What are we celebrating amidst the din of dirges?
This has been a week of reflection. With Pakistan celebrating 65 years of independence, from a ‘national’ perspective, this has been a time to cogitate over who we are as a nation, how far we have come from the generation of our forefathers, and (most importantly) in what direction are we heading today? Similarly, with holy nights, religious sermons, the yaum-e-shahadat of Hazrat Ali, and now Eid… this has been a week of religious pontification (for many) – a searching for the spiritual answers to all the madness that surrounds us.
And the fact that dates of religious significance and national importance fall so close to one another this year, has brought to the forefront the inherent contradiction in our national character… are we more Pakistani than Muslim, or are we more Muslim than Pakistani?
The answer, depending on who one asks, could be either one of the two. But regardless of what the answer is, or what answer any one of us wants to push towards… there are some conflicts in our religious and national personalities that cannot be shied away from.
One important fact that we have learnt over the past week is that, for the religious fanatics and extremist outfits, spilling the blood of another (based on nuances within the same religion) does not stop during the holy month of peace. From the failed suicide attempt at the jaloos for Hazrat Ali on the night of the 21st Ramzan (for which Sunni group has claimed responsibility, labeling the culprits as shaheed), to the killing of Shias in Quetta and Karachi over the past three days… the idea that a religiously motivated ideology will have respect for a religious month, does not exist in our land.
This week has also seen the surfacing of a similar but slightly different menace: non-religious (or political) violence, by religiously motivated outfits (e.g. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan). Perhaps the most startling, in this regard, was the attack on Kamra Air Force Base. This (attempted) attack constituted another link in a long chain of similar events that have sabotaged our security apparatus (including attacks on Police recruits, Rangers personnel, FIA offices, GHQ itself, the Naval base and Air Frce installations). And all these attacks were carried out by extremist religious organizations fighting for a nationalistic or political (pan-Islamic) cause. The fact that Air Force’s response in thwarting this attack was surprisingly effective (much more so than some of the response from Police, Rangers, Army and Navy in the past) is commendable. But regardless of the Airmen’s bravery, let’s take a moment to recognize that even for these perpetrators, the month of Ramzan or Eid did not matter. In effect, while there is no doubt that ‘humanity’ does not factor into their thought process, lets also be clear that ‘religion’ too is of no real concern to these perpetrators of violence.
(For those who can recall, it is noteworthy to point out that even when the United States attacked Afghanistan, back in 2001, President Bush (read: infidel) ordered that the bombing campaign be stopped during the month of Ramadan, out of religious respect.)
What is the way out of this menace? Is dialogue the path to resolution? Is an army action required? Will Imran Khan’s long-march in the war-torn region be of help? Or is Zardari’s turning a blind eye to the drone-attacks the only solution to rid ourselves of this scourge? I do not have the answers. I would venture to say that no one does.
And it is perhaps for this reason – owing to an utter absence of any plausible strategy to address this mindless menace of violence – that our national institutions seem to have simply chosen to ignore the issue. As a result, the prime minister, the president and the chief ministers spent the week posing for mehfil-e-naat events and milli-naghmas, not once hearing the cries of families affected by this upsurge of religious violence. Similarly, the talk-shows and political pundits played their role: spending hours at end deliberating and quarrelling over whether, after Eid, the Swiss Letter will be written or not, and whether Faisal Raza Abidi’s allegations are part of some conspiracy by Pakistan People’s Party, or just a crazy man’s tirade.
And so the wheel continues to spin. As one part of town cries over the spilling of innocent blood, the other part kicks off the Eid celebration. As countless Pakistanis mourn for the loss of their brethren and fear for their own lives, Pakistan celebrates her sixty-fifth birthday.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org