By Anwar Iqbal
September 28, 2013
“Stop killing Christians in Pakistan, Pakistan,” shouted a group of 20 people outside a New York hotel where Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was addressing the Pakistani community.
Since most of them were Christians, they were not asked to come in. Are Christians, Pakistanis? It is still debatable.
“We will build a road from Islamabad to Abbottabad” drilling a hole through the Margallas,” said the prime minister. “An underground, linking Rawalpindi to Islamabad, a train from Islamabad to Muzaffarabad, through Murree”
He paused to breath and added: “Another highway will also be built, linking Karachi to Peshawar. Yet another, linking to Gilgit Baltistan.”
Now the prime minister was fully excited, so there was no stopping.
“These roads will not terminate at our borders. One will go to Termez, linking us to Central Asia. Another road, and a train, will link Havelian to China,” he declared.
Some of these roads will snake across KPK and Punjab, and link us to India, Bangladesh and Bhutan.
Now, if you are busy building roads across South and Central Asia, touching the Middle East and eyeing Southeast Asia, you obviously cannot hear less than 20 people chanting across the hotel.
But they also were Pakistanis – even if we do not acknowledge them, so they were equally stubborn and were not about to go away.
“We want religious freedom,” they shouted. “Stop killing Christians. Stop burning churches.”
A man, who obviously had a greater claim to Pakistani yet being a Muslim, walked up to them and said: “We share your grief but you should not protest here.”
“And why not?” asked a protester.
“The prime minister is here and it looks bad. We should not make him look bad,” said the man.
“Looks bad? They are killing our family members and you are worried about looking bad,” said another protester who said his relatives had also been killed in attacks on Pakistani Christians.
Earlier in the evening, two blue-blood Pakistani Muslims were walking up and down the Madison Avenue, looking for a massage parlour. They did not find one, so they went to a barbers’ shop.
A strange shop, it was. The man who shaved was a Jew from Tashkent. The barber was an Uzbek Muslim and the woman who shampooed another was a Tajik.
“You see, we are all from the former Soviet Union and that binds us,” said the Tajik. “We all speak the Russian language too.”
This was not acceptable to the two blue-blood Muslims.
“Islam does not bind you?” asked one of them.
“And the Arabic language, don’t you speak Arabic?” asked another.
Both eagerly reminded the Central Asians that as Muslims they were their brothers.
“Stop killing Christians,” chanted the Christians perched on a pavement outside the hotel where the prime minister was speaking. That they were Pakistanis was not important or was it? Did it make them the brothers of Pakistani Muslims?
Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Inside the hotel, some prominent Pakistanis met the prime minister and gave him a memorandum.
“Release daughter of the nation, Dr Aafia Siddiqui,” said the memorandum.
“And what about the daughters, sisters and mothers killed in last week’s blasts in Peshawar that killed 81 Christians?” asked yet another protester.
“What about them? They were Christians, right?” asked a blue-blood male.
One Pakistani, whose blood was not as blue as those of the others, offered dinners to the protesters.
“Don’t,” said a blue-blood. “They are against Pakistan.”
“But how?” asked the not-so-blue. “They are only protesting against a gross injustice.”
“A gross injustice? The terrorists have also killed more than 40,000 Muslims,” said the blue-blood.
“Yes, we regret those deaths too,” said a Christian protester, showing a placard that said: “End terrorism, protect all.”
“We did not kill them. The killers were also Muslims,” said another.
A third Christian reminded the blue-blood that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had also condemned the Peshawar blasts. Although he did not use words like Christian or church in his speech to the UN General Assembly, he did mention them later.
In his address to the Pakistani community on Friday evening, he did say that the terrorists had targeted a church and most of the victims were Christians.
He also said that it was a great injustice and that nothing could justify killing innocent people.
At the barbers’ shop, two blue-blood Muslims tipped two Central Asians and came out, noting that some of them were Muslims too but were not fully aware of their Muslim identity.
“If everybody is saying that we have made mistakes, we must have made mistakes,” said the prime minister.
Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.