Saturday, December 15, 2012

In The Line Of Fire – Pakistan’s Minority Muslims

Karachi is a dangerous city, as if you don’t already know this. This buildings bunker fortified city abounds with private security armed to the teeth; anybody with money to afford one keeps a gun totting guard by his side. Today, December 13, 2012 is probably the most emotionally draining day in my fifty-five year existence; I thought I had seen it all in Afghanistan and other cities I am fortunate to visit for CAI. Such frantic is my emotional upheaval; I briefly lose faith in my Allah, a blasphemy no doubt. I ask Merciful Allah for clemency and tolerance of course; He, I am sure, considering the context, will understand and forgive.

My hosts (all names and personalities are aliases except noted, for obvious reasons) relate tale upon tale of incidents that target a minority Muslim sect, killed or maimed or mutilated for no reason except their creed. The shootings are by extremists riding on motorbikes, who fly by and pump bullets into innocent bodies. I do not have words to label these assassins; closest is scum perhaps? So my five days here are spent on apprehensive lookouts for motorbikes passing or headed my way. There are oodles of motorbikes in this country, even more than cars.

You must have read and heard of Malala Yusufzai, Allah bless her, the poor young girl who is shot by the Talibaan for advocating the education of girls in Pakistan. The media, local and foreign, take up her plight, with much fanfare. The president of Pakistan visits her, she gets tons of well-wishing letters the globe over, is nominated for the Noble Peace Prize... Alhamd’Allah, she now recovers in a first class hospital in the UK and will insha’Allah make a complete physical, if not mental, recovery. I relate, in this tale, stories of few individuals not so fortunate, whose assaults have been relegated to mere incidents, to talk and discuss, express remorse, feel pity, perhaps financially assist and then either forget or suppress from memories.

1. Mehzer Fatema, D/O Syed Nazar Abbas (real name)

It is a usual day November 29 for father Nazar Abbas, a junior employee with Government of Pakistan health system and twelve year old daughter Mehzer. They wake up, get ready, eat breakfast then Nazar takes Mehzer to school on a motorbike. As Nazar navigates the final stretch towards the school, a duo overtakes them and pumps bullets into both. Nazar is fatally wounded and succumbs shortly; Mehzer takes three bullets and is mortally wounded. She is taken to a government hospital where two bullets are removed. The third bullet, affecting her lungs and spinal cord is precariously more challenging. The doctors give up and advise the family to move her to better equipped, more pricey Aga Khan Hospital.

I meet Iswar Fatema, Mehzer’s mum at the hospital after some difficulty. The hospital, although modern and well equipped, is crowded and busy, the guards vigilant and uncompromising. Sarfaraz, the untiring and amazing social worker struggling to accommodate aid to all such victims has good contacts and we make it just outside the ICU but are stopped. Sarfaraz escapes an assassination attempt a few days ago so a Kalashnikov armed guard is constantly by his side, making me weary. When we finally get to see Iswar, she looks bewildered and in anguish. She breaks down several times as she relates the events of last couple of weeks; I try hard to contain tears that threaten to overwhelm my composure as well, feel like hugging her pain away. To lose a husband in a most gruesome manner and a daughter in ICU would drive me to death or insanity. I request her to allow me to see Mehzer. Yes, yes, I have to go to her now, she doesn’t leave me for a moment. Come, I’ll tell the guard you are here to recite some dua for her. Come.

I think my heart will tear asunder with anguish when I see the girl; my thoughts jump instantly to Maaha Zainab, my own twelve year old. Like a frenzied, wounded animal, Mehzer clings to her mother, complaining she can’t breath. There are tubes sticking to her battered body and her arm is busy with several talisman taweez in green bandages. She gapes at me in terror, perhaps traumatized by memory of her assassins. Iswar quickly draws the curtains in the tiny room, gestures for me to be quick; I take a picture of Mehzer with trembling hands. All this takes no more than a minute and I am out, reeling from Mehzer’s tattered image. I talk briefly to Iswar outside of ICU again later; what a mum, what a woman. She is confident Mehzer will recover insha’Allah, with unwavering faith in Allah’s mercy and His ability to make her daughter whole again.

I can’t eat lunch that day and my sleep at night is fitful with intertwined images of Mehzer and Maaha Zainab.

2. Qaari Haneef (real name)

Qaari Haneef hails from Skardo area of Pakistan but lived in Karachi; forty-five years old, father of five sons and one daughter. On August 16, 2012, he decides to take a bus to visit family. The bus is stopped along the way and armed men board. The Qaari is singled out by name and hauled out. He joins twenty-five others belonging to a minority Muslim sect, segregated by name associated to that sect. Then, these twenty-six men are gunned down in cold blood; all perish.

I meet Sarwer, the Qaari’s widow in an unkempt dim apartment building five floors up. She relates the murder of her husband in a stoic manner, devoid of expression. I get to meet two of her youngest children, the rest are in school. Sarwer gets a stipend from a local charity and she struggles to survive. What can I say to her? I express my regrets, promise to pray for her and resolve to publicize her husband’s fate. I leave.

3. Rashid Naqwi (real name)

Twenty-two year old Rashid Naqwi lies in emergency ward of Aga Khan Hospital oblivious to the world. He is shot in the head at Pir Elahi Bash Colony, Karachi while cooking haleem for niyaaz planned for later in the day December 9, 2012, the bullet narrowly grazing his brains; the majlis continue as planned. He is rushed to the hospital by brothers and survives, insha’Allah expecting to make a full recovery. Rashid has a two-month-old baby.

4. Zeeshan Haider (real name)

Similarly, young Zeeshan Haider lies lost to the world at Fatimia Hospital, shot in the stomach; an exhausted brother slumbers sitting next to the hospital bed. Haider has a steep recovery process with several surgeries to reconstruct his abdomen.

5. Raza Hussein (real rame)

Next to Zeeshan sits Raza Hussein from Quetta, shot in the face.  Reza has gone through extensive surgery to rebuild his jaw. This man actually smiles his thanks and talks to me about his father’s family in Afghanistan. He too, insha’Allah, will make a reasonable recovery.

Points to ponder:

A. The Governor, Senator and Chief Minister of Sindh all come visiting Mehzer, camera’s roll, they are splashed on evening news promising the sky; the family has seen not a penny and are in debt US$7,500.

B. There have been eighty-seven convictions of these scums, punishable by hanging; not a single one has been put to death. The President, for political trade offs, stays the execution of sentences every three months.

C. CAI is setting up a special fund to aid the families whose sole bread earner has been murdered with a target of US$50,000. This will defray costs for those poor and destitute medical bills; US$20,000 has already been released using partly sadeqa funds. You are welcome to partner with CAI in this invaluable investment.

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