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January 8, 2015

Highway to hell


January 8, 2015


In movies, there is almost always a forewarning of ‘danger’. Music that alerts us that something ominous is to happen plays, the dimming of the lights on the screen or other signs which build tension and prepare us for what is to come: a murder, a scene horrifying in one way or the other, a tragic accident.
In our country that music has been playing for years. We have ignored what it signifies, and allowed ourselves to be led from one act of destruction to another. And of course, unlike the scenes in the movies, events in real life do not simply come to an end, with the cast of characters rolled out in order of appearance. There is no ‘pause’ or ‘stop’ button either, and we simply go hurtling along the highway we ourselves have built. It is a road that will eventually lead to hell.
Some would argue we are already at our destination, as schools are closed in behind higher and higher walls to try and save children from death, or political parties work together to hand over key aspects of democracy to the military by setting up courts to be run by it. We have seen the consequences of similar action taken in the past; we have not learnt from those and the result is we walk a rung – or two – further down the stairway to hell.
For people in the country, it is already there. Ask the parents of little Chakar Baloch, the ten-year-old boy who was killed in January last year with two bullets pumped through his chest and his body dumped in a stream. His family will be visiting his grave this month to remember a child who loved football, disliked school and dreamed of becoming a sporting star. They believe Chakar was a victim of the ‘kill and dump’ policy used in Balochistan for years, with the victim chosen to deliver a lesson to his family, which had fled from Panjgur to Turbat to escape persecution.
Chakar’s grandfather and other relatives had been ‘picked up’ previously and returned. A cousin remains missing. The child’s mother

says he was taken by a group of men, some in uniform some in plain clothes.
The Baloch home ministry confirms that 164 bodies of people gone missing were discovered last year, many with torture marks. Nationalist forces put the figure at over 450. The organisation Voice for Missing Baloch Persons says over 2,800 are missing. The authorities running the province say the figure stands at around 100. They claim too that Chakar was shot by nationalists, but do not say why. Hell is a reality in Balochistan – and it is one no one talks about.
The Peshawar massacre exposed what kind of hell can be created. No one can imagine the scenes that unfolded at that school – but we help enable what took place there to unfold. We did this in many different ways: by not acting against militants many years ago, when they were less expansive a force than is now the case; by not ensuring bans on groups spreading hatred were implemented and by failing to upgrade our intelligence and security mechanisms. There are many examples of the outcome of this. Posters and banners promoting hatred against specific groups and sects appear on the walls of cities in smaller towns. No one acts against those who have put them up.
It is only now that we seem to have discovered that Maulana Abdul Aziz, the head cleric of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad may be a dangerous man. Released in 2009, after he was arrested in 2007 during the siege of the Masjid, on Supreme Court orders mainly because insufficient evidence was produced against him and acquitted of all charges in 2013, the maulana has continued to spread his poison. A recent intelligence report states that he is linked to militant groups, supported by powerful figures, including those from bug business, and that he and his group have been acting to try and take over more mosques in Islamabad where they have promptly created sectarian dissent, mainly directed against Shias.
Clearly, this was known before. The intelligence information by the country’s top agency did not suddenly appear out of the blue. Yet for years we have done nothing to stop the activities of Maulana Aziz, his students or other clerics like him. Despite the issuance of arrest warrants, he remains free. His supporters say he will resist arrest.
In this version of hell that we have set up brick by brick, no one is permitted to stray from a particular point of view. Those who have done so, like journalist Raza Rumi, have been targeted and effectively forced away to other places. In today’s age of mass communication, this may not have silenced them completely, but it has dampened the voice of others who remain in the country and also made it clear that there are no safe places here for those who refuse to conform.
The stairway taking us down to hell is then well and truly in place. More and more of us are being pushed down it; others take the step themselves, drawn in by the forces of extremism that have surrounded us. These forces are driven forward by ignorance and a lack of rationality. The media also plays a role in this, by picking up only certain issues to talk about and ignoring others.
While 132 children died in one day in Peshawar, 249 have died over the past few months as a result of drought in Tharparkar. Perhaps we could have done nothing to save the victims of Peshawar. We could have, and still can, save those in Sindh – through better governance, better aid delivery and policies to develop the area. Right now, charitable help would be immensely useful. But there is very limited action on this. Why should the fate of these children not move us as much as that of those killed in Peshawar? This is something to think about. Why do we not try to keep alive those we can even if we have lost others as a result of our own lack of action?
So, the hell that exists is made up of many layers. Poverty and illiteracy forms a part of it; so does injustice and social stratification. The measures adopted now will not make things any better. There is every reason to believe military courts could in fact lead to a worsening of the situation. The army is, after all, not known for meting out justice or acting with long-term interests in mind. It is the task of the elected civilian government to work towards this. Attempts to find short-term fixes will only make matters worse in the longer run. This is the last thing we need.
The highway to hell has been laid out over a period of time. We need to work to dismantle it rather than adding to its strength and fortifying it to a point where there is no way out but to walk down the road we ourselves have built and which can only take us to a place far worse than the one we live in today.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.
Email: [email protected]




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