This is not a Test – by Saroop Ijaz
The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore firstname.lastname@example.org
The prime minister said that the most recent carnage in Hazara Town is a “test case”. This is better than nothing. However, it makes one wonder what are we testing for? Testing for limits of human indifference to slaughter? What is the threshold that will make us snap? What do these high powered committees look for? The condemnation of the “perpetrators” comes uniformly from all quarters. Prompt First Investigation Report is registered against “unknown” terrorists. What cruel charade is this? Does everyone in power miss the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) taking responsibility gloatingly and warning of another attack soon, do they miss it every time? The killing of the Shia Hazara is an abstract distant phenomenon to Pakistan proper; the murdered nothing but a statistic, the murderer some disembodied, amorphous entity. The Shia Hazara graveyard has a picture on every grave; these beautiful people have been killed by sectarian fanatics who we know of. This is not a test, this is as real as it gets.
What is the position of the “chatty” crowd on the systematic murdering spree of the Hazara? Is the entire Hazara population an expert group of drone operators? Are the Shia Hazara the frontline regiment of “imperialism” in “America’s War on Terror”? Is it possible, that the LeJ is just irritated at the empire and this violence is an expression of political dissent? Can they be pacified by an attentive ear, handshake and a hug? Should action be taken against them only when each and every child slow on uptake in the entire country agrees that something, perhaps, needs to be done? Utterly revolting and disgusting line of reasoning and questioning, is it not? In the alternate, there is a simpler and truer explanation. The LeJ is group of sectarian murderous brutes. And a simpler though not easy solution; that decisive force be used against them.
We are supposed to be careful in language; calling them “brutes” has not enough nuance of the conflict and might even hurt fragile, intellectual and apologetic sensibilities. You know, nobody should be “demonised”, etc. Not even people who kill three-year-old kids and attack vans full of girl medical students. Nope, they need to be “understood”. However, we do demonise people. We demonise the Hazara. Nelson Mandela is not dead yet. His spirit is certainly dead in Quetta. Some time ago, there was a news item about public transport operators refusing to allow Hazara passengers to board since that would make the vehicles targets, schools refusing admission, nobody willing to rent houses, etc. How does this not bother us, make us freeze? The most frequently targeted place in Quetta is called “Hazara” Town, and it is largely what the name suggests, a housing settlement full of Shia Hazaras. “Apartheid” is not a term to be used lightly ever, yet the lesson taught by it runs the risk of becoming meaningless if it is not used for examples like these.
For everyone who has not been to Hazara Town and wants to engage in the “complex” debate over whether or not our state is complicit or, at least, looks the other way, let someone who has been there draw a sketch with markings of the FC check posts and the places of attacks. It is not much of a debate. However, it does not matter. Why tamper with a purely intellectual pursuit by bringing in trivial specifics like the distance of a few feet between FC check posts and targeted killing sites, again and again. How a thousand kilogrammes of explosives are stealthy enough to pass through these check posts, again and again. Let us keep it academic, shall we, US war on terror, drones, imperialism, corruption, national consensus, etc. Let us hope that there are still a few Shia Hazaras alive to be grateful if and when we reach the carefully thought out consensus that something needs to be done to protect them.
Coming back to names, the “Jhangvi” in Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, perhaps, does not get enough attention. The parent organisation of the LeJ, the Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) (now ASWJ) was formed at Jhang, Punjab, in the 1980s. The LeJ faction split because the SSP was not “militant enough”. Which is saying something by the way, since the SSP did not exactly comprise tree-hugging pacifists either. The difference was on strategy, not on ideology. The ideology was, and is, that Shias should be eliminated. The long overdue operation has to simultaneously begin in Balochistan and Punjab, also dismantling the ideological hub. There is no consensus needed. Anyone who does not agree with the idea of an operation against the sectarian organisations murdering the Shia Hazara is someone you don’t want to agree with in any event.
Much has been said about the proper use of the term “genocide” and if it is applicable to the Shia Hazara killing. The question is an important but theoretical one with quibbles on international law definitions. Practically, it is instructive to read Samantha Power’s chillingly brilliant essay, “Bystanders to Genocide” on the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. To quote Power, “A determination of genocide turns not on the numbers killed, which is always difficult to ascertain at a time of crisis, but on the perpetrators’ intent.” The perpetrators’ intent in the case of the Shia Hazara can only be missed by someone who is trying really, really hard to miss it.
The mention of genocide reminds of the phrase, now hollowed by breach “Nie Wieder” (Never Again). It is important to recall it as we pass through another July 5th, the date when that psychopath Ziaul Haq illegally took over. One lesson from the Zia era has been that islands of intolerance and hate don’t work; they spill over, across national and provincial lines. During his reign, amongst innumerable heinous acts, one was the patronising of the sectarian terrorists by the state. Mian Nawaz Sharif was Zia’s prodigy. Once upon a time, long before the “War on Terror” and invention of drones, Mian Sahib was the chief minister of Punjab where these outfits were gaining initial strength. Mian Sahib knows their history all too well. Well enough to know that the Hazara killing is not only the Balochistan government’s problem. It is everyone’s problem.
We are repeatedly told that Mian Sahib is his own man now. We want to believe that. Yet, he will still have to prove it. The time for consensus building and all parties’ conferences on dealing with sectarian terrorism is long gone. Either the security establishment is compelled to change its world view and the hobnobbing with these medievalists or there is a showdown. Thousands of Hazara lives are certainly worth having that confrontation. Our notion of State and Country, it seems, is now confined to the security establishment. So to our Guardians, Tujh ko kitnon ka lahu chahiye ae arz-e-watan, jo teray aariz-e-bayrung ko gulnaar karen, kitnee aahon say kalejaa tera thunda ho gaa, kitnay aansoo teray sehraaon ko gulzaar karen.