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A country left to bleed

June 10, 2011


HAVE you failed in every effort to shake out of your head the image of the unarmed 19-year-old Sarfaraz Shah being shot at point-blank range by a Ranger, despite pleading for his life, in a Karachi park? Well if you have you aren’t alone.

As Sarfaraz Shah was bleeding to death, he was begging the armed paramilitary soldiers surrounding him to get him to a hospital: “Mujhe haspatal pohancha dai, yaar; haspatal pohancha dai.” And yet no one moved to either stem the bleeding or take him to the hospital.

He wasn’t left for dead. He was left to die.

If Awaz TV’s cameraman hadn’t been there, who would have questioned the initial official version which suggested that the man was looting some people in the park and, when challenged by the Rangers, shot back and was killed in retaliatory fire?

This time culpability has been so clearly established and the smoking gun seen by potentially everyone across the country that a cover-up is unlikely; one can visualise the court of inquiry ordered by the DG Rangers quickly completing its job followed by equally expeditious prosecution and sentencing. This might bring closure to the family even if it never takes away their pain and their loss.

Anyone who watched that barely one-minute edited footage will carry its horror for a long time. There is anger at what we saw: an outrage, a cold-blooded murder by those sworn to uphold and enforce the law. It will be difficult to forget what we saw.

TV is a powerful medium and the profound indignation evidenced in the aftermath of the killing was greater than normal because we witnessed the outrage with our own eyes. But zoom out of Benazir Bhutto Park and the summary execution of Sarfaraz Shah and look at the big picture. What do you see? How do you feel?

Within hours of the video appearing on TV screens and online, sympathisers of the Baloch cause started asking on Twitter why such anger hadn’t been expressed, whether it was even felt, when over the course of just a year nearly 150 Baloch nationalists were killed and their bodies found dumped, bearing tell-tale signs about the manner of their deaths.

If Baloch voices raise the issue in this manner it reflects their sense of total alienation. How do you think people across the country would react if such a killing in Balochistan was captured on camera and beamed into our homes? I’d like to say, with the same outrage.

You may differ. Jinnah Institute, a think tank headed by the remarkably gutsy parliamentarian Sherry Rehman, last weekend published a 70-page report on the status of minorities in Pakistan.

It says: “Two critical questions are addressed by the findings of this report. First, will the Pakistani state continue to discriminate against its citizens and turn a blind eye to the spread of cultures of cruelty and vigilantism? Second, will the majority of Pakistanis continue to condone and collude in the discrimination and persecution of minorities?

“These questions have become particularly relevant over the past year which saw violent attacks against the Christian and Ahmadi communities … and a rise in the number of cases of blasphemy brought against members of minority communities.”

The report then proceeds to cite dozens of specific cases.

It doesn’t take rocket science to trace the roots of how minorities are treated in our country, as well as of other fatal maladies including the intolerant, bigoted jihadi culture we have nurtured over the years to pursue our national security goals.

With more than 3,000 soldiers killed battling the militants, it can’t be that our armed forces leadership is unaware of this. Isn’t leadership about taking tough decisions and having the conviction to see them through?

It isn’t about waiting for ‘situation reports’, as some leaders are said to, with bated breath following juma prayers after every ‘tricky’ development. It isn’t about fear — but, yes, it is about caution. It is about developing a strategy to cut the tentacles of the militants if they have reached some in the armed forces.

A statement issued after the GHQ’s formation commanders’ conference on Thursday said “some quarters, because of their perceptual biases, were trying to deliberately run down the armed forces and army in particular”.

“…[T]he participants agreed that all of us should take cognisance of this unfortunate trend and put an end to it.” The statement also said the army chief “noted that in order to confront the present challenges, it is critical to stand united as a nation”.

Who would disagree with the need for unity? But what does the military leadership mean by the ‘perceptual biases’ of its critics as it attacks them. Perceptions are seldom formed in a vacuum and are said to be more powerful than reality.

We won’t talk of major debacles, of failures of officially sponsored jihadi ideology, of glaring instances of incompetence and intelligence shortcomings, of clandestine midnight meetings with politicians, of briefings to surrogates in the media.

We will talk of our fallen colleague Saleem Shahzad. Will we know how his cellphone record of a crucial period has been erased? Can we ask why police investigators are reported to have found no fingerprints on his car, who wiped it clean and why recording the statements of those who recovered his tortured body from a canal is proving to be difficult even for the feared Punjab police?

Sixty years of silence have brought us to a pass where even diehard supporters say we are all but a failed state. So, questions will need to be asked. You’d agree unity doesn’t equal silence.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.