Requiem for the dying souls

September 24, 2008

As TV cameras zoomed into the heap of debris of Marriot Hotel suicide blast, my thoughts took me back to the casualty of Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar, where victims of a suicide attack were being rushed for treatment some days back. As the ambulances ambulance carrying victims blast rushed in, waves of anxiety swept through the journalist corps present at the occasion; photographer’s cameras flashed, cameramen pushed one another to film a shot of the victim and reporters scribbled some words in their notebooks.

When the victims stopped to arrive at the hospital, a hush seized the journalists and they engaged in low tone exchanges. Victims’ families started to arrive at the hospital to know about the safety of their near and dear, usually weeping and crying in desperation and if they found someone of their kin soaked in blood and motionless, a strange feeling of helplessness engulfed them.

I came out of the hospital with a heavy heart. Way back to my office life in the city seemed as usual with the story to be filed on my mind. Afterwards, over a cup of tea some friends gathered and discussion turned towards the militancy, but it remained inconclusive till end and we dispersed with more questions than answers.

To quote Obaidullah Aleem:

“Who I have name for these recurring calamities

My cities are burning and people dying

None else in behind this deadly manoeuvring,

We are being killed, we are the killers.”

I had seen too much blood and gore scenes over a period of two years as a journalist covering the militancy, which has ravaged the NWFP and FATA. But most of the time the futility of violence left me gaping for breath and this feeling has dawned upon me with more force that what is the purpose of this killing and what the killers wanted to achieve.

I consider them actors in an absurdist theatre, when they say that the bloodshed in this country is against America, as how one of us could believe that killing their fellow humans could entitle them to the riches of Paradise. The people roaming around wrapping themselves in lethal explosives are to me reminiscent of the pig tailed child who heralded the end of Garcia Marquez’s city of mirrors.

The Kafkaesque manner of terrorism and the stoicism of the majority of our population often puzzles’ me as our society fiddles like Nero when the Rome was burning. The war was initially limited to Waziristan and most of us remained silent, then it spread to whole of FATA and parts of Frontier and we are still silent and one does not need to be Einstein to foresee what tomorrow has in store for us.

Faraz has put these aptly:

You keep on poking every heart with spears of bigotry.

We’re the people of love, why are you raising daggers.

Let music resonate in the city; let us live in the city.

We take care of flowers and guard fragrance

Whose blood you are here to spill, we only preach love,

What then you find in this city, when word ceases to exist.

When swords cut through gentle tanner, when lyrics leave for ever,

When melodies got killed and voices died down.

Whom you stone, when the city turns to ruins

Then this very sight of your face will haunt you in mirrors.”


‘A mortal is God in all his might, This I will not write.’

November 21, 2007

“We had no funds, no files, no office, no dictaphone. And yet, with nothing in hand but a pencil, we wrote the most glorious chapter in the cultural renaissance of our people.”
                                      -Kirshen Chander (1966)

Media has a strong tradition of resistance in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. From the refusal of the father of Indian journalism James Augusts Hickey to bow before the British raj during the formative period of Indian journalism to the Karachi journalists’ arrests after the imposition of emergency in the country, media has been the custodian of a great tradition of resistance in this part of the world.

The journalists like Faiz Ahmed Faiz have always bear the burnt for saying nay to the unconstitutional steps of the dictators taken for their survival on the name of national interest.

Dr. Iqbal Ahmed recounts the tale of a Bosnian newspaper “Oslobodenje” in his essay, “Intellectuals Role in Society,” which is similar to the present ordeal being faced by the Pakistani media.

The Oslobodenje was the Bosnia’s largest daily; it was established during World War II as an underground paper by the partisans who fought the fascists and after the break-up of the Yugoslavia it supported the Bosnia as a country.

Dr. Iqbal writes, “ Oslobodenje practised what it preached. Its editor is Muslim, deputy editor is an incredibly brave Serb woman, the staff are mixed – Muslim Serb, and Croat. As such, the newspaper anti its staff became a target of Serb nationalists, an easy target because its offices are located in the ‘death alley’ of Sarajevo within range of Serb gunners, The newspaper and its staff sustained many miunes but did not miss a day of publication printing often a single page. Oslobodenje became a symbol of Bosnian resolve, Sarajevans’ will to live and, above all, of Serb failure to destroy the values for which Bosnia stood. “Why don’t you move the paper out of Sarajevo?” I asked Editor KemaI Kurspahic soon after he had survived a bomb, ‘we can’t”, he replied simply, “Oslobodenje is a lighthouse”.

