View Full Version : Of Things Past - Ghazi Salahuddin - 25th November 2012

25th November 2012, 09:17 AM
We have this long weekend, shrouded in dark apprehensions. Usually, you get anxious by rumours about what might happen. This time, it was the Interior Minister Rehman Malik himself – the man who should be bolstering our sense of security – who issued a dire warning about possible terrorist attacks in different parts of the country. On Thursday, he said that the “next three days” would be critical.

Indeed, the threat perception had already risen with bomb attacks on Wednesday, the most severe being the one in Rawalpindi where a suicide blast killed more than twenty mourners attending a procession. Two blasts in Karachi earlier in the day had set the mood of anguish and apprehension.

Coming in the wake of planned restrictions on cell phones and motorcycles and controversies that these massively disruptive measures had prompted, the threat of a major assault by the terrorists was truly unnerving. A late decision to announce Friday also as a holiday was seen as ominous.

And this happened against the flaming backdrop of the unending violence and disorder in Karachi. So much so that a prominent PPP leader saw the urgent need for a decisive military operation and the MQM leadership expressed its concern about a likely move against the party. Many observers wondered whether a military operation in Karachi could lead to intervention at the national level.

However, the Chief of the Army Staff General Kayani said on Thursday that there was no need for a military operation in Karachi. At the same time, he assured that military contingents were ready to help the civil administration to maintain peace during Muharram.

Under these circumstances, the observance of the Muharram rites by Shia mourners as the pace builds up to a climax on Ashura – on Sunday – is bound to be affected. Such are the security arrangements that the freedom of movement of all citizens has severely been restricted. It is just not possible to feel relaxed, without being distracted by the security crisis.

As I write these words just before noon on Friday, I feel uncertain about how the situation could develop by the time you read this column on Sunday. The work routine and deadlines have to be changed because of the actual and potential disruptions. Hopefully, no major mishap will happen and all we will be left to ponder the vulnerability of this government in the face of the enemy within.

Now, irrespective of how the contest between the terrorists and the present rulers plays out, there is this long weekend and for most people this would be a good time to catch up with their social obligations and private assignments, provided these are not interfered with by official restrictions on physical mobility and digital communications. In any case, there is time to take rest and indulge in indoor recreations.

Personally, I am tempted to find some more time to read, picking something from the stack on my bedside table. Simultaneously, I cannot help brooding on how our lives have changed over the years and how this drift is becoming almost irreversible. The change is so sweeping that it is not easy for the young to imagine what it used to be like, culturally and socially.

I am old enough to retain faithful memories of the late sixties and early seventies. Living in Karachi during that period was not at all as suffocating as it has been for the past about two decades. What I miss the most is to go to the cinema and to walk on the streets in Saddar with friends talking about the films we had seen and books we had read.

There were occasions when I would go to the late show with my sisters and look around for a taxi at about midnight – and without any fear or even a sense of defiance to social norms.

At this particular time, I feel strongly nostalgic about the Muharrams that we used to have in this city. I am not referring to the religious aspects of the occasion. They also portrayed a cultural and social dimension, involving the participation of writers and poets and artists. At the rear end of the processions, you could find small clusters of intellectuals, with a sprinkling of charlatans, discussing issues that had little to do with the practiced litany of the zakirs.

In my mind, images of the old town – Kharadar and Mithadar – stand out. I was fond of taking my family and friends on a walking tour of the area during the night between the ninth and tenth of Muharram as if this were a secret not known to many.

For me, it had some touristic value because it seemed to have its unique charm. Most of the residents of the locality, quaint in its ambience as old quarters in any town are likely to be, would be out on the streets or would linger on the balconies of building about four or five stories high.

Hard to believe it may be now, congregations being addressed by Sunni clerics almost intermingled with the outflows of some majlis of Shia mourners. There used to be rows of deghs on some streets with firewood lit under them and young boys merrily involved in the activity of the night-long cooking of haleem. The point to highlight is that there was this sense of communal harmony and no sense of threat from any fanatic elements.

Logically, countries like Pakistan are expected to move forward with time and become richer in both material and cultural contexts. This is how many societies have evolved in modern times. But why is Pakistan regressing on this front and why has this deterioration been so drastic?

Just look at how sectarian violence has surged during the past year and how the activities of terrorists, many of whom linked to the Taliban, have increased.

In that sense, this weekend provides a very graphic description of the present situation in which the government, with all its coercive power, is unable to deal with the terrorists and the religious extremists. The authorities have also failed at the mundane level of policing the communities and nab petty criminals.

As I said, there is ample time this weekend for people to think about these matters. Some of your thoughts could be triggered by the live appearances of someone like Rehman Malik, boasting about the power and the reach of the long arm of law.

Time and again, we are assured that they know who and where the culprits are. So, why can’t they get them? Is it because many of the extremists are embedded with some officials at some level?