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Pakistan wakes to sleep and takes its waking slow

by Mahim Maher

May 23, 2011 | 4:17 pm

Vehicles parked at PNS Mehran on Monday. None of the terrorists have survived, said the government. I don't believe it. Photo courtesy Athar Khan of The Express Tribune

Been down so long, it looks like up to me – this should be Pakistan’s running motto. After a 19-hour gun battle the army wrested control of a navy airbase in Karachi that a handful militants infiltrated starting 11pm Sunday night. They destroyed 2 out of 3 US-made P-3C Orion planes.  What a waste.
People are asking how long this weary fight will go on. I say, it will continue until you ensure that all kids are in school. Education is the only way out – an education which helps Pakistanis, literate or unlettered, to be able to tell for themselves who is their real enemy.
One of the sub-editors who works with us is the first cousin of one of the young men who led the fight against the terrorists inside the base. A measure of my own insensitivity to violence and helping steer reporters cover it is that it was only when I learnt that she had flown out to Lahore for the funeral that I started to feel something.
I felt what many Pakistanis feel today: helpless. Helpless that our army, which we take so much pride in, is being attacked. It’s like Pakistan is being turned inside out. Gutted. Disemboweled. And if you’ve ever had a morbid fascination with the Spanish Inquisition, you’ll get the picture.
I thought of the brave young armyman fighting the terrorists in the night. People have been visiting his facebook page and his photographs have been all over the television. Damn he was good looking. He was going to be married in four months. How did he die, I wondered late into the night. I couldn’t sleep till 2:45am, so I got back up to write this. I couldn’t shake the thought of this young man, smooth-cheeked and impossibly smart in his aviator sunglasses.
I thought about being ungrateful. I thought about a guy from the army who I hung out with briefly. Listening to him talk gave me some insight into how they think. My uncle is an ex-army man who ran the ISI academy (so I’ve heard) and once gave me fantastic details of zebra-crossing painted rooms to induce non-physical torture. If you ask him for a contact, he’ll say, Just give me the questions and I’ll ask them and get back to you. No point explaining to him that as a journalist you need to interview that person yourself.
I thought about Rashid Minhas, who is a well known national hero. I barely feel anything for him. I wondered today if we had a new hero in this young man who fought. Hero worship seems a long shot, something our grandmothers did while listening to the patriotic songs Noor Jehan sung on Pakistan Radio as we went to war decades ago. My hero is Mordechai Richler, not Lieutenant Yasir.
My reporter felt helpless as he stood out there at 3am, knowing that no one would let him in – and indeed it wasn’t safe either for him to go. The media clustered around the gates of the base with no proper way of finding out what was happening. And live television coverage was blacked out so that the mistakes of the GHQ attack in 2009 were not repeated.
We’ve been caught with our pants down and are sleep walking through a war. It’s like walking dazed through a minefield of hate with the landmines blowing up. We keep staggering ahead as someone picks us off one by one. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, comes to mind.
Pakistani society is too divided to fight this war. That is the biggest tragedy. We are divided by class, ideology, ethnicity and religion. I teach young high school students and never cease to be amazed when I heard rightwing rhetoric from them. They don’t know enough political theory and history to be able to sift through what has become mainstream discourse. Blaming Russia for entering Afghanistan can’t help now.
I feel helpless as a journalist/desk editor when we aren’t able to actually provide readers with someone concrete. And when I sometimes visit our newspaper’s website, I’m amazed at the strange mullah-hating, US-hating, Iran-hating, rich-hating comments posted there. We’re all over the place. Some of us think it’s OK to die if you’re fighting imperialism.
When are we going to be able to understand what America wants from us and what the big game is? Is it oil? Is it Mullah Omar? Will killing Mullah Omar end terrorism? That is what scares me the most – this war will last centuries. Until we stop young men and women from believing that harming other people will achieve something we will keep paying a price. America will never be able to sleep at night. Neither will Pakistan.
Karachi alone has a population of 20m people. Even if we managed to get the majority of young kids – the terrorists were 20 to 25 years old – there will always be rebel teens from bad homes, waiting for some madrassa to whitewash their brains.
When will our governments realize that they aren’t taking their people along. That the PERCEPTION of American foreign policy is important. You have to be seen as engaging in the dialogue as well. Does America really care what Pakistanis think? If it doesn’t then how can it expect to solve the problem is its own back yard?
Now, I’m not a defense or government analyst and a medium-grade journalist at that too. It sounds really cheesy to say the stuff I just said, but I can’t get it out of my head. Today we’ve run a terribly mediocre city section despite the fact that something earth-shaking happened in Karachi today. I’m reminded of an impossibly syntactically perfect stanza from Theodore Roethke’s The Waking:
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go…

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