By Alizeh Khaleeli
February 16, 2015
Mass graves are no longer an alien phenomenon for Pakistani Shias. Not counting the numerous target killings that have taken place so far, there have been three major attacks in 2015 till now.
On January 9, there was an attack on an Imambargah in Rawalpindi, which left seven people dead; on January 30, an Imambargah was targeted in Shikarpur, culminating in 61 deaths. And recently, an attack on the Imambargah in Peshawar resulted in deaths of 19 Shias.
On January 11, Dr Asim was murdered in a target killing in Peshawar. Thirty-nine days later, his son was one of the hostages in the Peshawar Imambargah attack, along with his uncle Arif who lost his life in the blasts. On the 40th day of his father’s death, the grieving son had to bury his uncle too. Life in Pakistan for Shias seems to revolve around death tolls, blood banks, morgues and mass graves.
The video of the Peshawar attack is not as graphic as those we have previously seen in Pakistan. But the screams are still haunting. Even more horrifying is the fact that terrorists could reproduce an attack of the same nature as the Peshawar Army Public School, less than 60 days later. The death toll would have been in hundreds had the attack taken place during the Friday prayers, and not after it.
However, seeing how things work in this country, I don’t think that anything would alter here. Statistics are just numbers and no one has the time to pause and think of the lives that have been lost so far. No one has the ability to imagine the hopes, dreams or expectations that these death tolls represent. Life moves on and people stop caring. That is the cold reality.
Also, it does not do well to dwell in sympathy. Sympathy for Shias bears a costly tag of guilty by association. All organisms of perception and introspectiveness are destroyed. Therefore, the persecuted will find very few shelters to take refuge in, and due to the severe cost of questioning, the number of those who do dare to question, dwindles. This fear leads to societies’ inaction and is a colossal contribution in the continuity of such crimes.
I saw citizens more emotionally affected by Pakistan’s loss to India yesterday than they were by the three blasts and hostage situation in Peshawar on Friday. I am not saying that one shouldn’t enjoy a match – but when the loss in a game seems to affect more people than the loss of human lives, it is safe to assume that something is very wrong with our standards of humanity. Shia blood is treasured by our killers; we are not valued by the state. Over the years the death toll of Shia genocide has spilled into thousands and yet it holds no significance nor warrants any serious action.
As the frequency of attacks increases, the duration of sadness decreases. It is just anger that snowballs. In 2014, over 120 Shia doctors were target-killed. What else can one do but pity the nation that kills its healers and assigns police escorts for terrorists of banned organisations? The mechanics of tyranny toil laboriously to ensure frictionless running of oppression.
Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), a banned terrorist organisation, is protesting outside the Supreme Court in the capital, which falls in the red zone and is currently under negotiations with the government. How are we supposed to interpret the government’s actions versus their rhetoric of eliminating terrorism, when the ASWJ sends such a clear message as to who clasps the reins of power?
The violence of targeting skilled professionals belonging to the Shia sect is compounded with suicide blasts and replete with torture and executions, as seen in four separate attacks spanning from September 2011 to August 2012.
Wounds when healed become scars – the Shia community’s wounds stay raw and gaping because they keep facing an onslaught of escalation in target killings and relentless persecution without respite. When one is in a perpetual state of mourning, there is no healing. Constant grief and that too unaddressed, can turn into grievances.
Grievances of the Shia community lie in their sense of inequality. The feeling of inequality is unique in its nature because it is not just limited to lack of opportunity as one would expect; it focuses on the lack of value for lost lives.
A Shia’s life is no longer of value to the majority sect.
A fortnight after the Shikarpur blast happened, our dear prime minister visited Sindh. People expected him to address the terrorism gripping the nation and its various communities. Yet he callously joked about food at the press conference. And everyone laughed as if on cue. Imran Khan droned on about the rigging in elections in his presser. Everyone focused on their own agendas and the dead were forgotten effortlessly.
Political echelons are leading this country from chaos to apathy and confusion. Our military’s resolve acts upon those considered anti-state. Criminal syndicates killing Shias are not considered “anti-state”, else efforts would have been directed in eliminating and curbing their powers. Expunging these terrorist organisations of “foreign fighters” is not the solution for long term (if any) stability in Pakistan.
The pyramids of power these elected leaders rely on are constructed upon skulls and dismembered limbs of the dead and the misery of wives and children bequeathed in new identities of widows and orphans.
Tyranny can reach new summits and break all records but we know that it is truth alone that endures.
Alizeh Khaleeli is a photojournalist, wedding photographer and writer who is inspired by life and it's realities.