Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).


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OVER A COFFEE “Between Amina and suicide bombers”, The Daily Times, March 22, 2014

   Between Amina and suicide bombers lives the other Pakistan that is inhabited by men like the gods of an H G Wells novel

Dr Haider Shah

I never knew her in person. I still don’t know her much as a person. But I can feel the power of her iconic status. While alive she was an ordinary girl with typical dreams of any girl of her age. Now in death Amina has moved the whole country like Joan of Arc, who was also burnt alive. But unlike the legendary French girl, Amina Bibi is not a character from the distant and unobservable past. The ruthless eyes of media lenses made a spectacle out of her flaming body. What were her grievances and to what extent was her rape accusation genuine are questions of fact that can better be answered after judicial investigations. But it is the iconic Amina that is more important today. She has become an icon of protest for the dispossessed against those who wield power. Like the angry young French revolutionaries of Les Miserables, Amina in her final agony-filled voice was asking us:

“Do you hear the people sing?

Singing a song of angry men?

It is the music of a people

Who will not be slaves again!”

Hopeless, dreamless and voiceless, Amina freed herself from the slavery of living in an inhospitable environment where grievances are not redressed and where one is pitted against those who are protected by law, custom and social structures. Self-immolation, for Amina, became a vociferous protest as she felt insulted and humiliated. Setting ablaze her body along with all her dreams, she added a tormenting endnote to the traditions of Gandhi and Bacha Khan, who practiced nonviolent resistance to the formidable might of British colonial rule. Amina acted alone and her action was sudden and emotional. Certain young men with grievances against society take a different route. After being exposed to the indoctrination of charismatic religious teachers, they not only end their own lives but take full revenge for their years of deprivation. They find comfort in the self-imagined glorification that comes with the title of fidayeen or suicide bombers. If we look at the profiles of suicide bombers, we can see that they tend to be 15 to 25 years old with weak academic achievements and impoverished backgrounds. Making references to certain Quranic verses, they are told that Allah wants to trade heaven for their lives. When a young person has seen deprivation in his wretched life, the captivating seduction of such glorification can hardly be appreciated by those who are born and brought up in very different circumstances altogether.

Between Amina and suicide bombers lives the other Pakistan that is inhabited by men like the gods of an H G Wells novel. Look at the story of the retired army general who boastfully stated in his televised address that he imposed a state of emergency in the country even though he was fully aware that he was committing treason by subverting the constitution. Despite repeated orders by the court, Musharraf refuses to respect the law of the land. From politicians to media-men, he has an army of lobbyists working for him. Whether you build a bridge that collapses within weeks after inauguration, or cause billions in losses to the national exchequer while heading Pakistan Railways or the National Logistics Cell or subvert the constitution, you can’t be held accountable as being a General you can do no wrong. And at some distance in the land of saeen makhdooms (spiritual leaders) and sajada nasheens (disciples), famine and disease reign supreme. However, even a mild complaint over this state of affairs got Pir sahib of Hala’s hackles up to such an extent that Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah had to visit Makhdoom Amin Fahim’s residence to smooth his ruffled feathers. Dwellers of the Thar desert regions regard death and suffering as written by Providence. Saeen sahib will get votes from his devout followers come what may. Why risk political relationships? In Pakistan neither a general nor a saeen can do any wrong.

Between Amina and suicide bombers lives a happy Pakistan. In exquisitely decorated clubs and messes the exchange of laughter and delicate coughs are heard while rises in their respective pay scales and grades are discussed among self-indulgent bureaucrats. In these exclusive zones you cannot enter if you are not wearing a tie and where, true to our colonial heritage, a large notice often reads, “Maids and servants are not permitted.” In this happy Pakistan, military and civil officers and judges keep piling up one plot of land after another, and while commoners can’t find a ground to play cricket or football on, lush green golf courses are available for this happy Pakistan. Recently we celebrated International Women Day. Hardly had Amina’s incident passed when the news of two women being killed as a human sacrifice in Shikarpur to please the gods of our cultural norms appeared. We have developed a knack for making all important days memorable. Just a day before the Hindu festival of Holi, we torched a temple in Larkana. Thar, Larkana and Shikarpur — Bilawal regularly sounds heroic against the Taliban in his speeches and tweets. But he has yet to demonstrate his heroic credentials in the case of his own province. He has yet to establish that good and responsive governance is something that matters in his scheme of things. Of what use is liberal discourse if in the shadows of the Sindh Festival, jirgas and panchayats continue dishing out death sentences to women.

Between Amina and suicide bombers lives a happy Pakistan that most of us only know from a distance.