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I apologize, to the few who still follow this blog, for the lack of updates. For the most part, I have been preoccupied with work thanks to the gift that keeps on giving aka US-Pakistan relations. I realize that is no excuse, but in part, it is also because I am still adjusting to life in Washington, and at the risk of being brutally honest, one tries to fill their free time here with as many activities as possible, so as not to face being alone in an unfamiliar city.

In May, I went to Chicago to cover the first week of the Tahawwur Rana trial, and discovered how the city can rapidly change in terms of weather, and one must always be well-prepared. No, seriously, you try braving the cold [read: rain, fog and winds at the same time] of Chicago clad in one measly sweater as protection.

But, coming back to the Rana trial, a man accused of helping David Headley [who's confessed to his role in the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai], and providing material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, and then helping in the plot to attack Jyllands-Posten, the Denmark newspaper that had published the cartoons that led to protests, deadly riots, deaths, a ban on Danish products [remember that folks?] and more.

While Tahawwur has been found guilty on two of three counts, it was fascinating watching David Headley. I’m still not sure if Headley is a victim of his own neuroses – where he believed that by joining Lashkar-e-Taiba and then dealing with men associated [or retired] from the ISI, he felt he was doing the right thing, or if it was a case of trying to pretend like he was a big shot in this dirty game that is called the India-Pakistan war. There are many reasons for why people turn to extremism – poverty, circumstances, hatred. But for so many, many people, the conflicts in Pakistan dating back to decades now, have allowed those searching for any kind of identity, ideology, a direction, to be influenced by whoever screamed the loudest, or talked in a manner smoother than whipped cream. What Headley’s reasons were is something we’ll probably never know. But the core problems that have riddled our state don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, no matter how much we sweep it under the carpet. The problem is that no one seems to want to talk about it. Instead, terms are tossed around [also particular favourites of the Pakistan Army's] like “national identity” and “national interest,” which have been abused so often that one doesn’t even know how to reclaim these terms back.

Coming back to Washington, not one week passes by where Pakistan isn’t in the news. Somedays, it is more of the same: debates on aid, conditions or no conditions. Then, there is the news that makes you want to rip your hair out – the ISI allegedly telling militants about hideouts, Senators saying that Pakistan hasn’t fulfilled aid requirements ergo they can’t release any money, signifying that a desire to not be transparent is more important than allowing aid projects to be green lit. There is the ludicrous, which I’ve mentioned before: a Senator referring to people from Pakistan as “Pakistanians”. And then, there is the news from back home that breaks one’s heart – the daily incidents of terrorism, the reluctance of the military to cede control over anything, the utter failure of the civilian government to question, or at least attempt to question the military on anything and everything. I haven’t been away from Pakistan that long and I will never write a “The Pakistan I Knew” blog post, but judging by the way things are going, I am anything but optimistic about this country’s future. As I remarked to someone the other day, ab tau yeh lagta hai ke Allah Mian ne bhi iss mulk se apna haath utha liya hai.

Eight days ago, Salmaan Taseer was shot dead.

Eight days later, Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin, is being hailed as a hero and speeches lauding Qadri are being publicly made. Threats are hurled at anyone who condemns the blasphemy laws. Sections of the Urdu press find ways to explain how Taseer brought this upon himself. The Pakistan People’s Party co-chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari may have condemned the public wave of support for Qadri, but it does not change anything. The Prime Minister has announced that the blasphemy laws will not be changed. And Aasia Bibi, the woman who’s languishing in jail? She’s still there, waiting for her appeal proceedings, while back in her village, her neighbours question, “Why hasn’t she been killed yet?”

Then, this pops up in the old city of Lahore (via @Mahraani):

Translation: We salute Mumtaz Qadri, the lover of the Prophet.

