“One more attempt, just one more and we can remove our opponents from the face of the earth, this is what keeps the hate groups going. This does not happen, can never happen but they refuse to learn.
“They also have a whole list of issues that they want to resolve, scores they need to settle. They do not realise that some of these issues are centuries old and cannot be resolved. They have become part of our belief systems. They will be there as long as we are there.
“Also, each side wants the other to recognise it as the best. That too cannot happen. One side is never, I repeat never, going to recognise the other.
“Once we accept this, then we can move to the next best option: accepting the differences and learning to live with them. This means accepting the fact that Shias will always be Shias and Sunnis will always be Sunnis. There never is an ultimate victory in a religious dispute. So the only option is to learn to live with each other,” said Mr Shirazi, as we listened with our heads down.
Mr Shirazi’s nephew was recently gunned down in Karachi and the killers shamelessly claimed that they were members of the Sipah-e-Sahaba group.
Today, we had come early to the tavern but not to listen to Mr Shirazi. We were here to mourn the death of a friend and a much-admired poet, Shakeel Azad who died earlier this week.
The session started with one of the tavern regulars reciting Shakeel Azad’s ghazal “Zameen kya asmaan ko thaam lay gi – Agar main darmiaan say hut gaya toh? (Will the earth embrace the sky, if I am removed from between the two?).”
Foroud, the only Iranian member of our group, read a poem by a mid-20th century Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri. “Let’s not fear death, death is not the end of a dove's flight. Death is dawn's footsteps in a town enveloped in darkness. It sits, two blocks from our home, staring at us, with frowning eyes.”
But before we could go further, Zahid, another tavern regular, walked in. “You are late,” Khalid, who was chairing the session, reminded him.
“Yes, and I did not feel like coming but came because Mr Azad was such a nice man,” said Zahid.
“And why is that?” Khalid asked.
“I guess you guys have been here for some time, that’s why you missed the news. More than a 100 killed in a series of bomb blasts in Pakistan, 86 Shias killed in Quetta by the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi,” said Zahid.
The news obviously had a huge impact on the audience who were already mourning the death of an old friend.
“Two blasts inside Pakistan kill more than a 100. Four soldiers die in India-Pakistan clashes on the Line of Control, two from each side,” said Khalid. “Does the Pakistan army chief have a point when he says that internal threats to Pakistan are greater than any external threat?”
“Sad, sad, sad, a very sad day,” said Tahir Parwaz, an online participant from Rawalpindi.
“How long has this been going on, really?” asked Najma Siddiqi, a Washington resident. “It has now become a matter of numbers of dead, 10, 20, 50 or more. We are the greatest threat to ourselves, nothing to do with internal or external. We accept all kinds of rotten individuals, clans, institutions, systems.”
She added: “We protect and provide the pasture/fodder for these so-called leaders and protectors to graze/feed on. And we let them use one cover or another to justify the loot and the violence: national, ethnic, religious, institution, political.”
“What do you suggest we should do?” asked Zubair, another tavern regular.
“Question more loudly, more openly, more honestly – from wherever we can. Some of us do this already. But it may be too little, too late. I say this also because I see more of the 'intellectually' inclined (or gifted, if you like) taking sides to protect their favoured (politicians, mullahs, and 'systems') than to help us see (expose?) the crevices, ditches, swamps ... around us,” Najma responded.
Javed Rafat Siddique, from Houston, Texas, suggested that Pakistan “needs a complete change, not just the faces, but also the way we elect our representatives. The present system is only geared to bring the same kind of landed aristocracy who is robbing and ruling for the past 60 years.”
Agha Adeel, from a Washington suburb, claimed that the army chief was fast becoming unpopular for not doing anything to stop this carnage.
“The media has to do more to create more awareness,” said Mohsin Bashir Awan, another Washington area participant.
“What goes around comes around,” said Zamarey Faqiri, an Afghan from London.
“Yaa Allah, Pakistan par raham farmaa (O God, have mercy on Pakistan),” said Mahmood Raza Tariq, a Virginia resident.
“Amen,” said all.
But my questions remained unanswered:
“Those who kill: Have you ever brought up a child? Seen a fragile sapling growing into a full grown tree? Have you witnessed a mother showering a child, combing hair, changing the uniform? Polishing shoes? Saying goodbye as the child walks out of the door?
“Have you seen a father going to the bazaar to buy books, uniform and shoes for the child’s first day at school? Have you seen the father taking a loan to pay a child’s tuition fee? A mother selling her gold bangles?
“Have seen the parents thanking God when all their efforts bear fruit? When the child returns home with the result card?
“Have you seen the same child bring his or her first salary to the parents? Have seen how their faces light up?
“If you have seen all these, then how can you undo this labour of love, this effort of a lifetime without any feeling? How can you plunge an entire family into darkness? How can you take away a widow’s last hope? A sister’s only brother? A child’s father? Someone’s mother? A sister?
Don’t you think? Don’t you see? Don’t you have a heart? Can’t you feel pain? Are you incapable of crying?”
The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.
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