Plan A had been to write a piece on the Global Village presentations by a group of young people at a school in Islamabad. It was one of those slightly chaotic events that showed the youth of the nation in the best possible light. There was a glimpse of the future in those faces, and it was a view of sunny uplands. Plan A went in the bin soon after 6 pm on Monday last. Plan B is altogether darker.
These columns are snapshots of the life and times of an ordinary man living an ordinary life. Not much by way of drama, just a record of how it goes in a small city in south Punjab. There is also a sense that these words are in some way a national thermometer, a weekly taking-of-the-temperature and in recent times they have been a reflection of a lowering of the fever, the shivering ague that touches us all. A reduction of levels of anxiety, a feeling that yes, things might just be getting a little bit better.
All that went up in a red mist of blood, shredded bodies, the screams of the injured and the frantic casualty admission units of hospitals in Lahore. Appeals on Facebook and Twitter for blood donations. Hard on the heels of the Lahore bloodbath came the explosion in Quetta that killed two of the bravest of the brave — the bomb disposal officers (…a corps now joined for the first time by a woman) who put their lives literally on the line every time they approach a suspect package. You only hear about them when it goes wrong, you never learn about the many successful interventions they make, the untold and unknowable numbers of lives they have saved.
There are terrorists within. Men and women who will and do kill and maim the rest of us given the opportunity in pursuit of an assortment goals that all ultimately add up to the downfall of the state, and the imposition of whatever brand and flavour they think the law of the land ought to be.
Also among us, and in far greater numbers than the men and women that make and plant the IED’s, fashion the suicide belts and drive the cars and trucks that reduce humans to their component parts, a ragged bloody jigsaw the pieces of which will fit comfortably inside the average shopping bag — are those that support the terrorists. There are tens of thousands of these people. Possibly hundreds of thousands. People who sympathise with the murderers. People who give them shelter, provide cover in the form of jobs that allow target reconnaissance, people who would be happy to see the downfall of the state no less than those that press the button at their waist in the expectation of early entry to heaven.
Some have access to the airwaves and proselytise their vile agenda under the cloak of free speech and the right of expression. Others take to cyberspace, that anarchic world where anything goes and which defies regulation short of a complete ban, yet others join and support financially those organisations that are nominally banned yet hide in plain sight. None of this second tier, the support services that make terrorism viable, is remarkable. They, like me, are ordinary. That very ubiquity, the ordinariness that gives succor to the butchers in Lahore, is the very finest camouflage.
Thus when the Prime Minister talks as he did in the immediate aftermath of the Lahore atrocity about how…’the fight will continue until we can call ourselves a free and secure people. That is a promise’ — then I look askance around me. Who among the thousands I rub shoulders and share space with every day is one of those that would do me harm if they could? Would see my family crippled, blinded, blown apart so comprehensively there was nothing but fragments of bone and charred meat to bury? Have a look around yourself as you go about your daily business. Spot anything? I doubt it. It is not Valentine’s Day that is a threat to the state, it is the beast within. And it can come for you any time it wants.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2017.
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