Terror’s forgotten victims in Pakistan

Published: July 7, 2013
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The writer is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She tweets @MadihaAfzal

The writer is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She tweets @MadihaAfzal

That Pakistan is an unequal country, at least in terms of income, is not news. Income inequality, though by no means just a developing country phenomenon, is problematic in Pakistan given that it is coupled with high poverty. Pakistan also ranks badly in terms of inequality of opportunity, which means that similar opportunities or life chances, such as access to education, health care and justice, are not available to different segments of society. The poorest typically are the worst affected by inequality of opportunity, resulting in perpetuated poverty across generations. But on top of these inequities, Pakistan is now afflicted with a third: inequality of life security generated by terrorism.

Terrorists have struck Pakistan with an unequal hand over the last few years. The civilian targets tend to be the socially marginalised minorities, such as Shias, Hazaras, Ahmadis and the economically underprivileged, the residents of poor neighbourhoods in Karachi, Quetta, and Peshawar. The political targets tend to be brave politicians like Salmaan Taseer, Bashir Bilour and Shahbaz Bhatti, those who dared to say the right thing when no one else did. A third set of targets are security forces, guards and the armed forces, those who knowingly sign up for these most dangerous jobs to protect their fellow citizens. Female polio workers and schoolteachers in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and the tribal areas are yet another target: those who want Pakistan to progress despite fierce opposition in the areas where they work.

Do we honour the lives of these victims of terror in Pakistan? The media shows us their bloody and maimed bodies, but we almost never learn anything more. There are exceptions, including prominent politicians and the list given in this article, but by and large, we never learn more about those who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in Peshawar, the residents of Orangi killed in ethnic terrorism, the army officers killed in militant crossfire in Fata and thousands of other victims. This task is daunting, given the sheer number of victims to track. But the value of a human life also seems to have decreased in Pakistan and those living in relative security seem to have become desensitised to what is happening within their country.

Other than a few brave politicians, Pakistan’s privileged classes live in a bubble of conspicuous consumption and safety, their lives entirely removed from the destitution and horror faced by so many of their fellow citizens. This isolation is partly the result of an understandable coping mechanism. But a lack of identification with the victims, a sense of “that cannot happen to me” is also part of the story. It is almost as if the other side of the bridge in Karachi and Balochistan and K-P are part of a different country, one engaged in a long war, like an Iraq or Afghanistan. As a result, a second attack in Hazara town in Quetta becomes less significant and less shocking than the first, the attack on a girls’ school and a polio worker becomes something to be expected, and less fortunate Malalas forever remain faceless and forgotten.

Should we expect fortunate Pakistanis to stop going about their daily activities following each act of terror? No. That would be unrealistic, not to mention damaging for a country already suffering from low productivity. But I am calling for greater empathy from both ordinary unaffected citizens and the media, with the latter leading the way. Here is the minimum the media can do: tell us the names and ages of each terror victim and try to find and show a living picture of him or her, even if it takes days after any given attack to complete this formidable task. What will this accomplish? Once the public realises that the victims are from amongst them and were like them, that they were young children, innocent girls, happy lives cut short, this will generate deeper sympathy for the victims and turn public opinion against terrorists. But if Pakistan’s social and income classes remain alienated from each other, with the additional division generated by terror strikes, resentment will (rightly) increase against the privileged. Pakistan’s already deeply fractured society will become divided beyond repair and irrevocably broken. Let’s not let it get to that stage.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Ahmad
    Jul 7, 2013 - 7:43AM

    Pakistan’s society is already deeply fractured and the fault lines are not merely on the basis of economy but religious divide also fractures the society into divisions that will be beyond connection unifying.

    This is the only country in the world where citizens protect the king and not the country. Pakistan is a hear line away from becoming another Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Kashmir, Iraq and Palestine. Not to mention that we’ve already suffered 1971. The next time it will be the official end of the country known as Pakistan and history will record it as people who protected their kings and not their country.

    Pakistan is Islamic only on paper. The Brhamins are the tax evading dual national politicians and the kashtriyas is the army. While the Achut the untouchables are the common people of the country.

    Pakistan is game over. If Pakistanis believe that their nukes will safe guard their country, they dont have to look too far or too far back as former nuclear power USSR is a prime example.

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  • Ahmad
    Jul 7, 2013 - 7:46AM

    By the way whose the terrorist in pakistan? The tax evading politicians who steal from the masses or the illiterate Muslim priests who use religion for political gains. There are the bearded terrorists and then the cleans haven politicians terrorizing the misery stricken people of Pakistan.

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  • Murad Malik
    Jul 7, 2013 - 4:41PM

    A very thought provoking article. A must read for the ostrich-style social media and drawing room Che Guevara’s of our country. A class which is still under the hallucination that all will remain well because they never will be affected directly, so whats the use of speaking against terrorists. The resentment is already growing leaps and bounds against this bourgeoisie class, and if these elitist dont wake up soon, they would soon realize that there misplaced sense of security and invincibility in the towering walls of Bahria Town and D.H.A Colonies was a delusional dilemma.

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  • Ahmad
    Jul 7, 2013 - 8:52PM

    Pakistan was in denial in 1971 and since then its been in a state of constant denial giving in to demonized democracy run by corrupt so called viceroys. Going back to the East India Company……life isn’t very different for the people then and for people today. The common man continues to remain oppressed by the state and rich amongst them.

    Honesty is a far cry and we wont see anything happening soon in Pakistan, its going to take a revolution and one that Tahir Ul Qadri and Imran should have propelled forward with, when the time was and still is ripe.

    I dont see how the system of governance called democracy takes precedence over the protection of a country and its people from corrupt traitors ruling Pakistan.

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  • Parvez
    Jul 8, 2013 - 12:38AM

    Nicely written. You have called on the media to do its part and rightly so. The problem is that the media can at most raise an awareness, create a noise and be an embarrassment to those doing wrong but action has to be taken by the sitting government.
    The government can be equated to the firefighter but when the firefighter is also the arsonist ……..then putting the fire out becomes problematic.

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  • Ahmad
    Jul 8, 2013 - 7:54PM

    Media is like any other corporate industry it benefits from profits and gains. Its a wrong misconception that media is looking out for people’s welfare. Media is the tool of the rich and famous and politicians to control the society. When was the last time that any one saw a poor man being called to a talk show. You only see politicians come on talk shows.

    Wake up media isn’t going to fight for the country or the people. Media is not any one’s side. Media is on the side of its own profit and gains.

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