OVER A COFFEE: Song of life after dance of death —Dr Haider Shah
There is no harm giving any person a hero status if consequently it can help in establishing some conventions relating to rule of law. We are in real short supply of heroes
All nations evolve from people living together. However, people alone do not make a nation. There are some solidifying forces that are needed to transform a crowd into a nation. Rule of law and a shared concern for the safety and sanctity of the lives of ordinary members of the community are the most important forces that germinate an identity of nationhood. The dance of death played in the remote mountains of Kohistan and the Malik Riaz case in the Supreme Court, despite their gory and ugly appearance, have the potential of proving the forces that can make a nation out of the people living in Pakistan.
About the same time when a jirga (council of elders) in Kohistan was allegedly held, the media gave coverage to two other officially sponsored jirgas. One was held under the auspices of an NGO in Islamabad with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Governor in the chair while the other was held in Peshawar with the KPK Chief Minister as the chief guest. The NGO-sponsored ceremony claimed that the tribal elders at Agency level had banned the tribal customs of sawara (giving away girls as brides to settle family feuds), jagh (claiming a young girl for marriage with or without her consent), and valvar (payment of money to the bridegroom’s family as a consideration for the bride). To what degree the sweetened announcements depict the reality on the ground, only time will tell. A veteran Pashtun leader, Afzal Khan, convened the Peshawar jirga. The speakers, after making politically correct speeches, called for peace in the region. It is not clear if the real parties to the conflict were listening to these calls, as afterwards we see no let-up in incidents of terrorism and counterterrorism in the region.
While in the media these photo session opportunities based jirgas under official patronage were being reported, a jirga of another nature allegedly happened in the inaccessible village of Sartai in Kohistan and soon took the media by storm. At the time of writing these lines, two human rights activists who went on a fact-finding mission under Supreme Court orders have reported that they found two of the four girls alive and believed that no murder had taken place. This must come as a token of relief to all those who were shocked to hear the news of the murders a few days earlier. The claimant of the murders is still pressing hard with his earlier claim though. With no personal access to the facts of the case, I would rather comment on the brighter side of this dark incident. The Kohistan women’s story was the first incident of its kind in which the state, led by the Supreme Court, media and human rights activists, has shown deep concern for citizens who are living in a village that very few of us can even locate on the map. No doubt, we have seen commendable deeds in times of natural calamities, but it is when in normal times the heart of the whole country throbs after ordinary citizens, we can say that signs of nationhood have started appearing.
Incidentally, when the court was monitoring the developments related to the Kohistan story, it was also occupied with another nation-building story that has now eclipsed all other headlines. A few well-known journalists brought forth a story that was making the rounds in a whispering campaign into the full glare of the media and the Malik Riaz and Arsalan Iftikhar case is now the main national story. With the advent of spring, all old questions stand reopened, said Faiz. It is no more a spring season but the Malik Riaz case has opened almost all official cupboards and the skeletons can no longer be kept obscured from public view. We, however, should not succumb to the temptation of announcing media-based verdicts before the case is even properly heard. Prima facie though the affair stinks, it is therefore advisable that we as observers remain very neutral and refrain from invoking party loyalties or personal likes and dislikes. The case, besides being a legal one, is also a rich case study for exploring how a power cobweb is weaved around big money and how major powerbrokers become part of one ruling syndicate. Politicians, media houses and military bigwigs…hum huae, tum huae, key meer hua…sub us ki zulfon ke aseer huae (We, you and Mir…all are snared by her long hair).
Some sceptical friends of mine opined that the Chief Justice wanted to become a hero again by taking swift action against his own son. My humble response is that there is no harm giving any person a hero status if consequently it can help in establishing some conventions relating to rule of law. We are in real short supply of heroes who can become icons for the cause of rule of law. We should not therefore view with scorn if someone gains a hero status in furtherance of such a noble cause.
Whether it is the Glorious Revolution of 1688 for England or the outbreak of the Civil War in the 1860s for the US, at times such major events are important for nation building as they lay the foundations of strong institutions. All nations thus get a few defining moments thrown at them by history. Hopefully, the dance of death in Kohistan will give rise to the melody of life all over Pakistan and the Arsalan Iftikhar and Malik Riaz case would also prove a blessing in disguise for establishing the principle that with money one can buy everything except justice.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org