View Full Version : These things keep happening By Asad Rahim Khan - 19th May 2015

19th May 2015, 11:37 AM
We used to get upset they couldn’t take the murderers’ names: ‘the Taliban’, ‘Fazlullah’, ‘Daesh.’ Now, we’re lucky if they call it murder at all. “Karachi’s incident is important,” said Maulana Fazlur Rehman, “but these things keep happening.” It was a new low.

We’re lucky, in fact, if there are any proper nouns: These Things, the Maulana called them — vagueness on vagueness. The setting was the All-Parties Conference (APC), to thrash out the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route. The CPEC plan is a result of many years of hard work (and more recently, Mr Ahsan Iqbal and his team’s perseverance).

So when news of the devastating Safoora Chowrangi attack hit, our lawmakers were caught in a bind. Like an overbooked rock star, Maulana Fazl said there’d be all sorts of scheduling conflicts if they put it off and rushed to Karachi.

But tone-deafness isn’t just the province of the hard-right. Enter Mushahid Hussain, general secretary of the PML-Q, a party so centrist, no one knows what it stands for. Mr Hussain, variously deemed a strategist, a geostrategist, and a geostrategic analyst, came up with this: “It’s a very big tragedy … but today’s meeting should go on because it is Strategically Important. Aur uss ke saath saath, uss ke baad, Prime Minister wapis chalay jaien.”

Is it ‘saath saath’ or ‘uss ke baad’? One would wager ‘uss ke baad’ because the PM can hardly assess the Beijing Belt in Islamabad while saath saath take charge of the situation in Karachi.

That’s another consequence of these terror wars: words lose meaning when people keep dying. “There are known knowns…(and) there are unknown unknowns,” said Don Rumsfeld (something the great Amina Jilani also referred to in a recent column). For Mr Mushahid Hussain, there are matters of importance, and matters of strategic importance. Cut a layer into the logic, and you come up with nothing.

And 12 years and a month to the day we heard Rumsfeld stay, “Stuff happens,” — after mass looting broke out in Baghdad, and ISIS was conceived in chaos — we heard ‘stuff happens’ again from Maulana Fazl. By then, ISIS, or its local pretenders, had already reached our shores.

Six men walked into a bus in Safoora Goth, and executed 45 Shia Ismailis. ISIS pamphlets were found at the site, and both Jundullah and the Taliban waved their blood-splattered hands in acknowledgment. A community that makes up the very best of Pakistan is also, we learned, just like any other community in Pakistan — long as it doesn’t happen to be Punjabi, Sunni, and male.

Of course, uproar ensued. Not over the direction our war was taking us — not whether how, in the middle of the operation in North Waziristan, in the middle of a Karachi streaming with Rangers, how such an attack happened.

We raged over semantics instead: the ageless debate — were they ‘Ismailis killed’ or ‘Pakistanis killed’?

But the press has every right to say Ismailis were executed, for the very reason we don’t say ‘Indians’ were massacred in Gujarat, ‘Americans’ were lynched in the Jim Crow South, or ‘Burmese people’ were mowed down in Rakhine State. It’s not meant to be divisive when you call the victim ‘Muslim’, ‘black’, or ‘Rohingya’. Because when the colour of one’s skin, the weight of one’s heritage, the sect of one’s birth, starts becoming the basis for execution, the only moral way to report it is to name it.

Which is why it’s high time we said the word ‘Shia’. When Hazaras are bombed in Quetta, when Ismailis are gunned down in Karachi, and when doctors and their 12-year-old sons are killed in Lahore, it’s time we screamed it from the rooftops. Only since the year began, we’ve seen attacks on an imambargah in Shikarpur, on an imambargah in Peshawar, and on a bus in Safoora Chowrangi.

Pakistan’s Shias are under siege, because they are Shias. A fifth of the population — by conservative estimates — is being pushed to the wall.

And our first responders? The centre proceeded to the APC lunch in Islamabad, which meant we were left with the Sindh government and the military. The Sindh government — plundering the province in a manner worrying to the PPP itself — shrugged.

Qaim Ali Shah is a busy man: in the space of a week, he’s called for military courts to try Asif Zardari’s former best friend, said only one extortionist was left in Karachi, and said he’d have resigned if he hadn’t ‘delivered’. Understandably, Mr Zardari is too busy with his legitimate sugar concerns to remove his CM.

You see, Safoora isn’t on anyone’s minds, certainly not Mr Zardari’s: the biggest game in Sindh right now is the big millers kicking down the sugarcane growers (via the treasury benches). In the glare of terror, Mr Zardari should be credited for keeping his head down, and stimulating the economy instead.

That finally leaves the military. The military blamed RAW. For the sake of argument, let’s say the attackers were indeed trained by RAW. Are RAW agents any harder to stop than homegrown maniacs? Would RAW-supported terrorism not also fall under ‘security threat’?

And yet, whatever its Indian fixation, the only leadership on offer was, indeed, from the military. General Raheel Sharif cancelled his trip to Colombo and headed for Karachi. Since his tenure began — and Operation Zarb-e-Azb with it — Pakistan has at last begun seeing dividends in the war: according to data from the South Asian Terrorism portal, 2014 saw the least civilian casualties since 2007, and the least Shias killed in sectarian murder since 2006. Though that number remains horrifically high, it’s no coincidence that a change in military dispensation coincides with a drop that steep.

But the military can only bash in the outer edges — it is civilians that must deal with the heart of terror: bad curricula, faulty prosecution, unregulated madrassas, unmotivated policing, and sectarian animals allowed into the mainstream by the PML-N.

Above all, it’s time for a change in perspective. For too long, Pakistan has been defined by its plunderers — Mahmud Ghaznavi was a warlord that mass-murdered Ismailis in Multan. He adorns the pages of our children’s textbooks today.

But Pakistan can just as easily be defined by those who better it: its Ismaili men, women and children. “The right to hope,” the Aga Khan once said, “is the most powerful human motivation I know.” Pakistan, we hope and believe, has seen the face of extremism.

And it will fight.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2015.