2014: The Year of the Children

Published December 23, 2014
 Pakistani student Mohammad Baqair, who survived last Tuesday's Taliban attack on a military-run school and was slightly injured, poses for a picture holding a photograph of his mother a victim of the attack, who was a teacher at the school, at his home, in Peshawar. - AP
Pakistani student Mohammad Baqair, who survived last Tuesday's Taliban attack on a military-run school and was slightly injured, poses for a picture holding a photograph of his mother a victim of the attack, who was a teacher at the school, at his home, in Peshawar. - AP

To round up, analyse and give verdicts on years is generally impossible since each year is a multitude. This year was many things, miserable, wretched, in very small parts lovely, but above all murderous. The Chinese Zodiac gives names to years, and if one follows that practice, the last year in Pakistan was The Year of the Children.

Pakistan accounted for 80 per cent of all polio cases detected in the world this year. Dozens of polio vaccinators were murdered, merely for the offence of attempting to save our children from growing up crippled.

Examine: Saving polio workers

Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Prize, and for that brief shining moment, all seemed well. Yet, the moment was brief indeed. Hundreds of children starved to death in the deserts of Thar. Finally the attack on Army Public School in Peshawar; the unspeakable, the unthinkable happening, with a mass slaughter of children for no fault, except showing up to school that morning.

Take a look: Militant siege of Peshawar school ends, 141 killed

Looking at the public discourse and the mass media for the entire year (before Army Public School), it was easy to forget about the children. The occasional news item giving aggregate figure of children death here and there was all that was available.

In the alternate reality (or perhaps simply reality for many) that we lived through, it was The Year of the Container. One man’s middle age crisis, growing paranoia and delusions kept us in its thrall. Matched by another old man’s lack of willingness to do anything about anything, and viewing survival as the ultimate prize.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan has reduced everything to polemic and hysterics. This was Imran Khan’s year too; a man so desperate to become the prime minister of the country that he could lockdown, shutdown and perhaps burn down the country in the process. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is a defeated man, and seems utterly incapable of recognising a problem which does not have a motorway as a solution.

Imran Khan demanded the unreasonable and the impossible by calling for the premier's resignation. Nawaz Sharif could not respond by offering the reasonable and completely possible election audit and transparency. Dr Tahirul Qadri was always the spoiler; yet the Punjab police did kill fourteen of his people and then refused to be held accountable.

The conflict was and is between deeply, deeply flawed adversaries and is completely personal. Mr Imran Khan can make the same speech every night and the devotees will find it riveting each time. Nawaz Sharif can do the non-response his routine, and for his admirers democracy is strengthened just by Mian Sahib’s existence.

What about the children?

How much time has the government or Imran Khan spent on education, polio and the ideology of hate that murders our children? Not enough is an understatement. How does one fail a duty so fundamental? The answer lies in cowardice, capacity and most significantly selfishness.

Mian Nawaz Sharif very feebly tried to take ownership of the North Waziristan military offensive. Imran Khan did not explain if he had changed his views on the offensive or not. The misery of the few hundred thousand IDPs was reduced to petty quibbles of whether it was the federal or provincial government's responsibility. The leaders did not have the courage to ask for a decisive action against the TTP even when they had killed thousands; once action had been initiated they did not have the nerve to ask the Pakistan Army of how it is being conducted.

“Whose war is it?”

This is a question that is now boring and the answer does not really matter. However, one thing is clear, it is not Nawaz Sharif or Imran Khan’s war. Sitting in Peshawar, hours after the carnage, both men looked spent, lost for words and perhaps thoughts. They had become so used to the “script”, that even the death of our kids could not end the inertia. Many ninety days have passed since Imran Khan took over the KP province, and metro busses are not keeping our children alive.

It was also the Year of the Umpire. The rightful heirs to state power made a comeback in a very public manner. With Imran Khan pleading Rawalpindi to raise the finger, and Nawaz Sharif seeking instructions — both the great democrats on their knees. It was the Year of the Middle Class Rage. The hyper-nationalism mixed with pan-Islamism, looking for conspiracies where none exist, distaste for elected democracy and conflation of the desire of military rule with notions of patriotism.

Imran Khan led this charge. This was a year which promised so much and delivered little except misery. Imran Khan could have used his support base to change the narrative, to talk perhaps about blasphemy laws and curriculum reforms. Instead he talked and talked about himself. Nawaz Sharif could have addressed the nation on our “existential crisis” like a man who is really in charge. Yet, he dithered and hibernated.

Read more: The untold story of Pakistan’s blasphemy law

Children were burnt to death in Gujranwala for being Ahmadis. Shama and Shahzad were beaten to death and burnt in a brick kiln in Kot Radha Kishan for being Christians. Asia Bibi had her appeal in the Lahore High Court dismissed. All of this happened this year. Yet, the container discourse does not allow for any of this to be brought up. Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif for all their jalsas seemed like helpless men, prisoners; prisoners to their electorate perhaps but above all prisoners to their convictions (or lack thereof) and ambitions.

All this while children died. Children who did not rig the elections. Children who gained or lost nothing from the elections. Children who cannot vote. Children whose murders are ignored, excuses made for the murderers, confusion created and petty political points scored.

This year ends on the grimmest note imaginable, with the massacre of 132 school children in Peshawar.

These are the instances where one wants to give up, on the clowns that seek to lead us, on this country, on us as a people. However, there is also faint hope, still.

Tahira Qazi, the principal of the Army Public School in Peshawar, could have escaped and still be alive. She went back in that school to save her kids, and to die herself. That is distilled courage and moral clarity that should put all of us to shame. Tahira Qazi in her death symbolised how this war can be won; it is now up to our leaders, political and khaki, to demonstrate that they can live up to her gold standard.

This was the year of the children; of hundreds who died; of Malala and Tahira Qazi.

Explore: The journey of light will go on

The writer is a lawyer.


Click here for Dawn.com's special coverage of the year 2014

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