There is no escaping this fact: this is the country that we live in. As Feisal Naqvi put it in his op-ed yesterday:

“I do not want to live in a country where people can be executed for blasphemy. But I only get to choose my opinions. I do not get to choose my own facts. And the fact is that the people of Pakistan really want to execute people who they think have committed blasphemy. I can either accept that fact or I can seek to change it. But to act as if that fact does not exist is not sensible.”

As a Pakistani, I’ve never felt so defeated in my life. I really did believe in the resilience of this nation, how we got up, picked up the pieces and moved on. I thought I’d heard of and seen enough terrible things in the country, but I wake up every morning now, read the news, and lose my appetite. I don’t want to leave, but I do want to hide under the duvet and hope that when I finally resurface, it will somehow be a better morning. For now, as Faiz Ahmed Faiz put it, “yeh dagh dagh ujala, yeh shab-gazida sehar/woh intezar tha jis ka, yeh woh sehar tau nahi.”

This is Pakistan, reporting from the abyss it has just been pushed into.

Taseer’s assassination; even though assassination is too mild a word to describe it, the correct term should be cold-blooded murder at the hands of a Pakistani who has grown up and is continuously spoon-fed state and the right-wing religious lobby’s propaganda about Islam, blasphemy and secularism, is not the beginning of the end. This is the end. There is no going back from here, there is no miracle cure, there is no magic wand that will one day make everything better. Saying “enough is enough” does not cut it anymore, I think we can all agree that enough was enough ages ago, when the first murder under the garb of protecting Islam took place. With each bullet that deranged gunman pumped into Taseer’s body, with each person celebrating Taseer’s murder, with each person who has approved or justified his death on national TV, with each politician who promised that they would not change the law or allow it to be changed, the rape of humanity has been carried out, repeatedly.

Let me reiterate this: the Blasphemy Laws, in the form and shape that they are in today, are used as a tool for murder. For over 20 years, this law has led to the deaths of scores of people. Thousands have been persecuted under this law. Saying that does not make you any less of a Muslim, nor does it mean that you are insulting Islam.

But of course, as Ahsan at Five Rupees just pointed out : “Plenty of media personnel and right-wing politicians in this country contributed to this with their constant “wajib-ul-qatl” refrain, not to mention equating support for blasphemy laws to support for Islam. All of them could technically be dealt with as inciters to violence (illegal in our country, and basically every other one out there) but they won’t. You get to say and do whatever you want, act with as much impunity as you want — as long as you have God on your side.”

I’ll add to this – with every PPP politician who placated the religious right-wing and their former ally JUI-F that the Blasphemy Laws would not be amended: you have Taseer’s blood on your hands. Live with that.

I’d like to believe that Taseer’s death wasn’t in vain, that one day we will live in a country free of religious bigotry and incitement to murder, Blasphemy Laws and a right-wing that we’re held hostage to, but at this point, I think there’s a pool of blood at Kohsar Market that resembles the fate of those who would like to cherish this hope.

RIP Governor.

Help! I saw Maula Jutt, and now I’m a bloodthirsty monster, waiting for a member of a minority religion in Pakistan so I can kill them, Sialkot mob-style.

Or at least, that’s what George Fulton thinks all Pakistanis do.

George Fulton: Don’t act surprised

“Oh, the shock! Oh, the disgust! Oh, the outrage over the barbaric killings in Sialkot! The media, the blogosphere, facebookers have been going into hyperactive overdrive to out condemn one another over the senseless killings of the two teenage boys.”

Yes, sarcasm really does help in this case. How DARE the Pakistani media and public express their anger. And on Facebook too?! Seriously, I’ve left Facebook, so someone tell me, when did it change from its customary role to being a place to cyberstalk your ex-es and their new partners to a place to express an opinion? Mr. Fulton is not happy, please Facebookers, go back to changing your status twenty times a day so that we know what you’re doing, NOT what you’re feeling.

Some have frothed with self-righteous anger, some have put the blame on poverty and illiteracy (a self-serving defence that ignores the violent solutions advocated in many a swanky drawing room discussion), some on the breakdown of the social contract between the state and the individual.

