Seeking Validation for National Tragedies


Just when things in Pakistan appeared to be taking a turn for the better, it took but a single moment to shatter the sliver of optimism many among us were beginning to nurture; revealing the long road it will take for us to ever escape being prisoners of carnage.

Sunday. Holiday. Easter.

Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park. Lahore. 70+ killed.

50,000 and counting.

For every inch of this country is soaked with the blood of its people,
Every corner with fear and ordeal.

Where laughter and mirth were to resonate, screams and cries ensued.

On the ground made for childhoods to blossom, many were plucked before they bloomed.

Days like these may be wished to pass, but their trauma and pain will forever refuse to budge.

Lahore is what is called the “heart of Pakistan”. It is a city festooned with history, diversity and life. Life, most of all. Life, which was taken on the 27th of March.

From hotels, restaurants, shrines, mosques, to schools and parks, there really is no quarter of the Pakistani society, culture, state and the national imagination that terrorism has not breached. Lahore has just been another victim. It has changed drastically, engulfed in an architecture of fear and a cultural life throttled. Security checkpoints, snipers on roofs, high walls; a fortress for a city. Maybe someday this architecture of security and fear could be dismantled and we could once again recreate Lahore and Pakistan, but the architecture of fear and loss which has been constructed in our collective national mind will be an enduring casualty of terrorism and extremism, and increasingly difficult to move past – at least for the younger generation, to which the attack in Iqbal Town struck another blow.

Rafia Zakaria recently wrote on ‘The Playgrounds of Pakistan’ in The New York Times:

“For much of the world, the deaths of Pakistani children are forgettable. They are, after all, the progeny of poor distant others destined to perish in ever more alarming ways. It may not be said, but it is believed that they are complicit in their own deaths, guilty somehow — even at 2 or 4 or 6 years of age — of belonging to a nation that the world has appointed as its own boogeyman, a repository of all its vilest trepidations.

In the media, too, it seems. Two days after Sunday’s attack, Lahore has disappeared from the top headlines. Pakistan’s pain has already been extinguished from the global news cycle, its catastrophe a news item and not — as in Paris or Brussels — a news event. The world has many demands on its meager stores of empathy. The children’s names, their pictures, the terrain of the park where they fell to bits will never be familiar to a mourning world. Efforts to make the dead children of Pakistan real and innocent, worthy of a tear and not just a tweet, start, sputter and fizzle.”

However in Pakistan, a particularly confounding observation was made during the outpouring of grief and shock after the blast: the disproportionate amount of focus by many on global outrage and solidarity (or the perceived lack thereof) than the tragedy itself. While it is entirely understandable the concern many have, and rightly so, regarding a lack of greater global outrage and regarding the recent Lahore attack, it is shameful if it is let to overshadow the loss of lives that has occurred, compared to which nothing is more horrible. In such a time, when schools aren’t safe, playgrounds aren’t safe, the ghastly attack and loss of lives should be the sole focus of our attention, concern and emotion, instead of some search for global acts of support or double standards.

Certainly it is true that attacks in our part of the world fail to capture the sort of shock events in other parts of the world too because bombs and blasts in Pakistan are no longer an ‘anomaly’. But an obsessive focus and debate on the aspect of international acknowledgement and recognition in wake of the tragedy must not trump the sense of grief, empathy and anger that we should experience. Attacks in Pakistan might not be news for the rest of the world, but what matters most is that we shouldn’t become accustomed to their continued occurrence. We shouldn’t treat what is abominable and unacceptable as normal. It is we, whose outrage and condemnation matters most when it is teetering on the edge of apathy and exhaustion, because our battles are not over. We have lost too much and too many to merely look past them. We need not await international recognition of our grief and the gravity of its horror as validation of the tragedies that befall us.

It is a grossly misguided priority if it is the reaction to a tragedy than the occurrence of the tragedy itself. If you are bemoaning the lack of a Facebook filter or the lack of famous landmarks lighting up in green and white at the moment, you are losing sight of sense. This is a trivialization of the lives brutally taken, which deserve our mourning and our respect.

Mourn them, reflect, empathize, grieve, show respect.

Pray for them.

Visit the bereaved, the injured lying in hospitals.

Rush to their help.

Connect to your own humanity before seeking it from others.

As Mosharraf Zaidi put it: Why should Pakistanis seek empathy at Eiffel Tower? Start at home. If we can’t agree on enemy & victim here, why fixate on ‪#‎JeSuisElsewhere.

