On talks, terror and the people’s truth

Published February 28, 2014
An interpretation of an AK-47 assault rifle, Silence by British artist Antony Gromley. -Photo by AP
An interpretation of an AK-47 assault rifle, Silence by British artist Antony Gromley. -Photo by AP

Talks are the talk of the town. Terror too. Amidst talks and terror, truth feels to be missing like a forgotten tragedy. Far beyond the cosmetic eloquence of the talkers and the terrifying tales of terror, truth, however, lives and persists no matter how unsolicited, how unwanted it may appear in the eyes of ostriches. It smiles and mourns at the same time when peace doves are released with blood-soaked hands and olive branches plucked from the burial grounds are extended.

It is the truth of a people and not of a state. In its essence, it is this very truth that has always been at loggerheads with empires, sultanates, states and the corridors of power. It has the control to find its way through Auschwitz. It can live through the most formidable of times. It speaks and speaks aloud in the face of lies and treacheries.

It is the truth of Qissa Khwani Bazaar that has been condemned to see the blood of Pashtuns. It is the truth of Alamdar Road that has come to be an emblem of faith-based Shia killings across Pakistan. It is the truth of those graves that were desecrated for being the resting places of Ahmadis. It is the truth of Nishtar Park and dozens of Sufi shrines where people perished for having belonged to the wrong sect. It is the truth of Gojra where Christians were burnt alive and their houses were set ablaze. It is the truth of the talks yet to be talked.

It would be utterly naïve to see the talks and terror as a novel phenomenon. Inherent in the very nature of the Pakistani state lie the seeds of the conflict. Delegates from the warring factions i.e. the state and the Taliban, in principle, are on the same page – to run the country according to Islamic principles. What then, one may ask is all this fuss about? Here’s an excerpt from the speech of Mr. Sris Chandra Chattopadhya delivered in constituent assembly of Pakistan on March 12, 1949 in opposition to the Objectives Resolution.

“... The Resolution makes the State the sole authority received from God Almighty through the instrumentality of people – Nemittamatrona, "Merely instruments of the State". People have no power or authority; they are merely post boxes according to this Resolution. The State will exercise authority within the limits prescribed by Him (God). What are those limits, who will interpret them? Dr. Qureshi or my respected Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Osmani? In case of difference, who will interpret? Surely they are not the people. One day a Louis XIV may come and say "I am the State, anointed by the Almighty" thus paving the way for advent Divine Right of Kings of afresh.

Louis XIV has come. He is the Taliban and let it be clear that they are not common folk who would merely act as ‘post boxes’. They claim to be anointed by the Almighty as protectors of the same sacred oracle – the fort of Islam – owned and ruled by the state until now. They can be ruthless like the state itself and possess the same ideological weapons the state has been employing since its earlier days. If we subtract the massacre of the Bengali people from the equation, they appear to be a little more barbaric than the state. After all, they are the offspring of the Machiavellian strategic depth spearheaded by the state itself in the name of protecting and expanding the fort of Islam.

Victor Frankenstein and his monster sit at the table for talks about the oracle and not about the people. When they speak, they speak of a piece of land as if no dwellers breathe there. When they act, they act to display what they are able to do as if the dead are mere mathematical numbers, perished as collateral damage. When they think, they think of entities to rule as if living beings are mere objects.

Immersed in the smokescreen of authority and sovereignty, there is something uncanny unfolding drop by drop, which concerns the sanctity of human life.

Engulfed by calls and calamities of a particular way of life, there is an indigenous culture that has become too fragile to be saved by some well-intentioned, feel-good cultural festivals. Somewhere, stuck between talks and terror, there is a people’s truth; soaked in crimson.

If talk we must, let’s talk about the butterflies that would flutter their wings during the springtime in Parachinar, let’s talk about the old storytellers of Qissa Khwani who don’t tell stories anymore, let’s talk about the Jhang of Heer, and the Bhambore of Sassui, and the haunted Chiltan of the 40 missing children. Let’s talk about the people who once lived and breathed here.

As the poet of Palestine, Mahmoud Darwish, cries:

Our losses: between two and eight martyrs each day.
And ten wounded.
And twenty homes.
And fifty olive trees...
Added to this, the structural flaw that
Will arrive at the poem, the play, and the unfinished canvas.

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