Surrendering Parachinar

ON Jan 22 this year, a bomb went off in Parachinar’s vegetable market killing 25 and injuring 87 people. The attack was claimed, jointly, by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and a Lashkar-i-Jhangvi splinter group.

On April 1, a bomb exploded near an imambargah in Parachinar, killing 23 and injuring 71 worshippers. An additional person was killed when security forces opened fire on a crowd protesting the carnage in front of the political agent’s office.

Just over a week ago, 73 people were killed in a twin bomb explosion in Parachinar. Another couple were killed in the ensuing protests. You know how the rest of it goes.

Three attacks, over 100 killed, many more injured, and countless households plunged into tragedy. There are still six full months left in this year.

By most estimates, there are very few families left in Parachinar that are yet to lose a loved one in a terrorist attack. In a town of less than 15,000 households, an unceasing decade of violence has exacted a particularly gruesome toll. Nothing captures this more than the town’s graveyard of martyrs, dotted with red flags of sacrifice flying on each mound of earth. It is expected to run out of land very soon.

Three attacks, over 100 killed, many more injured, and countless households plunged into tragedy. There are still six full months left in this year.

Parachinar of this past decade is the collective failure of a callous Pakistani state and its criminally indifferent society. In the first instance, the state has failed in its most basic task — protecting people it claims are its citizens. The people of Parachinar carry CNICs issued by the Pakistani state. They likely pay a range of withholding and sales taxes. They work and contribute to the economy in many different parts of the country. Some of them toil abroad and send back remittances so crucial for our perpetually faltering forex reserves.

In a civilised state, none of this should be a prerequisite to merely exist. The state is expected to guarantee your right to live as an unrequited ask. The point of raising a vulgar authenticity test of their citizenship is to demonstrate how far the Pakistani state has veered from any notion of civility. This abdication would be absent even under fascism of the worst kind, where the volk is first expected to demonstrate unwavering fealty before it is nurtured.

The failure lies with both the civilian-political apparatus and the security apparatus. The former simply because it has purposefully sustained proto-colonial rule in these regions. The conversation to integrate Fata with the mainstream, to extend some universalised concept of citizenship to millions of people, has been put on the back burner. And in its place, political expediency has reared its ugly head once again. It appears the sanctity of human life is less important than rents extracted by corrupt bureaucrats and quid pro quo deals carried out by a venal political elite.

The security establishment’s failure is equally obvious. Its own policies made and played out with an eye on Afghanistan are directly responsible for a blowback almost wholly borne by people in places like Parachinar.

As a response, however, we’re told this is the work of hostile neighbours seeking to divide Pakistan from within. Let’s take this claim as the absolute truth. What then? The country only has one military. They’re the one constitutionally tasked with protecting the citizens of Pakistan. The people of Parachinar can’t ask anyone else to protect them from the evil designs and plots hatched by hostile neighbours. All they’ve asked for, as recently as in last week’s dharna, is that a territory the size of a district in Punjab is demonstrably secured.

The rest of the blame falls on us. Those safely ensconced, criminally indifferent in ‘mainstream’ Pakistan. Those who spent Eid watching mediocre morning shows and gorging on deep-fried food. Those responsible for setting the priorities of television channels that ran a three-minute bulletin on 73 dead bodies in a bazaar in Parachinar, followed by a 15-minute long package on a billion-rupee shopping frenzy for gaudy clothes, shoes and bangles in the bazaars of Lahore and Karachi.

For the last four years, we’ve told ourselves Pakistan is on the way up. Violence is down and the graph of people killed in terrorist attacks has nosedived. The bad days of 2007 to 2013 are over. Normalcy is just a few steps away.

The truth is the path towards normalcy has been secured at the cost of this country’s peripheries. Violence has been pushed out of our immediate line of sight. But naturally, like all facades, it falls upon any confrontation with the truth. How else can you tell the people of Parachinar after three attacks in six months, or the people of Quetta, who’ve racked up similar numbers, that things are improving in Pakistan?

Perhaps our collective indifference or transient sympathy is better than the sustained reaction some of us hold to their grief. The victims say this unceasing violence is a sustained campaign against a besieged Shia population. We respond by telling them not to talk about sect. We police their grief by telling them Pakistani Muslims died, not Shias. Some of us even have the gall to claim they deserve their fate for allegedly being more loyal to a hostile Iranian government than to their own. All of this while we purposefully ignore claims made by the attackers telling us, no, in fact we did kill them for their sect.

After a decade of consistent, unchecked violence, there is little hope for course correction. It will require political will and the sort of sustained mobilisation most of us are incapable of mustering for places and people far closer, let alone a place and populace resigned to the periphery. Parachinar will likely bleed again and as on all past occasions the blood will again be on our hands.

By: Umair Javed
The writer is a freelance columnist.


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