The sight that always hits me hardest after a murderous bombing attack by terrorists such as the one in the vegetable and fruit market in Islamabad on April 9, is the old and tattered plastic chappals strewn about among the blood and gore, showing like nothing else that most of those killed and horribly maimed in such wanton attacks are the poorest of the poor trying to eke out a living.
A van driver from my village of Wah who goes into the market every dawn to bring fruits and vegetables to the village shops told me that he was barely 50 yards from the blast and had seen small children from the nearby slums scavenging discarded vegetables at the time that the bomb went off. God alone knows how many of the poor little things were just blown away; evaporated so to say, into thin air. Damn whoever did this; the banned United Baloch Army as claimed, or any other terrorist outfit.
The terrified young man was still shaking with dread, 12 hours after the blast, as he described how body parts flew in all directions, raining down on terrified people who had been spared. One has to ask again and again if the people who kill and maim the poor and the innocent who have nothing whatever to do with the affairs of state and government are human beings at all? Damn their eyes, I say.
And now to the storm in the Pakistani teacup as whipped up by our various TV channels on the evening of that same day. Whilst some of our anchors stir up frenzy on some matter or the other every single evening, this particular “storm” (on a TV channel out of Lahore) had to do with my junior schoolmate, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif’s speech to the National Assembly in June 2006, fully EIGHT years ago! I ask you!
You might ask, dear reader, why I am writing in such detail about this one matter. Simple: this country has had enough of mischief-making, the horrific results of which we have repeatedly seen. Enough, I say.
Now then, while the anchor did say it was an old clip in his introduction (I apologise as promised on Twitter last night), he did not give the date or year when the speech was made. Neither was the date given in bold letters at the top of the picture which makes clear to the viewer exactly when the speech was made. To compound matters, and to make that storm-in-the-teacup even stronger, he had the temerity to say this was Asif’s “Sadabahar muaqif” (evergreen belief/stand/position) as if he had asked him just that day and he had said it was still so.
The clip had to do with a speech in which Asif had criticised the Napoleons who had carried out the 1999 coup against Nawaz Sharif’s government; those who had first jailed and then exiled his leader and his entire family including aged parents and children; those who had even jailed and humiliated Asif himself in trumped-up cases. He was dragged from house arrest to police stations to Chamba House to Attock Fort where he was lodged in a six feet by four cell complete with a steel door. When his wife and little daughters used to be allowed to visit him he was presented before them in handcuffs. This was a seven-time elected member of the National Assembly and former federal minister, please note. So, it was as an affectee of the high-handedness and the cruelty of a coterie of officers around the Commando that Asif made that speech.
Let’s be fair and get the context right. Even about the much-hyped statement issued after the Corps Commanders’ conference on the same day that the EIGHT-year old speech was constantly being shown on some channels as if a mutiny was brewing. Indeed, this newspaper of record has responsibly quoted the press release. But leave it to some raucous TV channels and their anchors to pretend they had an “in’ to what else was said in the meeting. Such as the Corps Commanders expressing “displeasure” at the defence minister’s “statement” making the viewer believe that the EIGHT-year old speech was made on April 9, 2014.
Even if they meant that the Corps Commanders had shown “displeasure” at the statements attributed to Asif about the Commando’s trial, the ISPR release said no such thing. Additionally, the anchors should have also reported the truth: that Asif had not said one word against the army itself. But will they ever stop stirring the pot?
I have said it before; I will say it again: the present COAS seems clear-eyed about most matters and comes across as a straight-forward soldier; the army is conducting itself as it should, the elected government is working as best it can; the parliament is lively with the opposition doing its job (such as opposing the PPO, for one) and there is no cause for despondency or alarm. It is imperative, of course, that the media, particularly the TV channels, immediately stop their anchors and talk-show hosts from dramatising matters merely for ratings and therefore, increased revenues.
Going back to Khawaja Asif’s speech, I have to add that Brigadier (retd) Masudul Hassan, a very senior retired officer; General Secretary of the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen’s Association, and my Para school instructor and senior friend TM’s older brother, had this to say in an email to someone criticising the defence minister: “(The) clip that I saw is about his speech before he became defence minister. I think he has not said any such thing after becoming defence minister. I give him more marks than anyone else in the cabinet.”
So, let’s get real ladies and gentlemen and stop all this mischievousness, and at this most difficult time stand solidly behind parliament, the elected government, our soldiers and airmen and sailors. And, as I have said before, let all of us Pakistanis put our collective shoulder to the wheel. No single institution can do it all on its own.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2014.