The same is the condition of Pakistani media after the imposition of the emergency when the government attempted to gag the media and silence the dissent shamelessly. The president who used to brag about the exemplary media freedom closed two popular TV channels in just one go and let the other operate mutilated.

But unlike the past the lawyers and the civil society have rose and speaking the truth to the dictator hand in hand with the media as legendry Faiz puts it.

If pen and ink are snatched from me, shall I
Who dipped my finger in my heart’s blood complain –
Or if they seal my tongue, when I have made
A mouth of every round link of my chain?

Translated (A.W)

Pity the Nation

July 20, 2007

Pakistan … anything can happen here anytime. Heroes are reduced to zero in an instant; rulers are forced to pack up; suicide attackers can play havoc with people’s lives; judges are rendered non-functional; intelligence agencies could harass top judges; government servants could embezzle millions of rupees; mosques could challenge the writ of state; state kidnaps its own citizen; artists receive life threats for their art; CD shop are blamed for corrupting morality, proclaimed offenders hold public offices; political parties take whole cities hostage; political leaders change their loyalties overnight; military topples government anytime; terrorist roam around more freely than the law enforcers; journalists receive bullets for writing truth; television channels could be forced to suspend transmission; those responsible for the country’s breakup are let off, prime minister’s brother is shot dead by police in encounter ………. 

Imagine, is all this possible anywhere else in the world? 

Khalil Gibran words sound prophetic if we see them in the backdrop of the contemporary Pakistan.

Pity the Nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion;

Pity the Nation that acclaims the bully as hero,

And that deems the glittering conqueror beautiful;

Pity the Nation that raises not its voice,

Save where it walks in a funeral,

And will rebel not save when its neck is laid;

Between the sword and the block;

Pity the Nation that whose sages are dumb with years,

And whose strong men are yet in the cradles;

Pity the Nation divided into fragments,

Each fragment deeming itself a nation. 

Troublesome Tribal

March 2, 2007

North-Western Frontier province’s tribal belt is a shadowy and mysterious land for the world, run by a blend of more than a century old colonial laws and primitive tribal traditions. Bordering south-eastern Afghanistan this area over the past few years emerged as the hotbed of Taliban militancy and has been restive since the US invasion of country.

Federally Administrated Tribal Areas or FATA consist seven semi-autonomous agencies: South Waziristan, North Waziristan. Khyber, Bajaur, Kurram, Mohmand, and Orakzai agencies and five Frontier Regions(F.Rs ) F.R Peshawar, F.R Kohat, F.R Tank, F.R Banuu and F.R D.I. Khan.

FATA is spread over an area of 27,220 square kilometers and it shares 600-km. long border with Afghanistan and has population of 3.17 million Pashtuns residing on the Pakistani side of Durand Line which was drawn by Sir. Mortimer Durand the foreign secretary of British Indian government in 1893. It was meant to create a buffer zone between British India and Afghanistan by dividing the Pastuns tribes living on the both sides of the divide.

A major part of the FATA is rugged and inaccessible mountainous terrain. FATA is geographically located in NWFP but have a different administrative setup unlike other parts of the province and is administered under the Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR) promulgated by the British Raj to rein the fierce Pashtuns in 19th century. The governor of the NWFP exercises the executive authority in FATA as the representative of the President with discretionary powers as to ensure the “peace and good governance”.

The rest is left to political agent (PA) who has sweeping powers under his belt to manage, control and administer the respective agency. PA under section 40 FCR can preventively imprison anyone up to three years. Those who are convicted under the FCR have no rights to make an appeal in a court of law in Pakistan and the revision right rests with FCR commissioner appointed by the governor NWFP or final appeal can be made to the FCR tribunal comprised of the provincial chief secretary, law secretary and home secretary. PA can punish entire tribe on the grounds of collective tribal and territorial responsibility for the crimes in their area by imposing fines, arrests and property seizures. Fines are basically heavy and are deducted from the salaries of the employees of the fined tribe. The entire agency is subject to overall economic control by the PA of the respective agency.

