And now, ladies and gentlemen, I am a Lashkar-e Jhangvi sympathiser! Beavis and Butthead be praised! Here goes:
It was somewhat prescient that I ended my broad-stroke 800-word -report on Balochistan with the line: “It has become a war of narratives and everyone persists with theirs, deepening the existing fault-lines.”
Since its publishing, the Deobandi Shia and other assorted internet detritus have gone to the extent of saying that I am ordering a hit on the besieged Hazara community by altering perceptions. Some have created mirth through the reference to the cake! Others have left lowly abusive comments on my public Facebook page.
Fault-lines indeed run deep. In most cases, anonymity, distance and 140-characters have created internet warriors who would not have survived the era of chivalry when men with chests (to reverse Fukuyama’s phrase) settled an insult with duelling.
The problem with this bunkum is a basic one. My article was not an analysis. It mentioned narratives on all sides. But reading the text carefully — or indeed anything — is not part of the agenda of this tribe. For instance, they would ignore the sentence in the third paragraph which read: “But wait. Take a look at another set of ‘facts’.” To ignore the phrase “another set of ‘facts’” with facts set off by inverted commas would either require stupidity of remarkable proportions or be a plain matter of malice. My assessment here is that this is the reverse of Hanlon’s Razor: “Never ascribe to stupidity that which can be adequately explained by malice”, thank you.
Ignored also was the fact that I was quoting Abdul Khaliq Hazara who I interviewed on record. He happens to be the chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party. There were many other notables who requested that they not be named. None of them was ‘justifying’ Hazara killings by LeJ terrorists. Equally, most were concerned about emerging hard-line sentiments within the community and repeatedly referred to a more active role by the Shia religious elements and Iran. If there are people out there who want to suppress this information, they must openly say so.
One bucking blogger has tried to tell me that the Iranian government invites many Pakistanis to Ayatollah Khomeini’s death anniversary including Barelvi and Deobandi Sunnis. No breaking news this unfortunately except that I was reporting within the context of the Hazara community based on information provided to me by Hazara elders regarding Iran’s growing interest in the Hazara.
And the cake!? Now this takes the cake. I was also surprised by the reference to it until I was told that cutting the cake was not the traditional Hazara way of celebrating Shab-e-Barat but a novelty. It was meant to, as I understand it, give me a sense of Iranian cultural influence. Again, the fact that this information is in a quote was deliberately ignored. Why? Because that would have taken away from the supposed counterargument against me! In fact the comments have corroborated assertions by my interlocutors in the Hazara community that now there’s a fault-line emerging within the community.
But the best part of this agenda-driven diatribe is the absolute lack of reference to what I wrote about LeJ and its terrorist leaders Usman Saifullah Kurd and Daud Badini. Let me reproduce the relevant paragraph here:
“Law enforcement officers corroborate the Iranian connection but are more squeamish about the LeJ terrorists. How did Usman Saifullah Kurd, the LeJ terrorist, manage to escape from a high-security ATF prison situated in Quetta cantonment? What about Daud Badini? One source alleges that the night Kurd escaped, some Hazara guards were relieved from duty and the roster changed. It is difficult to corroborate this story especially if the duty roster was indeed changed unless one could compare it with the original roster. It would be naive to think that would still exist. But the question remains: how did Kurd escape?”
Why is there no reference to this? Simple. This could not have been written by an LeJ sympathiser and I am to be presented as one! On the other side of the divide at least two readers focused on this and “objected” to my use of the term “terrorist” for LeJ while letting the Shia off! Some more Beavis and Butthead, perhaps?
This is not an attempt to explain my “position”. I have written enough about the menace of growing religiosity and sectarian fault-lines to bother about being branded. My emphasis on a secular, democratic, pluralistic Pakistan is the motif that runs through my writings spread over two decades. I also know that ideologues on all sides are past masters at ‘what-aboutery’. Their intention is never to engage. Engagement is an exercise in decency. They thrive on polemics and insult. My objective here is to put on record what they have tried to do and for the objective reader to decide for him/herself where people stand.
I write in the public domain. I take the risk of being critiqued, criticised, insulted and praised depending on how a reader is approaching what I write and what he/she would pick up and what ignore, all depending on what the agenda are — or, in more innocent cases, what the predilections are. This is an occupational hazard; one learns to live with it and also enjoy it.
Let me in this piece give my impressions of what I perceive is happening on the sectarian front.
The Hazara — many of them very dear friends — are a collection of decent, hardworking, law-abiding and loyal Pakistanis. For years they have been subjected to gratuitous sectarian terrorism. When the renowned boxer Syed Abrar Hussain Shah was killed, he was mourned not just by the Hazara but also by other ethnic groups. He was the kind of person this country needs, not people like Badini and Kurd who overtly pride themselves on their divisive sectarian agenda.
But over the years, this fault-line, like all fractures, runs the risk of action-reaction, not unusual when a state fails to protect a community. The reference to the killing of the Deobandi cleric was made to me by Hazara sources in that context. The sectarian war in this country has been fought on the basis of old denominational sub-literature with funding from external sources in the modern context of the attempt at regional dominance by state actors (for details read Khaled Ahmed’s Sectarian War: Pakistan’s Sunni-Shia Violence and its Links to the Middle East). We, through our emphasis on sacralising the state and running a certain kind of security policy, have become the battleground.
This is what creates the tragedy.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2011.