Another Moment of Our Insignificance

Source: dawn.com

Source: dawn.com

It was that moment again. The moment that you would anxiously dread for your entire life. Just like dreading war in peace time. Just like anticipating an intruder without a gun.

It feels like staring at death. In sheer terror, you scramble to save your life, leaving behind all this dear to you, except your life. Something which you are condemned to carry with you.

Looking at everything you built, waiting for it to crumble down.

Thankfully, many of us escaped the ruthless blow of Nature, but many among us did not.

On October 26, that fateful day, the earth shook again, and almost swept everything away. And only those who live through the disaster, those who survive it, could tell you what it felt like.

And for those who could not make it, let’s keep them in our thoughts forever. For it so easily could have been us and our loved ones, as they are.

The Afghanistan quake was 7.5 strong on the scale. Some were calling it the worst earthquake in the history of Pakistan, but I knew they were wrong. It was nowhere near as devastating as the 2005 Kashmir quake, that I ironically wrote about just weeks ago. But it was pretty devastating nevertheless, especially for the people of KP, Northern Areas and Afghanistan.

And believe me, we can never understand the pain of those who lost their loved ones and homes.

But that’s not all what this week brought. It also .

In Rawalpindi and Islamabad, it had already been overcast and rainy for the past two days. And on the eastern dawnsky, Mars, Jupiter and Venus were converging in a magical astronomical display, only to be repeated after decades.

I missed it. Two days after the quake, I managed to find clear skies on the morning of the 28th. With what I had, I managed to take these.

20151028_051637ee

Maybe, some of you could spot Mars if you look hard enough. If you have the time for it, that is.

20151028_051726ee

Looking up at the sky at that moment was a different feeling altogether.

A feeling of significant insignificance.

Setting The Right Conditions

Source: brecorder.com

Source: brecorder.com

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is on a very successful tour to the United States. Earlier, the Army Chief has also met the US National Security Advisor. The United States is selling more F-16 jets to Pakistan, is looking to discuss a civilian nuclear deal, while also asking Pakistan to put the brakes on its growing nuclear arsenal. Furthermore, alongside the Prime Minister’s daughter, the American First Lady has also announced a program for education for girls. All these are very good signs for Pakistan’s future, not only economically, but in terms of defense as well.

As much as we criticize foreign aid, it’s a foreign relations tool that is not going to vanish any time soon enough. Probably countries such as Pakistan cannot do without it, but the United States must ensure that it serves its purpose of strengthening the alliance, and of promoting its interests.

The Jacobabad procession bombing is just a demonstration of how menacing the problem of domestic sectarian terrorism is, even when a massive operation has been conducted against anti-state Islamist terrorists. The Islamist terrorists who are not anti-state must be met with the same ruthlessness and vigor.

As a citizen of Pakistan, I would like to see the United States acknowledge Pakistan’s commitment and actions to fight against Islamist terrorism. But at the same time, as a concerned citizen of the world who would see the progress of secular values, I would also like to see the United States press Pakistan harder for taking actions against domestic terrorism. Not because the US government cares about human rights or dying minority sect citizens, but because such a country would be a threat to the national security of the United States and democratic values.

Lashkar-e-Jhangavi has again taken responsibility for the Jacobabad bombing and all we can do is to wait for the next Muharram for another one of these incidents. What is worse, these sectarian terrorists do not need an occasion or reason to attack the Shia, Ismaili, Hazara and Ahmadi population, as we have witnessed a plenty of times in the recent past.

All of us must commend the federal and provincial governments for all the hard work for protecting citizens and religious processions during the Ashura. However, it would be even better if they concentrate their efforts on proactively taking action against the roots of these sectarian groups, which are surely operating within the country. As much as it is a good thing that we are on the lookout for RAW agents, it would be helpful to pay attention to these immediate internal threats.

Fortunately, the armed forces also seem to be in the mood for taking on the challenge of extremism as well. The army chief has vowed that the military would do all in its power to protect Pakistan from the threat of ISIS.

It is important to recognize the growing religious intolerance in the society, especially when similar sentiment is prevalent in neighboring India, which is only going to make matters worse. But what the democratic and civilized world has in common is the commitment to fight religious extremism, which is a threat to freedom and democracy everywhere.

Just like the civil and military leadership has considered it vital to take action against miscreants in Karachi, it is probably even more important to protect the nation from the threat of sectarian terrorism. Not only are sectarian terrorists a threat to national unity, but they are a threat to freedom of religion and speech in this country.

I have complete faith in the civilian leadership and the commitment of the armed forces to fight terrorism. However, I wish that they would not require a nudge from a more authoritative entity to launch their pursuit.

Considering the relative inaction against sectarian terrorists, that surely seems to be the case.

But we know that wheels get moving when it comes to the bottom line.

So the US administration should set the right, strict conditions of action against religious extremism at home for military and civilian aid.

Not even that, they should make sure that the job is done properly.

A version of this post was published in The Nation blogs.