-Hafsa Khawaja

Let Us Count No More


*Originally published in The Nation.
Unedited version below:

Some tragedies are difficult to erase from national memories.  Some wounds are difficult to heal. What happened in Peshawar was a monstrosity beyond evil, a calamity beyond tragedy. The calculated, cold-blooded murder of helpless, defenseless, innocent children will always remain, neither a wound that heals, nor a stain that fades, but a scar right in Pakistan’s heart that shall only deepen with time. It will remain forever.

Women mourn their relative Mohammed Ali Khan, a student who was killed during an attack by Taliban gunmen on the Army Public School, at his house in Peshawar

In an air of seething anger, mourning and vengeance, the government decided to lift the moratorium on death penalty. As understandable as this is for the savages who have torn through Pakistan’s soul, it must be realized that the lifting of the moratorium is once again a cosmetic attempt to defeat terrorism.

Pakistan can no longer do without recognizing that the monster of terrorism has multiple heads and tackling it honestly.

For once, the state and military establishment must end the dubious, contradictory and damnable distinction between the “good” and “bad” Taliban, for the advancement of ‘Strategic Depth’ that has become the death of us. It is important to mention the late Eqbal Ahmad, whose prophetic warnings regarding Pakistan’s future vis-à-vis the policy in Afghanistan during and after the Afghan war were made little use of, penned in an article, titled ‘What after strategic depth?’ in Dawn on 23 August, 1998:

“The domestic costs of Pakistan’s friendly proximity to the Taliban are incalculable and potentially catastrophic The Taliban are the expression of a modern disease, symptoms of a social cancer which shall destroy Muslim societies if its growth is not arrested and the disease is not eliminated. It is prone to spreading, and the Taliban will be the most deadly communicators of this cancer if they remain so organically linked to Pakistan.”

The scourge of extremism and terrorism cannot be defeated if Pakistan’s military establishment pursues policies of duplicity; with a selective fight instead of an all-out war against all terrorists without distinction and second thought, since the alternative is clearly at the expense of Pakistan’s peace, stability and future.

As vital it is to battle the Taliban physically, it is even more crucial to battle them ideologically, culturally and socially.

Pakistan’s mosques must be regulated and rid of the hate speeches made against other religions, religious minorities, sects and the West, that pass for sermons. These have converted the country’s mosques into sanctuaries breeding hate, bigotry and intolerance with bloody repercussions.

Jibran Nasir: The quiet lawyer and activist who is taking on Pakistan’s Taliban (The Independent, photo taken by Mosharraf Zaidi)

The people must reclaim their mosques, just as the brave Jibran Nasir led people in Islamabad rallying for FIR against and the arrest of Abdul Aziz of the Lal Masjid for his audacious refusal to condemn the Peshawar massacre in clear words live on television. It is hoped that this spirit inflamed by rage and sorrow crystallizes into a sustained campaign and movement by the citizens to reclaim Pakistan; for any ‘maulana’ or ‘mufti’ whose tongue stutters to clearly condemn extremists and terrorist acts of atrocities must be taken to task by the people and state; and if the state does not take them to task, the people must take it to task too. Let it be clear today that a lack of condemnation is an act of complicity. Pakistan has paid enough for terrorist apologists in its midst.

The media must also stop the sensationalist and luxurious provision of airtime to such men in the guise of interviews and calls; offering them opportunities to shamelessly propagate their views and promote the cause of the extremists in turn. Pakistan cannot and must not tolerate any terrorist apologists from any sphere, be it religious, social or political since they are in abundance.

Furthermore, Pakistan cannot envision the eradication of extremism and terrorism unless the political patronage of militant organizations like the SSP, LeJ and ASWJ are explicitly ended. It is this country and nation’s misfortune, that not only does it have leaders who are spineless and irresolute in the face of a cancer that continues to consume Pakistan; but also have links; concede, pacify and pander to organizations that are proud ancillary warriors to the ideological evil.

Death penalties may satiate our desire for justice, but these cannot compensate for the alarming flaws plaguing Pakistan’s judicial system that is unable to prosecute, convict and punish terrorists. Mentioned in Chris Albritton’s Daily Beast article, the U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2013 states:

“Intimidation by terrorists against witnesses, police, victims, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges contributed both to the slow progress of cases in Antiterrorism Courts and a high acquittal rate.”

According to Dawn, since 2007, over 2,000 alleged terrorists have been freed by the Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATCs) and even re-joined terrorist outfits. Therefore, as long as Pakistan’s courts are not empowered and let murderers like Malik Ishaq walk free with the blood of hundreds of Shias on his hands; death penalties will only remain a superficial step taken in the stride for serving justice.