Self-righteous anger. Again, Mr. Fulton does not like anger. Please Pakistanis, go back to your false sense of calm.

Poverty and illiteracy. Oh, so those can’t be some of the reasons? Wait, it was Darth Vader that brainwashed the culprits of the Sialkot murders right? RIGHT?

What violent solutions? I’m confused, the writer doesn’t mention them. Also, Mr. Fulton, as Baba Bulleh Shah rightly suggested on Twitter, “Jay thainu “drawing room” nahin pasand, tu baar baar kyoon varda rainda hai?”

But all seem shocked by the barbarity on display. But why are we surprised? Why the denial? Hasn’t it always been thus?

This is precisely where Mr. Fulton made his Serious Mistake#1. Dear op-ed columnist, Just because you are surprised, please don’t lump the 170 million people that live in this country in that same lot of “surprised” people. And no, it wasn’t always this way, or at least I am grossly unaware of daily lynchings amongst crowds of people that have taken place in Pakistan since 1947.

We are, and have always been, a barbaric, degenerate nation revelling in bloodlust.

This is where my brain exploded. Yes, there are massive problems in this country, which include horrific crimes, even barbaric. But to again lump the entire country in your “we” – I say, let’s book us all under murder charges, and give us the death penalty, including you Mr. Fulton. And pray tell, when has the ENTIRE nation revelled in bloodlust? I want all 170 million Pakistanis accounted for, raising their hands in a “hell ya” when revelling in bloodlust. Video evidence will suffice.

Our nation was forged during a bloody partition — in which up to one million people were massacred. One just has to read eyewitness accounts of the riots, the train butchery, the brutal rapes and slaughter of that period to get a feel of the heady, almost orgasmic, delight that the perpetrators of these crimes revelled in as the nation was born.

Yes, Partition was bloody. But that one million figure includes people from both sides of the border. Also, were the perpetrators all Pakistani? Good grief, why have numerous books I’ve read on Partition failed to mention this fact!? Mr. Fulton, thank you for letting me know. Now I’ll never look at my grandmother the same way again.

The lynching itself is nothing new. Read any report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and you will see that this is a fairly regular occurrence. Christians, Hindus, homosexuals, suspected paedophiles and robbers have been killed at the hands of mob justice.

Yes, these incidents have taken place. And the police has also stood by and let it happen in some cases. Nice how you would rather blame Pakistanis for it than mention the state’s failure in protecting the citizens. But wait, according to Mr. Fulton, ALL Pakistanis have been killing people since Partition. Chalein jee, back to the start.

And what about Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir? Were they not just killed by a more sophisticated form of mob justice?

These two questions are so absurd I think I’m going to pass on trying to attempt to answer this.

Our culture celebrates barbarity and vengeance.

Mr. Fulton, I don’t know what your understanding of culture is. To me, its Sufism, qawwalis, the resilience of Pakistanis, Basant and a plate of nihari. I do get pretty vengeful when someone eats the leftover nihari though, so maybe that’s what you were referring to.

But wait, Mr. Fulton has an explanation! The day has been saved. Behold!

Is the Sialkot killing that shocking when you consider the macho culture of the Punjab? Maula Jatt, Punjab cinema’s most famous film, is a three-hour advertorial for vigilante justice. The film celebrates revenge, honour killing and violence. It is entertainment for severely warped minds. One scene has our hero, Maula Jatt, axing off a leg and an arm and then catching the severed limb as it flew through the air in his bare hands! Another has Maula’s axe ripping open a man’s guts to have the intestines fly out spectacularly. This is what passes for entertainment in our land. So don’t act surprised when the red mist from a teenage boy’s head appears on your TV screens.