The Politics of Perpetual Cynical Whining

Source: dawn.com

Source: dawn.com

The recent by-polls in the key Lahore constituency NA-122 that put the membership of Speaker Ayaz Sadiq on the line have resulted in his reelection with a narrow margin. PTI campaigned aggressively targeting the constituency due to rigging elections and have effectively made their mark in the PML-N stronghold.

However, the people’s verdict at the polls is never enough for the PTI leadership. In Imran Khan’s own words, he was happy with the NA-122 elections because of the presence of the military in officiating it. But that statement, other than the fact that it was heavily scrutinized by the media, seemed too good to be true for an election held in Pakistan. Nobody was surprised that briefly after conceding defeat as a moral victory, the PTI leadership was having second thoughts about the transparency of these polls too.

Since apparently nothing is left to blame on the polling officials, the PTI has come up with some obscure PML-N rigging measures that they could not anticipate, and others hardly even understand. Somehow the PML-N managed to throw the PTI votes out “at the last minute.” Because apparently at the last minute, PML-N started handling voter lists instead of the Election Commission.

There is nothing surprising about these allegations, because elections would never be fair until the PTI candidates are elected from all constituencies in the country, even if the voting machines are installed.

PTI has effectively become a political party that thrives on conspiracy theories and paranoia. Just like our nationalistic and Islamic fundamentalists, they would invent weird scenarios as long as their firm beliefs hold true.

It seems that the politics of Imran Khan is now centered on one point alone: electoral rigging. We vaguely remember that it used to be about electoral reform.

Well, PTI is controlling a provincial government. We all know that it is not the case. But this is what we get to hear from the PTI leadership about 9 times out of every 10 appearances they make. This makes you wonder if they are in politics just to keep on campaigning for elections, because it is fun apparently, or to do any serious legislative business.

Nevertheless, citizens must always strive to prevent totalitarian influences in a democracy. Considering the scarce and provincial choices available to the people of Pakistan, especially Punjab, it is of utmost importance to keep the ruling PML-N on their toes by offering the PTI a chance every now and then. It is probably time to stop giving PML-N such sweeping majorities, which they had abused back in the 90s to amend the constitution for the worse. Though, not really sure if that matters much, because lately we have witnessed the trend of people not voting for the legislation they don’t agree with, instead of voting against.

However, the greatest hurdle to a greater PTI victory is the leadership of the party itself. While many of the young voters and the unconditional haters of PML-N have much greater tolerance for such nonsense, the independent voters in the swing constituencies in Punjab would only cringe at the cynicism and constant whining of the PTI leader, to say the least.

Citizens concerned about democracy would only find relief in the PTI giving PML-N a greater challenge, and even such PML-N supporters should not mind seeing defeat in many constituencies. It is important to keep a check on every political party, and the best way to prevent them from becoming complacent is not to get married to them at the ballot.

But the PTI leadership seriously needs to move ahead from its boo-hoo-hooing kindergarten politics and offer the people of Pakistan something serious to consider. That is the “status quo” that needs to change so that any serious reform could be brought about in the legislature. Until that time, they would keep on wondering why they end up losing elections by substantial margins while showing off such large crowd at rallies and events.

 

A version of this post was published in The Nation blogs.

This Day, Ten Years Ago

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

Exactly ten years ago, on October 8, we experienced probably the most devastating earthquake to have struck Northwestern parts of the subcontinent, or at least Kashmir, in centuries.

I have a clear recollection of the shocking 2005 Kashmir quake that rendered the entire AJK region upside down, killing over 86,000, injuring thousands more and displacing millions. It also deeply affected survivors like me in more distant locations such as Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

We realized that day that the federal capital of the nation was just about at as much risk as any other place prone to natural disasters. But disasters such as these remind us of how valuable life is, and how everything dear to us could be lost in a fraction of a second.

I still recall that fateful morning that changed the lives of millions for the worse. I recall how I rushed to take cover under my dining table and saw how close we were to completely losing everything around us. It was the scariest 9 minutes you would ever go through, though I bet it was not the worst by any means, at least not for my family and friends. But we had no idea what was unfolding just more than a few hundred miles from my home.

I still recall the compassion of the world and how everyone flocked to help the troubled people of Azad Kashmir. I still recall those US Army Chinooks flying over my house almost every day for their search and rescue missions. I wonder how many lives they saved along with the Pakistani soldiers.

I also recall the hundreds of aftershocks, which proved more nerve wracking than the major tremor, and which forced me to sleep outside my house in the car for a night or two. It might sound ridiculous, but it was a traumatizing experience, though from a relatively very safe distance.

It dawned on many how fragile human life is and how vulnerable we are on this planet, even to those who were not affected as devastatingly as most families in Azad Kashmir.

I would not be surprised to learn that many families who lost their homes in the quake would still not have completely recovered, despite a decade passing since the tragic disaster occurred. What is even worse, some would still be searching for the loved ones they lost that day.

Natural disasters can ruin the lives of individuals and families beyond redemption, and only life remains to be the most precious gift at the end of the day. Because it could just have been anyone.

Nobody can possibly fight a 7.6 magnitude earthquake.

Let’s just hope we don’t have to do it again.

A version of the post was published in The Nation blogs.