By Sonya Fatah
Mar 11, 2013
I've tried to imagine myself an elected member of parliament in Pakistan. How would I react upon hearing news about the Karachi and Quetta blasts targeting the Shia community? Would I be desensitized by the will of the majority? Or would I be horrified, angry, and demand that government act to prevent future attacks and punish those who are responsible for attacking the few remnants of diversity that remain on our soil? From my vantage point - the imagination - I'm confident I'd go the latter route.
When a bomb went off in Abbas town on Sunday ripping through a residential neighbourhood, blowing apart the front of a building housing mostly Shias, it burst into the routine calm of evening Chaat hawkers, neighbours engaged in leisurely chit-chat and children playing on the streets. A blood drive was underway to feed life back into those who had survived the attack and were stretched out on hospital beds. Despite a city teeming with people - at least 14 million, they say - there weren't enough folks to donate blood. Odd. In February, 175 people died in two blasts in Quetta that targeted the Shia community. There, too, blood was urgently needed.
There have been a string of critiques of the state's response to the increasing number of sectarian attacks in Pakistan. Obviously, this isn't something authorities want to hear.
During the 1000th incarnation of military rule in Pakistan, General Musharraf started this obsessive drive to develop the 'soft image' of Pakistan to combat the pornography of violence that had set into the global imagination about Pakistan. To be fair, some work along the lines of 'Incredible India' was the need of the hour.
Sadly, the effort didn't work. Today - thanks in large part to the criminal atrocities mentioned above - if you asked folks to conjure up an image of Pakistan, you could bet top dollar that most renditions will show a bearded man, a veiled woman and a bomb. For colour, add an ISI safe house, a raving anti-American public, a colourless place, a heartless anti-Indian society. OK, for a tad element of exotica, Imran Khan and Hina Rabbani Khar.
Hence, to police 'soft-imaging', a veritable army of watch-keepers will haul you up if you dare criticize the state or worse yet, its loving military. Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan's representative for Human Rights Watch, a US based human rights NGO, has elaborated upon the state's failure to protect its minorities. In response, mainstream media outlets have virtually labelled Hasan an American agent, and, among a host of accusations, added that he is responsible for inciting sectarian violence. This, of course, is nonsense. As George Orwell penned it: "The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it."
You can't really be too troubled with creating a soft image when week after week members of a largish minority community are being targeted in such numbers and with such violent means. Some introspection is the actual need of the hour, and some real action, post that.
Yet, all is not hopeless. Karachi was shut down in protest the day after the Abbas Town bombings. In the beautiful Astore Valley in northern Pakistan, also racked by anti-Shia violence, 19 bullet-ridden bodies were dumped by the roadside as militants attacked a convoy of three buses carrying both Sunnis and Shias. The Sunnis on board refused to name the Shias and in standing resolute before an armed militia were amongst the 19 murdered. It's merely a vignette of hope; we'll need many more of them.
Sonya Fatah is a Pakistani journalist based in New Delhi