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Death is cheap in the country of chaos

Published 09 Nov, 2016 09:43pm
Troops enter Police Training College after it was attacked by armed militants on October 24, 2016 | AFP
Troops enter Police Training College after it was attacked by armed militants on October 24, 2016 | AFP

Death is cheap in the country of chaos. People are dying everywhere and in all sorts of situations — and most of the time, we do not even stop to ask what happened. But no death happens in a vacuum — there is always some context to it, some reason to it, some effect of it.

As many as four Hazara women assassinated in Quetta, scores of police cadets and an army officer killed in a training school (also near Quetta) and four mourners killed in a Shia gathering in Karachi — all these deaths resulted from well-targeted and well-planned attacks. And all within the last month. We have also lost soldiers and officers near the border with Afghanistan and (mostly) civilian lives on the border with India.

And we are not stopping to ask what happened.

Indeed, we are ignoring (in the least worst scenarios) and exacerbating (in the worst scenarios) the context, the reasons and the effects of all this mayhem around us. What ignoring does is not desirable; what exacerbating does is not acceptable.

Of ignoring — we have perfected it into an art form. When death happens in remote corners of the country, it is as good as not having happened at all. Jiwani and Khuzdar, Mohmand and Tirah, Khanpur and Ancholi — none of these places sound familiar to most of us. Many of us may not even be able to spot them on a map. Something happening there is just a brief blip on our news radar; it disappears even before its precise location is known. The news about death at these places is drowned by catchy songs selling everything from drinks to dreams, superimposed with cuss words spoken by the members of warring political factions, passed off to unsuspecting audiences as important proclamations, responses and counter-responses thereof. Morning shows, game shows, talk shows — nothing stops to ponder over, let alone mourn, the death in a far-off place we do not even know exists.

Of exacerbating — we have perfected it into a science. Where a political party cannot hold a public gathering in the capital because a section in the law prohibits that, a religious group can — even when it consists of people openly hostile to Pakistan’s sectarian and religious diversity. When people are taken away from their homes, from their vehicles, from their workplaces under charges that they are opposed to the state, self-declared jihadis are left free to mobilise support — even when no one under the constitution has the power or the right to declare a jihad in or outside the country. In the first case, they would be breaching the law of the land; in the second, the law of the world.

Is it, then, difficult to understand why suicide blasts continue ripping us apart from within at the same time when cross-border tensions with India and Afghanistan keep us worried about our place in the region and the world at large?

And when we look at the wreckage left by the murderous destruction wreaked by terrorism, we often find the existing or former activists of these very groups being responsible for it. Everyone who is anyone in Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami, has at one stage been associated with Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and, by extension, with its latest reincarnation, Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat, which was the main participant in the gathering at the capital. Many, if not all, in senior leadership positions among the Pakistani Taliban have, at some stage in their violent careers, been members of one group or the other of jihadis trained, sent and – perhaps even now – supported by us to fight in Afghanistan and Kashmir. That is what the science of exacerbation does: it creates a nuclear chain reaction of violence that not even its initiators can switch off.

With a combination of ignoring and exacerbating, we have achieved a royal mess, both in the periphery and at the centre. The former is falling apart because the centre cannot (or does not want to) hold; the latter is in distress because too much activity and power and, consequently, conflict are concentrated in it.

The centre has too much power to handle, too many players to handle that power and too few steady hands at the helm. The continued rift between the civilian and military leaderships is only aggravated by political aspirants, intrusive news media and a judiciary ready to oblige or spurn, depending on who is asking for a favour. And not a single sane voice is heard from within the power corridors — of statesmanship, of vision, of wisdom. Pettiness rules and seeks pettiness: personal and short-term victories, personal and short-term goals, personal and short-term gains. All fought for in a language that may embarrass even the actors in a Lahori stage show.

The distressed centre is being pulled down by the weight of its own power, its own power players and their disruptive power games. And we are not stopping to ask what happened.

The disinterested centre cannot care less about the periphery coming off bit by bit by the causes and effects of the perennial lack of attention it has been subjected to since long. And we are not stopping to ask what happened.

Death is becoming cheaper by the day in the country of chaos.

This article was originally published in the Herald's November 2016 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.