On Thursday, Pakistan died a little in Quetta. At least this is what it seems when you think about the tragedy and feel some empathy for the Shia Hazara community that has constantly been targeted by sectarian fanatics.
Besides, the explosions in Quetta and Mingora on the same day have come in the wake of a series of ignominious atrocities. We all feel so helpless and unable to come to terms with our grief.
As a columnist, I do make an attempt every week to find some meaning or message in events or statements that I use as a peg. Even when it is like chewing cud, the national drift is to be consciously observed. There is never a shortage of headlines that bear witness to how things are falling apart in the country. At times, political developments raise expectations for change or some dramatic adjustments.
Well, you might say that this is precisely that kind of moment: Tahirul Qadri is embarking on his long march from Lahore to Islamabad and the entire nation is gripped with suspense as to what can happen. I agree that the long march is the obvious theme for a column appearing on the very day when the Qadri battalions are set to leave Lahore on, supposedly, a historical march.
Incidentally, I spent three nights in Lahore and one in Islamabad this week to return to Karachi on late Thursday evening. In Lahore, I attended the post-Amritsar sessions of the South Asian Free Media Association’s conference and the visit to Islamabad was occasioned by a meeting of Pildat’s Democracy Assessment Group. In that sense, there was an opportunity to have intense discussions on the current situation. Tahirul Qadri was the star of most conversations.
Initially, it was good to reconnect with media friends from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The focus, of course, was on peace and development. Coming so soon after the cricket ‘takra’ between Pakistan and India – an encounter that emotionally involves the people of both countries – the deliberations of the conference were inspired by hope and good cheer.
Instructively, hardly had the orations at the Lahore conference died down, including the one by Nawaz Sharif, who is convinced of the benefits of liberal trade relations, that diplomatic relations between Pakistan and India took a nosedive after incidents along the Line of Control. Pakistan has protested against repeated unprovoked attacks on its soldiers at the LoC and India has made its own accusations.
What has happened is surprising. The Indian media particularly became very aggressive. Gandhian social activist Anna Hazare wants India to attack Pakistan. On our part, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has urged the government to get tough with India. This is how India and Pakistan play their game and it is surely not cricket.
In a transitory sense, the game that Tahirul Qadri is playing is also not easy to interpret. In Islamabad, I was a bit amused by some formulations about the impending impact of the long march on Pakistan’s politics. In any case, it is bound to dominate the media coverage today and tomorrow and some unexpected developments are possible.
In spite of this, I would like to return to my grief over the Quetta bloodbath. It was so overwhelming that the otherwise very bloody explosion in Swat on the same day was not adequately covered. The plight of the Hazara community is astonishing in the sense that the authorities have apparently done nothing to check attacks that should be anticipated. The militants who boldly claim responsibility for the killings should be easy to trace by the visibly extensive intelligence apparatus.
There are some aspects of the Quetta explosions – there were three of them on the same day – that stand out. After a suicide bomber had blown himself up at a snooker club, there was another car bomb blast some minutes later when rescue workers, police officials and the media had reached the spot.
Hence, those killed included police officials, media professionals and rescue workers. There was, for instance, Irfan Ali, a social media activist and his story has touched many hearts in the digital world.
All such tragedies invariably involve irreplaceable and precious human lives and any personal reference would shatter your senses. I nearly had tears in my eyes watching the sit-in of the Hazara families on Alamdar Road late on Friday night. There they were, in the unbearable cold of a January night in Quetta, with more than eighty coffins, demanding that the army take over the city.
The grace and beauty of the women and children in the crowd was soul-destroying. Watching that scene on a news channel, I was reminded of the ending of a Tennyson poem in which the poets wonders if he is: “An infant crying in the night;/An infant crying for the light,/And with no language but a cry.” Yes, with no language but a cry. How else are you able to express your wordless grief over the existing state of affairs?
It is hard to believe that the provincial government of Balochistan was just not there on the scene in Quetta. This government is really a joke, with about the entire provincial assembly in the cabinet. Chief Minister Raisani is more comical in real life than his impersonators on TV’s satirical skits. However, in this surreal environment, the lives lost are real.
There was that short clip of Governor Zulfiqar Magsi who looked crestfallen and admitted that they had lost the right to govern. Yet, he did not say that he was immediately stepping down.
It would be the same with all those who have authority at the federal level. There must be a few who share the sorrow of sensitive citizens and find themselves totally helpless in their present situations. But they still do not have the courage to fly out of the gilded cage.
What exactly is happening to us at this time? Are we fated to die a little every time terrorists and extremists challenge the authority of the government and come out victorious? That murderous attack on Malala Yousafzai could have been a turning point. She is the most inspiring symbol for progress that any developing society could possess.
Besides, the Taliban have insisted that she deserves to die. The killing of the lady polio vaccinators in Karachi and Peshawar could be a turning point. The killing of six women aid workers in Swabi could be a turning point. The assassination of Bashir Bilour could be a turning point. And now we have Quetta. But can our rulers see, feel and think?
The writer is a staff member. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org