By Ayaz Amir
November 04, 2014
When something like the Wagah suicide bombing happens the immediate focus, to the exclusion of everything else, should be on the victims. Are they being taken care of? How are the hospitals responding? Are there enough medicines? Is there a need for blood donations?
Silly statements like that of the interior minister that a warning had been issued about such an incident are meaningless, and grating to boot. If they have any relevance at all, the immediate aftermath of such an event is not the time for point-scoring and spreading the blame.
Obviously, when such a disaster occurs there is a security breach, a loophole somewhere…otherwise the incident would not have happened. But the time to look into these aspects comes a bit later. Responsible officials don’t get into the blame game immediately. There is always enough time for such exercises when the dust settles down a bit.
There’s another silliness to avoid: statements such as those from the prime minister’s office that the PM has asked for a report on the incident. God in heaven, a report, with its attendant obfuscations, will be prepared in due course. Is this the level of our confidence that we must hammer the obvious at such moments?
The Edhi Foundation does not issue statements when something untoward like this happens. It goes about its business quietly, without fuss and without any banging of drums, helping the victims and bringing them medical attention. Is this too much for governments to learn, that it is more useful to move first and put the statements on hold?
The state of Lahore’s hospitals is not very good. The health department remains under-funded and healthcare, sadly, is not one of the provincial government’s leading priorities. In fact public healthcare is neglected nation-wide but this is not the time to go into this discussion. Many of the victims will be requiring complicated medical procedures, perhaps expensive medicines. This should be everyone’s focus, not just the government’s but of all those in a position to help. Would it be too great a sacrifice to ask of leading surgeons in hospitals such as Mayo, Services, etc, to forego their private practices for some time and concentrate on their hospitals where the blast victims may be admitted?
At the time of the 2005 earthquake doctors from across the world came to help us. Pakistani doctors also rose to the occasion, teams of leading doctors from Karachi – Jinnah Hospital, etc – rushing to Muzaffarabad and Hazara. In Abbottabad I came across a team of British-Pakistani doctors who had come from the UK, an old man, his eyes wet, telling me that they had saved the hand of his young son after a seven-hour operation when doctors at the district hospital had told him earlier that it might be best to have it amputated. There were countless stories of the same sort.
At PIMs in Islamabad I was informed that a team of leading doctors from Russia had come straight from the airport to the operation theatre, refusing to first check in at their hotel. Cuba made a huge contribution with doctors and nurses. So did the US, the UAE, Saudi Arabia…the list is long.
At the height of this medical emergency I called the office of the then head of the Rawalpindi Medical College, a competent surgeon, and asked for a private appointment. Come anytime, I was told. But given the earthquake and doctors from all over the world arriving to help, wouldn’t the professor be busy? Oh no, his clinic was open. I called up the surgeon general of the army. He too, Allah be praised, was available for private appointments. That’s why the hesitant plea: can Lahore government doctors give their private clinics a miss for a few days?
The terrorists are not winning. Although this can hardly be any consolation for the victims, the Wagah incident is almost an admission of failure, that this was the only vulnerable spot they could target. The victims are all ordinary Pakistanis plus a few Rangers’ personnel. And the terrorists are fighting for the greater glory of Islam. Their victims for the most part turn out to be the less-privileged. This is their understanding of Islam. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is also fighting for the greater glory of the faith. One tactic for which it has earned notoriety is the beheading of real or imagined enemies. Again, all this is being done in the name of Islam.
In the aftermath of this incident can we give thought to another thing? Isn’t it time we thought about curbing some of the histrionic excesses which have become part of the flag-lowering ceremony at Wagah? Both the Indian Border Security Force and our Rangers seek to outdo each other in exaggerated parade gestures, doubtless their way of displaying their resoluteness. Crowds on both sides gather to see this spectacle and are in turn swept by a tide of patriotic fervour.
Is this uplifting? To a certain extent, perhaps. But on the whole it is in questionable taste and gives the impression that Pakistan and India for all their claims of representing ancient civilisations are caught up in some juvenile game. The stamping of feet is far too pronounced. It’s not even impressive in any athletic sense because, if you take a closer look, when the guards raise their legs they can’t keep their backs straight…they slightly bend at the knees.
Watch the marching in Tiananmen Square on Revolution Day: even as soldiers of all the services, including women, raise their legs in a goosestep, waists are held tight and backs are absolutely straight. At the time of the changing of the guard in Red Square in front of the Kremlin, soldiers of the presidential guard (if I am not mistaken, from the Preobrazhensky Regiment, founded by Peter the Great) raise their legs high as they march, almost impossibly high as it seems to me, but their backs are straight.
We have been cursed with the British style of marching, legs moving just a bit while the arms are swung shoulder-high. When you fling about the arms too much the poise and balance of the body are affected. In ballet, in synchronised gymnastics, in ice skating, the movement of the arms is an embellishment but the elegance of the whole comes from the movement of the legs. In the British style of marching the backside is compressed – a natural effect when you swing the arms too much – which doesn’t make for elegant movement. The British army now marches in a slightly more relaxed manner. Our drill could do with some improvement.
But bent backs apart, the lowering of the flag is a tribute to the setting sun, an affirmation that the day is done. It is a solemn moment marked by the playing of poignant and sombre music. Vulgar exhibitionism doesn’t fit the bill. Thus the way the retreat is sounded at Wagah doesn’t redound to the credit of either country. Quite apart from the whipping up of false emotion, for which there should be no need, as I have said it is not in good taste.
On a related subject, at some of our military ceremonies such as the Shuhada commemoration at General Headquarters or on parades such as on August 14 this year in Islamabad some of the accompanying commentary is so gushing and over-the-top that it is embarrassing. Is there no one to notice this? A military parade is not a second-rate Mushaira and should not be conducted like one. Armies look good when they enhance their firepower not when they exaggerate their dramatic skills.
But after the Lahore blast, first the care and rehabilitation of the victims…let there be no fakery and grandstanding about that. There will be time enough for the usual reports later.