Gilgit-Baltistan:Digging Our Own Graves

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By Kamran Shafi

As we Pakistanis heap more ridicule on the American action to place a bounty on Hafiz Saeed’s head, derisively pointing out to the world how he is living openly in known residences; attending rallies in the open; addressing announced press conferences, and how he is thumbing his nose at his adversaries, we lose sight of the fact that (most of) the world is not on the same page as us.

No matter what defence we trot out: there is no evidence that he is a terrorist, the Lahore High Court having given him a clean chit; he heads a charity, the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), and not a militant group, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT); that he has even asked the United Nations to strike the JuD off the terrorist organisations list, and so and so forth, we lose complete sight of the fact that the United States is a power that can exert its influence anywhere in the world.

The long and the short of it is that we might be misreading the situation on the ground; that our calculus — that because we have the Americans over a barrel, the supply of material to, and then the pullout of, Nato forces from Afghanistan — we can brazen this out. And worse, that the United States has acted unwisely and is now already backtracking, witness the State Department ‘clarification’ of the announcement. Amreeka Bahadur will do what Amreeka Bahadur wants, can we please see to it that our country and its poor hapless people are not harmed?

All of which be as it may, there is a Punjabi saying that I cannot quote verbatim, this being a family newspaper, which well explains the present situation. It goes something like this: Towards the end of day a hungry jackal came upon an elephant carcass, and finding an opening somewhere near the stomach decided to force his way into the carcass to feast on the dead animal unmolested by other, bigger animals. As evening turned to night the temperature fell, shrinking the carcass and restricting the opening. The jackal which had eaten greedily was now of a size that could not force his way out of the carcass and died, his hunger more than sated, later that night.

Now then, while no need to say which is the (dead) elephant, and which the jackal, have we not ramped up the ‘confrontation’ with the supplier of most of our sophisticated defence(?) equipment rather a lot? This question is particularly aimed at my friends in the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) of which Hafiz Saeed is a leading member. If, as just one example, America stops the supply of spare parts for our much-vaunted F-16s, the mainstay of our belligerent posture, what then? Whither the DPC and whither its violent rhetoric? Time to get real, friends, and to face the facts no matter how ugly and distasteful.

Which immediately brings me to the claim that the JuD is a charity. What? Do charities threaten people, in this case journalists, with death at a public meeting (DPC’s rally in Karachi)? Well, this is what Qari Sheikh Yaqoob of the JuD did adding that the ground in which the rally was being held would be turned into a ‘graveyard’ for journalists who did not properly cover the DPC’s activities. Note please that the Qari was shown saying this on camera as the rally was broadcast live! While one has to ask what a ‘charity’ is doing ‘defending’ Pakistan and using hate-filled rhetoric against what it perceives are Pakistan’s enemies, is it not time that the JuD and its leader Hafiz Saeed acknowledged the dire straits which they and their friends have put Pakistan in?

And now for a matter so painful to one who has travelled to Gilgit-Baltistan since 1972 when my late brother Momin, my cousin Farooq Hyat and I, trekked from just past Muzaffarabad to Kel along the Neelum River, and across the Shontur Pass into Gilgit Agency where we stayed at Rattu and Astor and Gilgit with the great Northern Scouts. Momin died in a mountaineering accident on Mount Paiju in Baltistan, and so I went to Skardu for the first time in 1974 to visit his grave near the airport.

Many are the times that I have gone to the area since, and it pains me to report that from the killings orchestrated during dictator Ziaul Haq’s time when the Shia village of Jalalabad, just outside Gilgit on the main road, was set upon by Sunni zealots. This is what I wrote about Gilgit on April 20, 2006, almost exactly five years ago, in the Daily Times: “Such was the level of readiness all across the city, with armed and helmeted patrols everywhere, that it made me feel I was somewhere else, not Gilgit where I had spent much gentle time, many a wonderful evening with gentlemen like Group Captain Shah Khan and the late and very dapper Hussain Wali Khan; and had pleasant lunches (always lunches!) with the late Mir Sahib of Nagar.

“What had happened to my Gilgit, I asked myself? And then it all came back. Nothing had happened to Gilgit, the tyrant Zia had happened to Pakistan! I recalled the deep religious and sectarian and tribal schisms engineered by Zia and his henchmen to divide the populace of Pakistan so that he could rule the country easier. Gilgit was not to be spared: I recalled too, the 1982 massacre of innocent Shias at the hands of imported and uncouth and cruel tribesmen, who machine-gunned the village of Jalalabad in 1988 to destruction: men, women, children, cattle, and all. It was said then that the slaughter in which upwards of 500 human beings lost their lives…. (I am a Sunni, incidentally, if it makes any difference.)”

And so on and on we go, digging our own graves; trying to box above our weight; and killing those who do not agree with us. In Twitterese #FAIL.

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