Basest instincts

Published January 29, 2023
The writer is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.
The writer is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.

A SENIOR lawyer was recently shot dead inside the Peshawar High Court bar room. Even more recently, the Lahore Bar Council elections witnessed the worst possible aerial firing by the black coats from various contesting parties. Juxtapose this with a senior cabinet minister exhorting the people to bring out their “hoarded dollars” and invest them in Pakistan’s economy. The irony is that this same politician was shot at at a public rally two years back. It takes a special kind of innocence to expect investment in a lawless environment.

Some numbers are in order to understand what the normalisation of violence does to a society. If 15 mosquitoes are swatted every minute; you get 900 buzzing insects an hour. Keeping at it for 36 hours straight gets 32,400. Only, we are talking people. Yes, human beings. During World War II, the Nazis killed 33,771 Jewish people in a ravine near Kyiv in 1942. It is mindboggling what man can do, not least to his fellow beings.

To comprehend what catastrophe stares us in the face, we need to reach for the calculator often. During the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the Hutus massacred 800,000 Tutsis in 100 days. It comes to 5.5 human beings killed per minute. These horrific numbers were not reached by some mass murdering modern weaponry. This shameful record was achieved mainly by machetes. Can you imagine how many men would have had to slash and tear with their machetes for 100 days to kill 800,000 men, women and children? These are only the numbers of those who were killed. The stats on hundreds of thousands maimed and amputated are separate.

So where is this piece headed? Unfortu­nately, home. Yes, it is aimed at attracting attention to the severe polarisation, nay extreme hatred, being spawned in Pakistan in the name of campaigns ostensibly aimed at ousting one set of inept people by another gang of nincompoops. They are prodded, mollycoddled and occasionally rapped on the knuckles all at the same time by a pla­yer whose incompetence is in a league of its own. For now, things revolve around social media invective, televised slapping around — Will Smith is a late entrant to the game — and releasing risqué audios and videos.

Who knows when the ‘tipping point’ materialises?

Who knows when the ‘tipping point’ — that most eagerly awaited watershed by the fourth-class diplomatic corps and the armchair analysts — materialises? No resort to machetes here. Anyone unfortunate enou­­gh to have seen clips upon clips of videos sho­wing illegally produced arms would lose sleep.

The integration of the erstwhile Fata into KP, instead of streamlining the cottage weapons industry and the regulation that was supposed to come with it, has dispersed it to every corner of the settled areas, or so it seems. Getting a licence for an assault weapon is well-nigh impossible, whereas getting a rapid-fire-capable handgun made to order illegally has become easier than ordering pizza online. A slight modification and the 12 bores suitable for a duck shoot can be turned into a lead-spewing fountain. There is never anything ‘civil’ about civil strife. Access to such weaponry, with such ease, makes one shudder at the thought of what would happen if things came to a boiling point.

The narrative of ‘hang them in the public square’, ‘death to traitors’ and ‘line them up in front of the firing squad’ has made public lynchings an everyday affair. Rape, unfounded blasphemy charges and forced conversions go unpunished. Not too long ago, the then highest officeholder in the country held forth on what, in his opinion, was the correlation between women’s choice of attire and rape. His opponents cannot decide whe­ther they are happier with his ouster or the farfetched rumours of him being roughed up before the in­­famous vote of no confidence against him.

These are the same people whose hearts bleed when they hear that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was reportedly manhandled in his death cell. They don’t tire of reminding you that Asif Zardari was tortured in prison during Musharraf’s dictatorship. That Shehbaz Sharif is rumoured to have been subjected to halka-thappar (mild slapping around) when Musharraf had him arrested after taking over. All that was horrific; so is everything outside the ambit of law that his opponents wish upon Imran Khan.

Whatever filthy language and dirty tricks were employed by the ousted regime, the incumbent lot must strengthen institutions and ensure they remain within their constitutional ambit while throwing the book at all who abused office and power and traversed the Constitution. Those who overstepped their boundaries and broke the law must face its full wrath, nothing less and nothing more.

The donkey herders standing at the zebra crossing must realise you have to have a cake to quibble over the size of the slice.

The writer is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.
shahzadsharjeel1@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2023

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