So Maula Jutt is responsible for the Sialkot murders. Why stop there Mr. Fulton – why can’t Maula Jutt be responsible for everything evil and sinister in this country? In fact, I’m convinced that in Taliban training camps, they show the film on a 24/7 loop to brainwash prospective suicide bombers. Similarly, I’m sure Silsila is responsible for the high rate of divorces in India, and all Hollywood films with scenes of violence are responsible for all criminal activities that take place in the US. Wait, did you hear this explanation in a swanky drawing room? Good lord, have the elites seen Maula Jutt?! What is the world coming to?!

Barbarity and sadism are ever present in our society. We are a nation where politicians like Senator Sardar Israrullah Zehri can openly condone the burying of women alive by declaring it part of his culture.

Sardar Israrullah Zehri’s statement has been torn apart to pieces by people from all over the country. Its the PPP’s fault for not having kicked him out of the party, not “the nation’s”. I think the nation did enough to protest against Zehri’s barbarism in their limited capacity.

Our religious discourse often celebrates the brutality and violence of medieval Arabia. We are a nation that laps up the bile of ‘Dr’ Aamir Liaquat as he describes Ahmadis as wajab-ul-qatal (punishable by death). And we are a nation which collectively stands watching — like the mob in Sialkot — as those very same Ahmadis are massacred by gunmen.

Yes, many members of the nation are anti-Ahmadi. This has a fair amount to do with how politicians and the religious parties have spewed anti-Ahmadi venom over the years, changed educational curriculum to reflect their hatred and have implemented legislation that has made anti-Ahmadi steps a permanent part of the law. You cannot reverse years of brainwashing in a day. But I’ll give you this: our failing is not that we stood by and watched it happen, our failing is that we haven’t campaigned strongly enough against it, or that those of us who do vote, have voted in the same leaders who haven’t changed anti-ahmadi laws. But Mr. Fulton, many of us are trying, and “we” are not amused at you grouping us amongst people who are committed to a life of persecuting members of other sects of religions. By this definition, we should also label all of the United States as anti-Muslim because a few are against the Ground Zero mosque.

A friend of a friend recently announced that he would be off to Sialkot with a bunch of tough friends to avenge the murder of the boys, unaware of the irony of what he was suggesting. He was planning to commit murder and administer vigilante justice to the very same people who had committed murder and administered their form of vigilante justice. And so the cycle goes on.

May I suggest you get some new friends of friends?

So don’t act surprised. The Sialkot murders are as Pakistani as truck art, biryani and loadshedding.

I say, when did Mr. Fulton become an expert on all things Pakistani? Oh wait, eight years or so of living here and being in a reality TV show, working as a talk show host and writing columns like the one cited here are good enough I suppose, one can become a self-proclaimed expert on culture, Maula Jutt and Pakistanis revelling in bloodletting. And loadshedding is not a “Pakistani” phenomenon, other developing countries do have electricity breakdowns.

This has always been an ugly reality of Pakistan and always will be.

Well, since you’ve by now labelled all Pakistanis as Maula Jutt-inspired murderers, there’s really nothing left to say.

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a misnomer.

Y’know, that’s possibly the only true thing you’ve said. Just that.

Pakistan has never been a pure, peaceful Islamic state. And it never will be. Rather than drawing inspiration from the Holy Quran, our nation models itself on another book — a book in which children become savages. Pakistan is not the land of the pure — we are Lord of the Flies.

And Mr. Fulton saves the best of his racism for the end. Pakistan is a country of savages. For example, Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi, Dr. Adeeb Rizvi, etc – their philanthropic work is clearly a front for their “savage” activities. It was wonderful, really, to discover that you think that all Pakistanis are savages.

And here’s your moment of Zen. Please watch from 1:50

I have had my heart broken, day by day, over the last few weeks as floods have ravaged Pakistan. Most of the places I have had the privilege to visit over the last few years are now under water, or have suffered severe losses, both of life and livelihood. Dera Allah Yar, South Punjab, the KKH – these are not just dots on the map for me (covered now in shades of blue if one looks at the satellite images) – and nothing will ever be the same again. For more information on how to donate, please head over to Chapati Mystery or Changing Up Pakistan.

