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The curse of silence

We are watching a genocide take place before our eyes; Shias are being killed mercilessly. The Hazara community in Quetta has been decimated. The Hazara Shias – numbering some 700,000 in the country and based chiefly in Quetta – are being wiped out. No one has spoken out as massacre after massacre takes place. Too few politicians have taken up the matter, choosing instead to ramble on about Dr Tahirul Qadri’s long march, followed by the farcical drama that has since unfolded.

The media too has focused on this inane and obviously orchestrated event, rather than shining the spotlight where it should belong, on the distraught people who sat for days with the coffins of their loved ones in sub-zero temperatures in Quetta – and on the aftermath as widows and mothers fell on graves. At least one mother died of cardiac arrest at the burial. No one has bothered to cover the agony seen at the graveyard or in homes where pictures of the dead line shelves and walls.

But this time around after the twin bombings in Quetta, we have seen some signs of a national conscience. Vigils and sit-ins were held in every major city. On social media networks the grief sounded genuine and heartfelt. But in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar – maybe even in Quetta itself – perhaps the expression of grief has been limited to too few. Yes citizens turned out to protest; yes they lit candles and held up placards, but the faces we saw were too often those of activists, Shia leaders and those allied to them. What is required is greater involvement from students, professional groups and others.

We wonder too where the religious parties are? Should they not be condemning killings in this fashion? Or has any semblance of true morality slipped them by? Will they restrict themselves only to protesting ‘anti-Islamic’ films and not condemn murders that shatter families and destroy individuals? This too is something to think about as we ponder what has happened to us as a nation.

Our politicians too should think. Why has there been no vocal outcry against the happenings? As protesters were demonstrating for justice in the Quetta killings, where was the government of Balochistan – and its CM, who spent more time away from his province than present there.

Did he even grasp what was happening to Quetta and his people? If so why did he and his oversized cabinet not act? The situation is extraordinary, bordering on lunacy. And then we have that great champion of the people, Imran Khan, telling a popular TV talk-show that the Quetta carnage was a ‘foreign conspiracy’; the result of American presence in Iraq. Only a few hours later, in a tweeted message, he said that the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was to blame for the violence and then stated that he would be going to Quetta.

Condemnations have come from other leaders, but we need to question if they are strong and vocal enough and if they will have enough impact to really alter thinking.

What is needed is a change in the way we think. The truth is that Shias across the country – the Hazaras of Quetta in particular – have already been torn apart. Members of the Hazara community photograph each other when they meet, conscious that these still images may be all they have left of their friends and family members. Some such images as per tradition go into coffins with the dead. Parents encourage young Hazaras, especially men, to escape the country before death meets them.

Some have succeeded. Others have died while trying to get away through routes run illegally by human traffickers or via mountains as they try to cross into Iran and then Europe. The scale of the tragedy and the extent of suffering the Hazaras have gone through have not been spoken about often enough. This has also rarely been discussed from official forums, where there is far too much attention on political game playing of all kinds.

The reality is that we have allowed hatred to seep deep into the pores of our country. So much so that it is now barely even noticed. We accept death far too easily and see violence as a way of life from which we cannot escape. For the most part, bomb blasts and targeted killings do not move us. It is only the scale of the Quetta massacre that has brought forth the reaction we are finally seeing, not only at home but also in other countries.

We need to get more people involved in the task of saving a dying country. The protest demonstrations, sit-ins and vigils need to be joined in by many more. But even more than this, we need political protests, people taking to the streets, people expressing anger.

Too little of this has been done and we have to ask ourselves why. Over the years, as sectarian hatred and extremism began to flow through our streets during the 1980s and 1990s, we have become numb, unable to feel pain and unwilling to react to it. This is a dangerous malaise. It needs expert help for us to move beyond it.

So where is this help to come from? It seems we cannot rely on our political parties or other groups. No one has asked them why the LeJ or the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan have been allowed to continue their operations – their being banned leading to them merely changing their name but nothing else. The failure to stop them over the years has brought us to the point we stand at now – with rows of coffins lying out along frost-covered streets. Even that sight it seems has not moved as many people as it ought to have.

A collective national conscience needs to be built. The problem is we do not have time to lose. We have waited far too long already. Political players and others who can influence society need to take the lead and state unequivocally that this genocide must stop. Everyone must work towards this in their individual capacities. The nation has to come together for this cause. The problem of course is that there are not enough leaders to bring groups together. Everyone is lost in their own world of power play.

For all the morality he preaches, the good Allama Tahirul Qadri is bent on fulfilling his own bizarre agenda rather than stopping the death of fellow Muslims. Where will this finally take us? A small light has been ignited by the protests following the Quetta disaster. We can only hope it will turn into a bigger flame and not die out with the cold winds of winter.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. Email: kamilahyat@ hotmail.com

Kamila Hyat, "The curse of silence," The News. 2013-01-17.