Moreover, the curriculum and textbooks taught in Pakistan must be reviewed and revised to replace the patchwork of intolerance, hate, bigotry, xenophobia and jingoism it has currently bred by one which fosters a pluralistic national mindset of tolerance, inter-faith, inter-sect, inter-ethnic harmony. The distortions and crass obfuscations in the textbooks may have served the state well but they have certainly not served the country and nation well.

Pakistan must also recognize that the disease of extremism and terrorism is home-grown. The hordes that attended Arshad Mehmood’s funeral after his hanging were our people, they were Pakistanis. Those who fund, abet and sympathise with these are Pakistanis. Arshad Mehmood and his ilk was Pakistani. The hundreds of children slaughtered in Peshawar were Pakistani, this is Pakistan’s war.

Lastly, as a people, we must rupture our resilience. Let us let it be known that we will not forget nor forgive; we will neither recover nor rest until we win this war; a war within us. We must no longer be quiet; we must let the pain of Peshawar never subside if Pakistan is ever to remain alive. Let us feel the loss that can never be undone. Let us walk on the blood-splattered shards of Peshawar, let us never forget what happened there; let us not wash this away from our hearts and minds by the flimsy cloth of resilience.  Let us know that our silence and resilience is now complicity.

Let us find it difficult to sleep every night knowing this soil is fresh with the splattered blood of its beautiful children. Let us count the 50,000 which 140 more have joined.  Every inch of this land is soaked with the blood of its own.

Let us be resilient no longer if we are to count no more.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Catharsis.


There seems to be a great deal of skepticism and cynicism among members of some older generations in Pakistan regarding vigils and shows of protests, especially by the youth. They question what difference does it make, what point is there to it to such a ‘superficial’’ western’ cultural import?

What happened in Peshawar is a monstrosity beyond evil, a calamity beyond tragedy. It has rattled us to the very core and shook our souls. Grasped by grief and suffocated by helplessness, it now seems difficult to breathe.

In times of unbearable grief mocked by helplessness; of screaming anger silenced in the wails of mourning – coming together is sometimes the only way to help restore some semblance of power to us, in a land and time where it is bloodily usurped through guns and bombs tearing through our bodies, lives, souls and spirits.

Coming together in the form of a vigil or protest is not just a gathering. It is much more.

It is an effort, no matter how inconsequential, to express solidarity and support; to be counted and to be heard; to mark the persistence of resilience. It is a clamour amid attempts to be silenced.

The candles we light are not just in remembrance of the lost, but also in sight and light of hope. Hope, letting go of which is too much of a risk for us to take since that is all we have.

Some tragedies are difficult to erase from national memories. The deliberate, cold-blooded murder of helpless, defenseless, innocent little children will always remain, neither a wound for that heals, nor a stain that fades, but a scar in Pakistan’s memory. It will remain forever.

Therefore, let us not imbue Pakistan with further negativity by criticizing acts and gestures that express our collective sorrow and grief, our support and solidarity, our resolve and resistance. To collect the smithereens of our sanity and sense, our strength, our hopes and humanity from the shards of grief and barbarity.

In the grasp of grief and the suffocation of helplessness, maybe this is the only catharsis we have.

That we are in this together. That in throbbing with pain, we still throb with life.

Rest in peace, flowers of Peshawar.

10176115_10202601393071123_1508585127468843140_n

Every inch of this country is soaked with the blood of its own,

Every corner with fear and ordeal;

Peace left long,

Abandoned us with scorn;

From death and violence there is no respite,

Helpless screams our plight;

Bodies pile in heaps,

From this land of green, only red seeps;

Grief marches,

And suffering strides,

But bravery reigns,

And resilience still resides;

The sigh between mourning,

The breath between cries,

The time between two calamities;

Is the only peace, out of life, that we can now prise;

They say there is a world beyond,

They say there is a heaven,

And we believe, for we’ve seen hell;

For every inch of this country is soaked with the blood of its own,

Every corner with fear and ordeal.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

A Pakistani Child’s Child-Hood


Harmless mischief and chaffs,
Slowly dwindle in little souls with withering laughs,
Smiles disapper replaced by streaming tears,
Peering wide with fear of the unknown residing in their eyes,
Awaiting an uncertain future,
Minds rolling with unanswered questions,
Stomachs filled with hunger pangs,
Beggining for peace and happiness are their tiny hands,
By over-flying drones,
Blood and deaths,
Bombs and threats,
Their home is torn asunder
Each child-hood carefully plundred

– Hafsa Khawaja