But the heartbreak is nothing compared to the rage and disgust I felt this morning, when I read this report in the Express Tribune:

“The government and local clerics refused to shelter around 500 flood-affected families belonging to the Ahmadiya community in South Punjab’s relief camps. Not only that, the government also did not send relief goods to the flood-hit areas belonging to the Ahmadiya community, The Express Tribune has learnt during a visit to the devastated Punjab districts of Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur.”

If it’s not bad enough that the government’s response for providing relief to the flood victims has been anything but remarkable, the President thought a trip to his chateau was more important as the floods hit the country or that fake IDP camps are being set up for the benefit of duping the Prime Minister and the media, let’s throw in some more state-sponsored religious persecution. Sigh – I would write more, but am at a loss for words as I decide whether to scream with rage or cry in frustration.

Since yesterday, I am not just furious, but burning with shame. I should have, as a citizen of the country, refused to sign that National ID Card form which makes me pass judgment on someone else’s faith. I should have asked the Government much, much earlier why they made us complicit in the crime of persecution. I should have, also, immediately resigned from my job after an anchor on the television station I work announced that Ahmadis should be killed and no action was taken against the anchor by the management of the TV station. As a reporter, I should have asked politicians and government functionaries more often why they weren’t working towards repealing the Blasphemy Act and other ordinances that have led to the persecution of Ahmadis. I failed, and as Tazeen points out on her blog, we all have blood on our hands. We can blame the Taliban, the Government of Punjab, Maudoodi, Bhutto, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and Zia, but first, we must also blame ourselves for allowing yesterday’s events to take place. No matter how hard we apologize, it will not change or alter what happened yesterday, and what could easily happen tomorrow if the current state of events don’t change.

The rest, I will let Faiz Ahmed Faiz say:

“yeh dagh dagh ujala, yeh shab-gazida sehar
woh intezar tha jis ka, yeh woh sahar tau nahi
yeh woh sahar tau nahin, jis ki arzoo lekar
chale thay yaar ke mil jayegi kahin na kahin

falak ke dasht mein taron ki akhri manzil
kahin tau hoga shab-e-sust mauj ka sahil
kahin tau jaa ke rukega safina-e-gham-e-dil

jawaan lahu ki pur asrar shahrahon pe
chale jo yaar tau daman pe kitne hath parhay
diyar-e-husn ki besabr khwabgahon se
pukarti rahin baahein, badan bulate rahe
bahut aziz thi lekin rukh-e-sahar ki lagan

bahut qarin tha hasinan-e-nur ka daman
subuk subuk thi tamanna, dabi dabi thi thakan
suna hai ho bhi chuka hai firaq-e-zulmat o noor
suna hai ho bhi chuka hai visal-e-manzil o gam

badal chuka hai bahut ahl-e-dard ka dastoor
nishat-e-vasl halal o azab-e-hijr haram

jigar ki aag, nazar ki umang, dil ki jalan
kisi pe chara-e-hijran ka kuch asar hi nahin

kahan se ayi nigar-e-saba, kidhar ko gayi?
abhi charagh-e-sar-e-rah ko kuch khabar hi nahi
abhi girani-e-shab mein kami nahi ayi
najat-e-dida-o-dil ki garhi nahi ayi
chale chalo, ke woh manzil abhi nahi ayi”

P.S: While much has been said about the government’s role in yesterday’s events, Samaa TV reported this morning that not a single politician or government functionary attended the funerals of those who were killed yesterday. To them, I ask this: would it have been a sin to have at least attended the funerals and showed your support to the community? Lest we forget, the only fault of those who died was that they believed in a faith that was different from yours.

Recommended blog posts about yesterday’s events:

Kala Kawa: Hanging my head in shame.
Chapati Mystery: We Are All Ahmadi
CHUP! – Changing Up Pakistan: Targeting the Ahmadis
The Sister: About today/Main Baghi Hoon

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