Let’s accept it. The feeling of patriotism and togetherness in our nation is not common. We are somewhat divided on ethnic and sectarian grounds in our normal lives and are completely fine with it.
I have heard tales of 1965 war, how the nation united and responded to external threat but never experienced it. It did sound like a fairytale, and I really wanted to experience it someday. And then it happened.
After earthquake stuck Pakistan in October of 2005, I visited PAF Museum to drop off some stuff for as relief aid. It was Ramadan and I reached there around 5 pm when normally people are at their worst behavior, ready to shout and fight in the excuse of fasting. But at the venue, there was a two kilometer long bumper to bumper car line with impeccable discipline. It took me about 45 minutes from the gate to reach drop off point and I do not remember anyone honking even once. Everyone sat silently in their cars, waited patiently to reach the spot, would get off from car, drop their contribution and quietly drive away. The PAF jawans along with some school kids volunteers could be seen diligently sorting relief aid for its further dispatch. Despite so much happening, there was a silence in the air and around. For the first time in my life, I actually felt proud of being a Pakistani, and not for a sporting reason. For the first time, I felt we are not finished as a nation, not as yet.
A lot has happened since then in my personal, professional and social life. The feeling of togetherness slowly disappeared to the point I do not even remember how it felt. Politically, we have gone to stone ages. Love him or hate him, somehow President Musharaf’s last words ‘Pakistan ka khuda hafiz’ have a haunting feeling to them now.
Personally, I have never been active in politics or religion. I have had keen interest of happenings around me but that’s where it ends. I have never even voted in my life (something I regret), my excuse has been a distance of about 500 kilometers between Karachi and my constituency. Usually people around me take it for granted that I would be a Peoples Party supporter given my Sindhi feudal background and more so because I belong to the constituency of ‘Zardaris’ and I usually don’t even bother to correct them because it has hardly mattered to me. In last few years I have started to at least correct them because no wants to be associated with them. For the record, I have never ever been a fan of Benazir Bhutto and I wish nothing well (even on humanitarian grounds) to the core Zardari clan. From the religious point of view, I have never worn my sect on my sleeve, I don’t think most of my friends would even know that I am a Shia. Religion or sect has never affected me when it comes to having social ties or friends. Until very recently, I did not even have any Shia friends at all. I have had friends from all religions (yes, Jews too) and from all sects. Simply, it has just never bothered me. I have always believed religion to be an extremely private matter between me and my God.
I have also not been bothered about practical aspects of political activism. I use social media to whine about government policies and load shedding, taunt inefficiencies of Rehman Malik and take out my frustrations against President Zardari and his cronies. And that’s about it. May be it’s the class divide. I have never considered it to be my duty to go out on street and raise my voice. My living room is a comfortable place from where I can access live coverage of all political events. Why risk my life, wallet and car when someone else is doing it. And, then I expect everything to be fine and get upset if it is not. It’s not just me; you are as guiltier as I am. And I want that to change.
But my perspective of things has started to change. We all get affected by tragic events like bomb blasts at some level. In past, I have only seen them as a tragic loss of human beings, they still are. But what has carried on in Quetta for last few years, and repeated incidents in areas like Challas (people being taken down from buses, identified through ID card checks, separated and shot at point blank) forced the idea of looking at this from a different angle. And now I am sure, it is quite plainly ethnic cleansing. It is an effort to wipe out a particular community. Why, because they do not toe to a particular brand of Islam. They read the same Quran, bow down to the same Allah, but apparently the differences have provided good enough justification for them to be killed. In last couple of years, I have actually started considering whether I should attend ‘majalis’ with my wife and young kids in Muharram because there is a threat of a terrorist activity. And I want that to change.
That is why recent bombing in Quetta shook me. How long would I keep taking government inefficiency lying down? I felt the inevitability of it happening something to me sooner or later. I was watching events of various sit-ins (dharna) at home when my wife received a call from her friend who was attending dharna at Bilawal Chorangi with her family. That is when I decided least I can do is contribute by attending it.
I was surprised with how organized arrangements were, right from the car parking. To be honest, there wasn’t much of a crowd. 2500 attendees in a country where jalsas and rallies are attended by hundreds of thousands is not much. But it was the being done in a very organized and peaceful manner. There were a big number of women and kids in the sit-in. Prayers were being offered for the victims of Quetta blasts. I could see couple of vans from prominent media channels that were not doing what they were supposed to do. But at least policemen on duty were polite and cordial. I also saw volunteers distributing food and water to attendees, and some volunteers even collecting garbage to keep the place clean and tidy. One could sense the determination of people but there was sadness in the air.
But what impressed me most, was that attendees were from all walks of life. They weren’t only Shias. I could see messages of support over different mediums of social media from friends who belonged to different sects and religions. They were as furious towards authorities as I was, and as sympathetic towards Quetta as I was. Everyone was doing their bit to help. Since mobile phone service was not stable in Clifton, some people in the locality of Bilawal Chorangi removed security password from their wifi routers, enabling everyone to update posts and pictures live from the event, which more than made up for the lack of media coverage. This is what I do not want to change. This feeling of being in thick and thin together; this feeling of being one. This somewhat similar feeling that, we are not finished as a Nation. Not as yet.