Staying the course after Sehwan

February 18, 2017

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THE mind-numbing, soul-destroying Sehwan tragedy has left so many so debilitated and bereft that even an expression of outrage seems a big ask. Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine painted crimson with the blood of devotees brought together by their love of the Divine. It could not have happened.

They were engaged in dhammal, a devotional dance performed as an expression of love in a trance-like state. But in our beloved, yet blighted, land, that was enough to invite carnage. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain of those who lost loved ones.

My own reaction was simple as I tried to sit down and do the weekly ritual of writing this. Chuck it. What’s the point? Yes, what is actually the point of saying the same thing over and over when there is nobody listening, when there are no takers for what you are offering?


What is actually the point of saying the same thing over and over when nobody is listening?


Preaching to the converts is all so many of us seem to be doing. Isn’t it time, then, to ask: what’s the point? Believe me, I am not the only one faced with such questions when we witness the inertia evident in addressing the real terror triggers in Pakistan.

Against the backdrop of the vested interest and obfuscation witnessed in the media, whether in the name of patriotism or faith or both, you can’t say there have not been enough voices detailing and warning what the real dangers are.

Instead of reaching out for the label of the week — whether it is ‘traitor’ or ‘blasphemer’ or outright ‘mad dreamer’ — and pinning it on whosoever is articulating the unpopular, bitter truth, it would be so reassuring if for once, just once, there was an attempt to pay attention to what was being said.

The repository of all-encompassing wisdom lies elsewhere, so why in the world are you shouting week in and week out like someone possessed? That is the message we seem to be getting. I’d shut up too if this Titanic, regardless of what lay in its path, had nobody on board.

Let me share why I can’t shut up and why there may still be a point. After the Sehwan carnage caused my heart to sink in total despair, and while the media (and the often equally toxic social media) was mostly focused on blaming everyone but the terrorist for the carnage, I saw images that changed my mind.

Someone tweeted photos of those giving blood after appeals were aired for donations. The donors were in Sindh hospitals lying on benches or chairs placed together or just sitting in waiting rooms with bags attached to the tubes inserted in their arms. There were more outside. They came in droves.

Like the nearly 100 who died or the even bigger number injured in the explosion as they danced their dhammal, it wasn’t greed or anger or hate that brought these donors to the hospitals late in the evening, it was love. It was sheer humanity.

Then I saw photos of the Punjab chief minister visiting families of the constables of the Punjab police killed in the bombing in Lahore to personally hand over compensation cheques to their next of kin. One photo showed a young mother, tears streaming down her face, holding a baby in her arms.

The next image was of the chief minister with a bereaved father, grey stubble, almost bent over with grief. ISPR also released pictures of the army chief visiting the family of the Lahore DIG Traffic and condoling with his mother and young daughter. Their grief was only matched by their stoic dignity.

Then someone wrote to me about the three Khasadars killed in the Mohmand Agency bombing this week and told me these people, these braves on the front line, work for little pay; they have no perks or pension. One can only hope their families are at least monetarily compensated.

Quetta’s Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) ‘Commander’ Abdul Razzaq was among two policemen killed when a bomb they were trying to defuse exploded. The reality of the ‘commander’ was disclosed by a report in the Express Tribune newspaper.

He was actually a head constable who was once promoted to ASI but then, for reasons that are not public, reverted to his old rank. He is said to have defused some 500 explosive devices in and around Quetta in his career spanning 23 years, said the report.

“For his valour and bravery, he was awarded Pakistan Police Medal in 2007 and Quaid-i-Azam Medal in 2010. One of his neighbours, Advocate Zahid Malik told The Express Tribune that the BDS was a highly sensitive field but Razzaq was not provided modern equipment, adding that he even did not have uniform.”

There are others. I can’t even begin to count the 50,000-plus victims of terrorism; I can’t even name beyond a few of the thousands of soldiers, officers of the army, personnel of the paramilitary forces and the police who have perished to try and save us from Sehwan-like tragedies.

It is difficult to imagine what pain their loved ones suffered and are still suffering, and what void such acts of terror leave in each of their lives — that baby who lost her father in Lahore and will never get to know him or feel his love and embrace.

The loved ones of that DIG who was said to have treated his traffic wardens as would a tough but protective parent; the siblings, the nieces of that BDS commander whose colleagues called him ‘ustad’ and who did not marry because he knew that he could defy death just that many times as he approached to defuse his latest explosive device.

Like that young, brave, tireless rights campaigner Jibran Nasir said to me — there are 200 million reasons to stay the course. Not just in all their names, for our own selves, for our sanity we somehow need to find the strength to continue doing the right thing.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2017