A mendicant at the crossroads

Published June 22, 2015
Khudai Nazar sits at a roadside in Hayatabad. — Dawn
Khudai Nazar sits at a roadside in Hayatabad. — Dawn

AS I take a U-turn from the crossroad across to fetch a forgotten file from home, seconds later at 9:30 am, the ground beneath me reverberates as I emerge from the car. A cloud of smoke and dust envelops the sky accompanied by ricochet of automatic weapons amongst screams and shouts, people rush towards the roundabout connecting the quiet lanes to the main Hayatabad road.

Today it is not a normal Thursday morning for the residents of the Officer’s Colony at Hayatabad. A quiet neighbourhood comprising bureaucrats, judges and other high and low ranking officials from government departments live in relative tranquility with playgrounds and mosques. Children play freely and elders walk and pray unencumbered. Huge flowering trees and shrubs dot the verdant lanes. Unaccustomed to the mayhem going around in down country, the residents seem to live in a sense of relative security.

The deafening explosion across the quiet street, it emerges later, is caused by a suicide bomber ramming his motorbike into a Vigo double-cabin of the intrepid Deputy Commandant, Special Police Force, Syed Tariq Malik on his way to work from his residence. Grievously injured, he survives but unluckily his two young gunners perish. As would be their wont, mothers yell at their loved ones to keep indoors.

The old mendicant, an exulted figure, who sits on this crossroad every morning, we hear is thrown far away and last seen in the casualty room of Hayatabad Medical Complex. The entire neighbourhood windows are shattered as well as its peace of mind. For once it appears this ‘official’ locality is no longer safe.

In March 2015, a brazen attack inside the Imamia mosque by several ‘uniformed’ bombers, as Juma prayer was in progress unnerved residents. Intrusion into high security zone with CID and FIA headquarters next door raised serious doubts about the reliability of security arrangements. As the bombers infiltrated high walls into the mosque the fearless worshippers took on the attackers and fought them singlehandedly, killing them all. As a consequence, civilian casualties were less.

The latest attack in the area dotted by security cordons, a police station and sensitive departments has raised serious questions again. The teenage suicide bomber was earlier spotted several times in the playground near the explosion site. Appearing inebriated, many had ignored him as a case of substance abuse. The young lad’s ‘handlers’ had effortlessly kept him lie low and waiting to strike, having practiced the countdown in fine detail right under the nose of the vigilant authorities.

We hear the targeted police officer is on his way to slow recovery but is still in critical condition. Will he regain his strength and dynamism, qualities for which policemen and officers of KP have achieved iconic status despite being systematically and most ruthlessly targeted since the ‘war on terror’ in Pakhtun lands?

One cannot ever forget the jovial and enigmatic Malik Saad, the legendary Sifwat Ghayur and many other outstanding police officers, who have been sacrificed at the altar of the much hyped ‘national security’ that has cost us so many precious souls. Schoolchildren, officials and revered elders, their lives are not sacred anymore and neither have they been spared. The purveyors of death seem to come back with ever greater vengeance every time we believe the last one being most painful episode in living memory.

Ever since 9/11, over 1,500 tribal chiefs have been target killed, millions of tribal people made homeless and displaced, thousands orphaned and widowed, the revered institutions like hujra, jirga and even mosques stand discredited and destroyed.

Peshawar, once a city of gardens and flowers, is now a veritable concentration camp with countless road blocks and high walls in every nook and corner. Long queues of security checks on main road greet ordinary commuters making travel an arduous and nerve wrecking experience.

Yet this war goes on unabated into the next decade.

The ‘latest’ episode does not register on the national psyche anymore…..it’s simply a statistic of body count in the ‘war against terror’....yet another split second ‘breaking news’ ....not a human tragedy worth a debate on fickle media channels....it’s business as usual again...life goes on ....more deaths ...more breaking news... “We live in an age where death is no more a tragedy!!” quipped the iconic Quratul Ain Hyder once. 

The few days later, the wizened old man miraculously returns to his old spot, though long believed to be dead. Upon inquiry 70ish Khudai Nazar, who hails from Jalalabad, proudly proclaims his credentials as a veteran jihadi against Soviet infidels. How come he is alive? He loudly lets out a battle cry “Allah O Akbar”!

“I have survived many battles and fear nothing,” he boasts. He is back with a bang when ordinary mortals would have long given up. For once I believe in miracles!

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2015

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