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A shock to the people

Updated June 16, 2013
Pakistani security personnel look on as firefighters extinguish a blaze which gutted a historical building in Ziarat, 80 kilometres southeast of Quetta, on June 15, 2013. - Photo by AFP
Pakistani security personnel look on as firefighters extinguish a blaze which gutted a historical building in Ziarat, 80 kilometres southeast of Quetta, on June 15, 2013. - Photo by AFP

The virtual destruction of the Ziarat Residency has shocked the Pakistani people: shocked, for it was at the Ziarat Residency that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah passed the last few weeks of his life before flying to Karachi for the final journey. He was working 14 hours a day at age 72, and that killed him, according to Ilahi Bux, his doctor.

Located at a height of 8,050 feet, and built in 1892, the cement-and-wood structure served as a sanatorium because of its healthful climate. Turned later into a summer resort, Ziarat itself is not very green, but the surrounding hills and the juniper forests as far as the eyes can see are breathtakingly verdant. It was here on July 6, 1948, that Jinnah along with his sister Fatima had moved in on his doctor’s advice.

There were two bedrooms on the first floor. Looking from the outside, the one on the right belonged to the Quaid; the one on left was for Miss Jinnah. Downstairs, there was a room for the Quaid’s secretary, besides a visitors’ hall.

The bedroom and the mini-dining hall showed the sophistication of his personality. The dinning table and the cupboard made of teak and mahogany, and a gong for announcing meals, were priceless artefacts and spoke of an age that is no more. On the walls were historical pictures, which have now turned into ashes. The view of the Residency from the outside appeared splendid and sublime, and in winter heavy snow draped the building and the trees in white. But of late, it had fallen victim to neglect, since hardly any Pakistani VIPs used Ziarat for vacation.

Noreen Khalid, Professor at Karachi University’s economics department, was sorry to see the building’s condition on her visit to Ziarat on a study tour a fortnight ago. The trees which had lent beauty to the building had been felled on the provincial government’s orders, the crockery inside the building had gathered dust and some furniture was in a shambles. Yet it was a national heritage, and had a place in the people’s heart.

What was the message the attackers wanted to convey? Will the grenade attack and the resulting arson advance the attackers ‘cause’, if they have one, win them any support from the Pakistani people, and make terrorism a more acceptable tactic? Even some of the most implacable self-declared enemies of the state have not – or perhaps had not till Saturday morning – chosen to target monuments associated with Jinnah and symbolic of Pakistan nationalism.

The Ziarat Residency was more than a building, because the people have a sentimental attachment to it, just as they have to everything that reminds them of the leader and man that Jinnah was -- Jinnah House on Malabar Hills in Mumbai, 10 Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi, the London apartment on Russell Road, and in Karachi the Flagstaff House, Wazir Mansion and, of course, the marble structure in the heart of the city where he was born and where he sleeps eternally.

Those who planned and carried out the crime against the Pakistani nation chose their target carefully, for it was an attack on all that Jinnah symbolised and stood for, including and especially Pakistan’s oneness. As Sharif Al Mujahid, an authority on the Quaid-i-Azam said, “This represents a dastardly attack on our nation’s heritage, like Wazir Mansion, the Flagstaff House and above all the mausoleum – all of which symbolise the birth of the Pakistani nation and the resplendent rise of Pakistan”.

For the new government, the sacrilege at Ziarat should be more than water off its back. They should rebuild the Residency and the museum, seek out the criminals and bring them to justice. This is the Pakistani people’s unanimous demand.

The writer is a staff member