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.

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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

National Clutter


*Originally published in The News.

It’s been over a month since the dharnas came to the capital.

And although Imran Khan warns of a civil war, the political temperature has come down considerably but not after exposing the bare and weak bones of Pakistan’s make.

To start off, with rumors and fears of a coup abound earlier; a most alarming reminder has been the persisting existence of the Third Umpire on the political front. Including a counsel of restraint on both sides, advocacy for facilitation of negotiations and advising the government not to use force, Dawn’s editorial published on 2ND September spoke on this string of the army’s statements and inaction towards the protesters that attacked the Parliament despite Article 245 as:

‘The carefully constructed veneer of neutrality that the army leadership had constructed through much of the national political crisis has been torn apart.’

The fact that army had to issue these statements and later another to assert its neutrality brings out a sneering irony.  

It is obvious that redressing the civil-military imbalance is urgent and yet perilous since the Third Umpire will not be leaving a field it has dominated and played on since decades anytime soon.

Secondly, while mudslinging and uncivil rhetoric has been and is an inherent component of Pakistan’s chaotic political culture, the current developments have assisted their swift mainstream resurgence; lest we forget Imran Khan’s volley of countless allegations and accusations against the sitting prime minister, ministers, parliamentarians, judiciary, police, journalists, bureaucrats and the media; and his free and open use of “oye”, “main choroon ga nahi” to “geeli shalwars”. The on-going rumpus has assisted and promoted the crude rhetoric of violence and slander in Pakistan’s political culture and discourse to once again rear its ugly head.

More importantly, a tweet by Mosharraf Zaidi on Imran Khan’s audacious release of his workers arrested by the police accentuates a disquieting issue:

‘One can blame PM Sharif to a certain extent, but delegitimization of the state machinery is now the unwitting PTI project. Disturbing.’

This act of Imran Khan’s may be hailed as bravado by his supporters, who condemn and decry Anjum Aqeel in the same breath, but since its declaration of civil disobedience, promotion of hundi; attempts to storm state buildings with PAT and this forceful release of arrested workers, PTI and its workers have certainly pursued a path of delegitimizing state apparatuses by way of blatantly defying the law.

With such a course of action, PTI has helped muddle up the distinction between the state and the government; attacking the former to shake the latter.

This is but a dangerous phenomenon in a country struggling for stability and security; adding a political plane to the constant challenges to the writ of the state by a plethora of groups including the TTP.

In the domain of the government, the consequences of ignoring political protests, as PML-N initially did with Imran Khan’s, have been dramatically revealed. Governments, especially that of parties like N which conveniently adopt smug complacency when in power, can no longer afford to be dismissive of opponents’ demands or perform sluggishly.

Moving on, as with every national occurrence, the media’s role has been of vital significance amid the inquilabi and tabdeeli mayhem. With fear-mongering, misinformation and sensationalism media houses flagrantly picked stances and sides. This glaring functioning of Pakistan’s media as propaganda houses for political parties with little room for impartiality and responsibility has been unfortunate. Media coverage has also been concentrated on the capital, with hardly any slot for the plight of the IDPs and later, the flood victims. All of this has once again lent weight to the idea that Pakistan possesses a vibrant, free media but a fledgling one not free from biases, unethical practices and oblivious to responsible, meaningful journalism.

Public discourse has also been affected, albeit with the curse of intense polarisation. With each lot sticking to its viewpoint and party loyalties with charged political self-righteousness, little room has been left for debate and discussion, let alone poor old nuance. All who oppose PTI’s politics are now ‘jahil nooras’ and all those who criticise PML-N ‘youthias’. And with debate and discussion shut off like this, this only strengthens the intolerance that is already embedded in Pakistan’s society and national mindset.

Another societal characteristic emerged amidst the dharnas, namely misogyny and hypocrisy. Appropriated into mainstream political discussion thanks to Maulana Fazul-ur-Rehman invoking the infamous fahashi narrative inside the Parliament, the dancing by women at Imran Khan’s dharna became a part of the political salvo against him.

A non-issue with no political weight or ramification, it is, as columnist and writer Abdul Majeed Abid, wrote:

‘One can disagree with the ‘dharnistas’ on dozens of accounts, without any mention of the term ‘vulgarity’….. this is important only in bigoted, misogynist societies such as Pakistan.’

It is astounding how women and men dancing at rallies can be an issue when there is a war being fought at home and a million Pakistanis are displaced from their homes, left for destitution.

This is a fine encapsulation of the clutter Pakistan is in today.

At the end, it is palpable that the political confrontation which began in mid-August sparked off a tense interaction between Pakistan’s politics, institutions, society and culture; the results of which are unsettling. A close to the current events may be uncertain but what is certain is that as a country aspiring for democracy, stability and prosperity, Pakistan has a long and difficult path to tread if it is ever to move forward.

~ Hafsa Khawaja