Karachi embraced Ibtihaj with love and support but will you do the same, Bilawal Bhutto?
On the morning of January 27, 2014, I was looking up air tickets to fly to Quetta to meet the victims of the Mastung blast. None of my friends or family members were excited about this proposition.
Much to their relief, eight of the victims were shifted to the Agha Khan Univeristy Hospital (AKUH) at Karachi the same afternoon. I met 11-year-old Ibtihaj along with a few of my friends that same evening. He was a little overwhelmed, being suddenly surrounded by so many strange faces. A large number of the visitors were of the Hazara community members based in Karachi.
Later that day, I also met other victims whose names most have not heard and whose faces most have not seen on social or television media – and hence they haven’t received due attention.
There is 20-year-old Mehrin who still does not know that she, like Ibtihaj, has lost her mother and sister in the blast.
There is Zakir, who has lost one leg but not the will to walk again.
There is Saadat, who was once a professional bodybuilder but is now paralysed from the waist below.
There is Mujtaba, who has severe injuries in both his legs but a huge smile on his face, knowing that he would only know the full extent of his recovery once he is able to stand again on his feet.
Zakir, Saadat and Mujtaba are of humble means and the providers of their families.
As days progressed, my friendship with Ibtihaj and Mehrin grew. It was easy befriending them because, given that they do not have knowledge of the deaths in their family, one can talk only about happy things in life with them. You can engage them with topics like sports, music, animals (Mehrin is doing her BS in Zoology) and Facebook.
Some of the conversations do not go down well; for example when Ibtihaj tells you his favourite singer is Justin Beiber and then, looking at the shock on your face, innocently offers Bruno Mars as an acceptable alternate.
However, it is always difficult making conversation with Zakir, Mujtaba and Saadat. The talks would mostly circle around us exchanging prayers. Mujtaba and Saadat do light up when you ask them about their respective daughters, Rida Zehra and Tabassum. They miss them the most.
What made me go there every day, and still makes me stay in touch with them, is perhaps the thought that Ibtihaj and Mehrin need to be much stronger in the days to come. When these kids find out about the deaths in their family, they would need to find comfort in knowing that they have gained thousands of family members all over Pakistan.
I say thousands because, after all, I am not the only one visiting them. Every day when I used to arrive at AKUH, there would be people waiting outside the wards with gifts and cards for Ibtihaj, and some would also be there to meet Mehrin. I myself am either accompanied by a different friend every day, or at times even a stranger co-ordinates with me and comes along and I am almost always carrying a bagful of gifts for Ibtihaj from people I have never even met. I cannot count the endless messages of prayers I have received, which I have conveyed to him every day.
Ibtihaj’s cabinet is filled with toy aero planes, as people found out he is an aspiring pilot. A senior officer of the Pakistan Air Force made a personal visit to share his flying experience and guide Ibtihaj better on his career dreams.
There are also those regular ones, who I believe have made even better friends with our Mastung heroes then I have. A group of young friends – Shagufta, Zain, Anas, Afreen, Shumail, Sheema and Hur – make it a point to coordinate amongst themselves, and ensure that at least some of them – if not all – visit the victims daily. They have even followed up on Mehrin’s recovery post her getting discharged from the AKUH.
Last night, when I took Ibtihaj out for dinner to Sattar Buksh, for him to finally enjoy the lighter side of Karachi, someone else ended up playing the host. When the time came to pay the bill I found out the restaurant had already taken care of it. All these little gestures need to be acknowledged, as all these gestures let our Mastung heroes know that Pakistanis are filled with love.
To quote Ibtihaj’s father, Muhammad Jawad Hazara,
“Karachi anay say pehlay mujhay laga shayad is mulq main insaniat bhi mar gayi hai, magar Karachi aa kar laga kay hakumat kharab hai magar insaan buhat achay hain yahan.”
(Before I came to Karachi, I believed that humanity was dead in this country. However, after coming to Karachi, I have realised that the government might be corrupt, but the people are very nice here.)
But one cannot just dismiss the ongoing crisis of terrorism by saying the government is bad and forget about it. Here, it is important for me to acknowledge the effort made my Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Bilawal had been trying to meet Ibtihaj since the day he arrived in Karachi but Ibtihaj’s father, for security reasons, had asked Bilawal not to visit AKUH.
Musa Gillani, son of Yousaf Raza Gillani, also visited AKUH in my presence greeting Ibtihaj on his father’s and Bilawal’s behalf. Once Ibtihaj was discharged, Bilawal invited him to the Bilawal House. To the best of my knowledge, and what has been communicated to me by Ibtihaj’s father, no other senior member of any other political party has reached out to any of the victims in Karachi.
However, Bilawal meeting Ibtihaj and his father is not important.
What is important is what they talked about.
Bilawal was flanked by Sherry Rehman and Sharmila Farouqi when he met Ibtihaj. For a little over an hour, Bilawal sat quietly and Ibtihaj’s father told the horrific tale of what life has become for Hazaras in Quetta. Every single detail and fact was put in front of him.
Apparently Bilawal, to the amazement of Ibtihaj’s father, only learnt yesterday that when Hazaras were being butchered in a similar fashion under Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) tenure a year ago, PPP’s Nawab Aslam Raisani – who was the chief minister for Balochistan – responded by saying that he will send two trucks of tissue paper for the families of the victims. It is indeed saddening to know that the co-chairman of the party was so oblivious of the disgusting actions of his senior party member, let alone someone who was serving as chief minister.
Jawad’s narration reduced Bilawal and Sherry Rehman to tears on more than one occasion. They appear to have felt the pain. Sherry Rehman even drew parallels between Bilawal and Ibtihaj, given how both lost their mothers to violence.
What now remains to be seen is, after knowing all facts and not having the excuse of ignorance anymore, how Bilawal will react. The Independent recently dubbed him the leader of the anti-Taliban movement in Pakistan. Well, now is the time to exhibit leadership.
To start off, it would be wise for the PPP to question the Balochistan government and the Federal government about why they didn’t take care of the treatment of the victims in Karachi.
Why was there a need for an NGO, Jafferia Disaster Cell, to rise up to the occasion and fund the entire treatment of the Mastung victims at AKUH?
The PPP should also look into what is being done for the rehabilitation of these victims. Last but not the least, the PPP or rather Bilawal, out of the empathy he might feel, having lost his own mother at the hands of terrorist outfits, should rise and be the champion he aspires to be. He should make every Hazara feel that they are not alone. He can achieve better by standing with them on Alamdar Road in Quetta, not by sitting behind the tall walls of Bilawal House.
Whether Bilawal rises to the occasion or not, in any case, the people, the awam or at least those putting humanity before race, religion and creed, are and will always be there to ensure that our people do not lose faith in humanity.