“Wirsaay main humain yeh gham hai mila iss gham ko naya kya likhna?
Zulmat ko Zia, sarsar ko saba banday ko khuda kya likhna, kya likhna?”
“We have inherited this grief from the past, how can I write that this grief is a new one? Darkness called light, the hot desert wind called a morning breeze, how can I write that a human being is God?” wrote Jalib in his poem “Zulmat ko Zia — Darkness called light”.
Jalib was, as evident by the title, referring to Zia-ul Haqduring the struggle of democracy under his regime. Questioning how he can be expected to write praises for Zia or paint the oppression that comes with dictatorship as a new one. Beautifully crafting the baffled state of mind that many of us find our selves in, his words still remain as true and as defiant today. Written three decades ago, Jalib’s words rung in my head as I watched the PNS Mehran operation unfold. Again, I am not going to dissect the circumstances and exactly how often can one repeat the same questions again and again only to be met with deafening silence?
Since my questions after the PNS Mehran incident are no different than those after the GHQ attack or theManawaan police academy attack or those that were overshadowed by cries of sovereignty after the bin Laden operation I have decided to stop with the questioning — at least for now. Instead I am going to focus on giving answers to the many allegations that have been hurled towards us. By us, I refer to those who have decided to rise up and demand accountability from the authorities in particular the country’s military and intelligence.
In the aftermath of the Osama Bin Laden operation, many of us are craving for clarity and insight to communicate a deeper sense of understanding about our (non-existent) counter terrorism strategy. Instead of answers, we are subjected to orchestrated patriotism aimed at closing down public discourse and dissent through the imposition of a prescribed allegiance — questioning is maligning. For me, this is worrisome and so I would like to explain myself. One of the quotes that’s been used widely to curb down the demand for accountability is that by Salahuddin Ayubi “if you want to break a country, create division in its army and civilians”, but what I fail to understand is exactly how is a call for accountability from our own military, security forces and intelligence service in any way creating division?
Excuse my idealism but the fact is that as civilians who pay taxes, and vote it is our right to demand accountability and it is the duty of those in authority to maintain transparency. Using sovereignty, honor or worse nationalism as a refuge to deflect question only reflects malice and cowering away from the truth. I wouldn’t deny that a considerable number of critics go overboard with their criticism of the army. Wrongfully portraying the entire institute as incompetent and malicious but using martyrs of war to avoid much deserved scrutiny is equally sickening. Is it too beneath the military’s dignity to answer the concerns of us civilians?
It is not the call for accountability that might create a rift between the people and the military but orchestrated patriotism that has polarized our political and public discourse so deeply that demands for accountability are painted as treason. The either-you-are-with-us-or-against-us mindset is only going to make the rift deeper and create a void that may be impossible to fill in the absence of public discourse.
Perhaps the best way to explain our dilemma would be to narrate the reactions that followed the PNS Mehran attack. Even the disappointment and shock over the huge security lapse couldn’t overshadow the fear and grief we felt for our forces that engaged in the gun battle against the militants. The bravery and martyrdom of ten of our security personals and the seventeen-hour long siege that had us all paralyzed in fear of loosing more blood. The fact that many of us rejoiced the possible nomination of Lieut. Yaser Abbas for Nishaan-e-Haider and those that criticized only did with the intention to reward all our security personals equally; bears witness to the fact that demands for answers is not based on blind hate for the military. In fact it roots from concern for our men on the battlefield and the many men, women and children who are as much a part of this ongoing war.
To the army, even if millions of voices echoed the demand for transparency it would not drown the hollers of mothers, sisters, wives and children who have lost their men while they fought on the frontiers to protect the country. To the people, when we stand up to demand answers to questions that have haunted us for years, we are in no way undermining the sacrifices of our forces. This is our war and the thirty-six thousand martyrs will testify to it. We have lost far too much in this war and have paid with our blood. Our sacrifices are collective. Our misfortune is such that while we battle with the inner enemy the global spotlight is upon us, scrutinizing and evaluating our every move.
It is a long, arduous battle, often like self-inflicting introspection. In order to fight this together we will need to have faith and to reinstate faith, belief and zeal we must stop playing on rhetorics and be honest for once; at least to one another.
The recent killing of five Chechens by the FC in Quetta and the possible involvement of people within the navyfacilitating PNS Mehran attack demands an urgent need for accountability and transparency. If we can be quick to demand inquiry in war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Kashmir. If we can froth at the sight of Guantanamo and Abu Gharaib, why then should we restrain ourselves when it comes to our own country and when the lives of our own are at stake?
This orchestrated patriotism turned us into a silent audience watching over the genocide in East-Pakistan, then it was the streets of Balochistan and now it’s within our homes. For us, there is no escaping it.
For once the military needs to stop playing on populist rhetoric and come clear on its stance on the war, anything short of that will only reflect myopia.
I am reminded of Jalib again and I quote:
“Kahin gas ka dhuan hae kahin golion ki baarish
Shab-e-ehd-e-kum nigahi tujhay kis tarah sarahein”
(There is smoke of teargas in the air and bullets are raining all around, how can I praise thee, the night of the period of shortsightedness.)