Monday, February 15, 2010, Safar 30, 1431 A.H   ISSN 1563-9479
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 Deciding our destiny
Friday, March 06, 2009
Ayesha Ijaz Khan

As I, like several other compatriots, lament the terrible tragedy that befell a gracious Sri Lankan cricket team who agreed to tour Pakistan when no other team would, I cannot help but wonder about the heartless reaction of the international community. Where is the sympathy?

Any other terrorist attack in the world today elicits an outpouring of condolences and heartfelt wishes from world leaders and commentators alike, but in Pakistan's case, there is no hint of compassion in foreign newspapers. No acknowledgment that the policemen who lay down their lives for the protection of our guests are as honourable as the fire fighters of 9/11. No empathy for the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis who have condemned the incident without reservation and will now fear for their own security even in the most mundane of tasks, like shopping at Lahore's Liberty Market.

I cannot help but remember another tragic incident related to cricket in fact. When Bob Woolmer died unexpectedly in Jamaica in March 2007, I do not recall the international community admonishing the West Indies as it is wont to do in the case of Pakistan. Surely, that was an equally astonishing security breach, but the entire nation was not maligned in the wake of a heinous death. In fact, then too, if I recall correctly, it was the Pakistani players who had become the subjects of unwarranted suspicion. While it is true that dangerous incidents have begun to occur in Pakistan with amazing alacrity, it is also true that no country and no sport is immune from criminal and terrorist designs.

Instead of standing together in each other's hour of grief, all the international community has offered Pakistan however is rebuke and reproach. This is not to say that Pakistan is not to blame for many of its failings. But, in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist action that transcends religion, race and nationality, there must be an indiscriminate show of empathy, without regard to who may have perpetrated the attacks.

Personally, I vacillate between the two possibilities that are being debated in Pakistan. On the one hand, India has always had a desire to isolate Pakistan; to convince the world that it has been a failed experiment. Just as there are elements in Pakistan who may be obsessed with India, defining Pakistan only in terms of its separateness from its Hindu neighbour to the east, so too, in India, there are elements that are equally obsessed with Pakistan, not entirely at ease with the idea of a homeland for Muslims carved out of mother India.

This fixation is surprisingly often manifested in casual conversations with Indian acquaintances. "Why doesn't Pakistan merge back with India?" is frequently the question posed by our friends across the border.

"Maybe we just don't like you enough," is perhaps the best response I heard from a Pakistani. It is curious how many Indians think that they were duped into separation from us and that the only vindication would be in portraying Pakistan as unable to manage its own affairs.

And thus Pakistanis are not completely out of line if they have concerns about India's hegemonic designs and regional threats to their existence. In recent months, these threats have amplified. Yet, equally dangerous, if not more so, is the enemy within. Regrettable as it is, it would not be unfair to say that extremism has permeated our society and over the past many decades there has been a systematic transfer of power from the secular segments of society to those claiming to pose as Islamists.

There is too much tolerance for religious posers, and precious little for dissent in secular terms. This is exhibited across the board. The biggest culprits of course have been successive governments, willing to make peace deals with those who threaten the very fabric of our legal and value structure, yet unwilling to accommodate political dissent or civil society activism based on globally-accepted human values.

But the trouble is also evident among large segments of our society at large. Those who hide behind the cloak of religiosity are rarely questioned about their motives or their actions. Even ten years ago, before the menace of Talibanization crept upon us so forcefully, a policeman, for instance, was far more likely to fine a clean-shaven driver as opposed to a bearded one.

I find it ridiculous, for example, when some analysts ask what the extremists would gain by targeting the Sri Lankans and thus further isolating Pakistan. What do they gain by burning girls' schools? What do they gain by mutilating dead bodies? What do they gain by attacking concerts? Isn't it just the spread of panic and fear that they are after? Have they been emboldened further by the deal in Swat?

Unkind and callous as the international community has been to Pakistan in its time of tragedy and accepting that we must be vigilant of extraneous threats from "foreign hands", Pakistanis can nevertheless not afford to overlook the very serious home-grown hazard that challenges our survival as a nation.

I do not appreciate doom and gloom scenarios on Pakistan and thus believe optimistically that Pakistan has amazing resilience and the capacity to weather many storms, but we as a nation need to do some serious thinking. In this trying time, we must continue to hold our heads up high, ignore what is written abroad only to slander our country, but take very seriously the concerns and fears of our own citizens and threats posed by dangerous groups given a free rein to operate under the guise of religion.

The Pakistani state has done little to help out its people in the past, but "non-state actors like Abdul Sattar Edhi provide emergency health services, orphanages and shelters for sick animals," as Mohammed Hanif very aptly said in his piece, "Ten Myths About Pakistan" published in Times of India. Perhaps the time has come for other non-state actors and civil society activists to come together and form neighbourhood watch groups to prevent potential violence and for the media to actively encourage youth-friendly discussions with a view to promote more realistic and peaceful interpretations of our religion that are compatible with life and not fixated on death and destruction.

The writer is a London-based lawyer turned political commentator. Website:

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