukhara juice, and contains tamarind and dried plums, or prunes, if you prefer.

Summer's reaching a punishing peak here - it's 104 degrees Fahrenheit - so I assumed he was just drinking to keep cool.

As the World Cup bonanza kicks off in Brazil, it'll be watched with unusual interest by a nation on the other side of the globe that enjoys no international success whatever on the soccer field.

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The city of Karachi, on the edge of the Arabian Sea, has fizzed with life since Alexander the Great was strutting around Asia's deserts on his horse.

This chaotic and ruthless trading metropolis of more than 20 million is the giant turbine that drives Pakistan's creaking economy, providing the largest part of the national revenues.

Yet by midafternoon Thursday, Karachi's shopkeepers began hastily hauling down their steel shutters and heading home, suffering for a third consecutive day from an acute case of the jitters.

Pakistan is reeling from the latest so-called "honor killing." A pregnant woman was stoned to death just feet from a courthouse for marrying a man against her family's wishes. Police stood by as family members, including a woman, took part in the killing.

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Spring has crept up to the foothills of the Himalayas and, in Islamabad, Pakistan's purpose-built capital, the air is full of the scent of roses and the yelling of birds.

Yet, even in this most stately of South Asian cities, it is impossible to escape the realities of an unstable nation that has yet to figure out how to meet some of the basic needs of its 200 million or so citizens.

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If there was a competition to find the world's Most Optimistic Law, then here's a promising contender.

A law has just been introduced in Pakistan that bans people from scrawling graffiti on the walls of Karachi, a vast, chaotic port city on the shores of the Arabian Sea.

It is impossible to drive through Karachi without being struck by the manner in which the city's walls yell at the passersby.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

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