The area has a unique psychological profile combining the Pashtun tribal code and orthodox religion. The tribes’ acts upon the Pashtun code or Pakthunwali while settling their internal and tribal issues. Pakthunwali is an unwritten code and is a collection of traditional and customary laws which determines the form and character of the Pashtun life.

During the Afghan war the whole of the FATA was converted into a base camp of the Jihadis with active US support. Later the emergence of Taliban also played a crucial role in strengthening the radical leanings among the population. After the fall of Taliban some of the active elements passed the difficult and inaccessible mountainous terrain and took refuge in the tribal agencies. Reportedly nearly five to six hundreds foreign fighters took refuge in these areas after the Spinghar (White Mountain) operation near Tora Bora in 2001 and operation Anaconda in Paktia in 2002.

The US pressure to rein and brought to justice these elements led to the deadly encounters between the law enforcement agencies and militants since 2002. In 2004 military operation was launched in South Waziristan. On 24 April 2004 military and militants signed an agreement known as the Shakai agreement but in the following weeks the agreement broke down as the tribal failed to handover the militants. On 25 June 2006 a peace deal was signed in the North Waziristan also. The government was also near signing a deal in Bajaur Agency when a missile attack killed more than 82 people in a madrassa and more than 42 soldiers were killed in a suicide attack on military training centre in Dargai in Malakand after the madrassa bombing.

At present there are 70,000 troops are deployed on Durand line to prevent infiltration and movement across the boarder. So far more than 700 hundreds of military personnel killed in clashes with militants along unknown number of militants, civilians and damage to property.

Do you know the Pakistani National Mind?

January 8, 2007

A nation is a living entity and has a collective psyche, mind or character. Different nations and cultures behave differently according to their compositions under identical conditions. Sometimes back I came across an op-ed piece in one of our dailies where the columnist complained the lack of awareness about the national character or mind in Pakistan. Yesterday I came across a very interesting formula which the author calls “A Pseudo Scientific Formula” to know the character of a nation and here I am sharing the formula with you.

Borrowing the author words, “Let “R” stand for a sense of reality (or realism), “D” for dreams (or idealism), “H” for a sense of humor and … “S” for sensitivity.  As we can’t invent words like “humoride” or “humorate” after the fashion of Chemistry, we may put it thus: 3 grains of Realism, 2 grains of idealism, 2 grains of humor and 1 grains of sensitivity makes an Englishman.”

R3 D2 H2 S1 = the English

R2 D3 H3 S3 = the French

R3 D3 H2 S2 = the Americans

R3 D4 H1 S2 = the Germans

R2 D4 H1 S1 = the Russians

R2 D3 H1 S1 = the Japanese

R4 D1 H3 S3 = the Chinese

So what makes a Pakistani?

Note: “4” stand for abnormally high, “3” for high,”2” for fair and “1” for low.

For Singing Tomorrows

December 31, 2006

2006 is about to be a part of a vast wilderness called past. What is in the fleeting days and nights, except a creeping sensation of passing through the limits of space and time? What are the joys, tears and sorrows attached to the sandcastle called life? Every sorrow has its happiness and happiness its tears. In a nutshell happiness is all about tomorrow, whatever we do is all for the singing tomorrows. As the yesterday/past in nothing but a long trail on the desert of time we left behind while heading towards the oasis we call tomorrow or future. Every tomorrow has a message, radiance and hope about it. It calls us to let bygones be bygones and fix our gaze at the future or on the singing tomorrows.

“Written in the Season of fear”

December 29, 2006

Daily Times reports that family of an Afghan writer believes he has been picked up by the Pakistani agencies over writing memories of his three years imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay prison. Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost went missing on September 29 after his book “The Broken Shackles of Guantánamo” hits the market on 3rd September 2006. Accordingly the shadowy guys earlier approached him to restraint from publishing his book. During the war Pakistani and Afghan bounty hunters sold scores of people to the CIA for US$ 5000 per head. Earlier this year an Amnesty International report said that “The road to Guantánamo starts in Pakistan”. Ironically 300 people have been released from the Gulag of our Times without any charge or indictment which is brimming with inmates thanks to the Mush all out support to the war on terror. 85percent detainees were not directly arrested by the Americans but by the Afghan Militias and Pakistani government who later handed over them to the US.