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Attacking our way of life

October 28, 2009

Amidst the mayhem gripping Pakistan today, there is also a deafening silence pervading the corridors of power and the ranks of the opposition on the prevailing security situation. That silence, too, is being heard now. Pakistan is at war, and this is a war that is being fought as much in our cities as on the frontlines in Fata.

Wednesday’s attack on a Peshawar market, selling mostly women’s merchandise, is an attack on our way of life more than anything else. It is not a statement of the Taliban’s anti-Americanism as Hillary Clinton lands in Pakistan, nor is it a sign of their hatred against the Pakistan Army, which is carrying out a military operation in South Waziristan. It is aimed at women, as you see that a big number of those killed in Peshawar are women shoppers; shoppers that the Taliban want confined within the four walls of their homes. It is an attack on our way of life as we have lived it in Pakistan.

But back to the silence first: President Zardari met Mian Nawaz Sharif over dinner in the security of the presidency on Monday, and the two leaders did not even utter a word of concern about what the people are having to go through in wartime. Islamabad is a city very much under siege; Lahore and Peshawar are no different. And if you ask parents with school-going children in Karachi, they will tell you the situation in the Sindh capital is no less alarming.

Bickering aside, what Mr Sharif told Mr Zardari at their meeting, that the people were becoming acutely aware of the lack of governance, would have made more sense if he had also said the same thing addressing the chief minister of Punjab. The lack of governance and security failures in that province where his own party rules the roost is equally appalling. This is just bad politics at a time when the people need to see their leaders showing more concern about the challenges staring them in the face.

Opening after a week of closure, many private schools in our cities have installed CCTVs, deployed snipers, and placed sandbags around their buildings as local police patrol the areas during school hours. A sense of fear grips parents dropping off their children at school; not a day goes by without terrorists trying to attack security forces’ personnel, amidst reports that all vital installations, media organs, and educational institutions are in the bull’s eye as far as extremist militants’ top targets are concerned.

Schools offering co-education have received threats from terrorists, which have to be taken seriously because of the history of attacks on and threats against schools and colleges in Swat, Peshawar, and across Fata. In Lahore, the Punjab government keeps shutting down schools which in the government’s view have not made adequate security arrangements. In Karachi, many schools ignored the government’s directive to reopen on Monday, choosing instead to wait until they have the security cover in place that they feel they need under the circumstances.

This, while there is little sense of newsworthiness attached to what’s happening in our cities, even when buildings and installations are not being attacked or security personnel made hostage. The media must share some blame for this state of apathy. Why is the war on terror, which has now come to our doorstep, not the primary concern of the prime time talk shows?

Instead, popular hosts keep inviting politicians to wash their dirty linen in public. Is it not the people’s war that is being fought today? Won’t the people of Pakistan be the biggest losers if we fail to win this war that is aimed at annihilating our diverse cultural norms and the social value system?

Yet, it’s just the number of casualties every day that now seem only to casually make the headlines; the media’s mainstay remains internecine party politics which seem to have little to do with the bigger reality marred by fear and depression gripping the whole nation. There are thousands more families that have been displaced by the ongoing military action in South Waziristan, and nobody talks about them. Millions of parents with school-going children have lost their sleep, and there’s little mention of the fear gripping the people in the face of the threat posed to everyday life in our cities.

The failings are staggering, and dangerously enough, they will be seen by many as the failure of democracy yet again. We are at war, finally seeking freedom from the forces of regression and a medieval, extremist way of thinking, and there is enough freedom of speech in this country to voice disgust and repulsion against this mindset, if only one would. The obtaining security situation has left no one untouched. Yet, surprisingly nobody comes forward to voice that sentiment of the silent majority.

The people want to go back to their mundane routines. Youngsters want to go out to the parks, to the beach, to bowl, to eat out. Women want to go shopping unescorted, and men want to go about their daily chores without worrying about families left at home. This is not happening anymore. People look tired and depressed; while many count their blessings that they are safe, some have had close encounters with terrorism; relatives, friends and acquaintances have been killed and injured, or had to leave their homes.

There’s little sense of an imminent end to the mayhem rattling the people’s minds. The citizens want their sense of security restored. They look to their leaders in askance for at least some soothsaying at this time of uncertainty and turmoil. What they get to hear instead is bickering and mudslinging.

Both the government and the opposition leaders need to come out to voice the people’s concerns and give them hope. They need to own the war being fought against the anti-people forces in Fata, and in our cities – as Wednesday’s attack on a women’s market makes amply clear.

Murtaza Razvi is Editor, Magazines, of Dawn.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.