Islamabad is the safest city in Pakistan? Not today...
I was tying my shoe laces, getting ready to go for a walk when the number of my children’s school flashed on my screen. My heart always flutters a little when I see this number on my phone and this time was no exception.
“Maybe you should pick your kids from school early today,” said the coordinator.
“Umm why,” I thought, running through a mental check list in my mind and wondering if I had forgotten a costume or an art supply or something at home.
“You know, because of the shut down,” she added helpfully.
I had been too busy working to switch on the television and had only now seen the dozens of messages on my phone.
I switched on the TV as I said good bye to the school, and saw headlines about the shut down at the katcheri (lower/district court).
The shooting at the judge.
The killing of 11 people.
The sense of disbelief on the faces of the bystanders.
For a few minutes, I couldn’t move. I stared at the TV screen – at the stretchers leaving the katcheri. At the fear on the faces of those who had narrowly escaped the bullets.
We had moved to Islamabad from Karachi partly because of the insecurity in the latter. I was getting emotionally exhausted getting calls from schools asking me to pick up the children earlier than usual. Their after-school activities were sometimes delayed, at other times postponed due to a shooting/strike/disorder.
I often felt that I was operating my businesses on a war footing.
Strikes. Firings. Booking bridal makeup appointments while there was open fire right outside the salon doors. Arranging events whilst shops were being shut down by political parties. Trying to understand why, on an incredibly busy day, half your staff was unable to come to work.
Finally, it just became too much for us. All of it.
And so when an opportunity arose to shift to Islamabad, we ran. For the last one year, it has been bliss.
The children go to school and come back on time. Working hours continue uninterrupted. Plans are made and actually adhered to. Though we still have a security guard accompanying the children everywhere, it’s more of an old habit holding strong scenario rather than an actual need for such precautions.
But today, it all changed!
Gun shots so loud my friends living in F 8/3 heard them clearly. Unexpected deaths just when the day was starting off. A complete shutdown of the area, which is easily the heart of Islamabad.
My feeling of security went haywire. The blanket I had pulled around myself, the false sense of safety I had developed in my world. This is where the terrorists won. By making me scared.
I came home and cancelled a tea I had planned for close friends. I thought of postponing a play date later in the week. I wondered if the children should stay home for the rest of the week. I told them sternly no when they asked if they could go to the park.
“Why?” Keyaan wanted to know.
I had no answer.
I put down my head on the desk and wept.
I had never felt like this in Karachi. There insecurity, threats, bombings, shootings, killings are a norm.
But in Islamabad, none of this is supposed to happen.
I boast to my friends about how safe the capital has become. Even when there was a curfew in Pindi, Isloo stayed safe. When there were strikes in Karachi, Isloo was secure. When there were protests in Lahore, Isloo was fine.
Today the terrorists won because today whilst living in Islamabad, I felt scared.
Scared enough to lock my children in the house. Scared enough to cancel a chai.
Wondering about school for tomorrow.
Today the terrorists have won because they have made those who live in the safest city in the country feel scared.
The deaths will be mourned and probably forgotten. But the fear is here to stay.
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