Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The nagging fear...

I don’t even remember the first terrorist attack or suicide bombing I reported on after arriving in Pakistan, there have been so many. Over 60 a year since we came here in late 2007.

Initially it was just the security forces – their vehicles and check posts in some place that was just a spot on the map for me. Then it was Lahore and Rawalpindi before the terrorists struck in Islamabad.

With each blast, things become almost mechanical. Calls to contacts, officials or colleagues with the same old questions – where, what was the target, how many dead and injured? So cold and clinical, like most of the stuff which journalists do in such situations. After all, we were always taught to be objective by seniors in our days as cub reporters.

But once in a while, the terror does strike closer to home. I still remember the call I got from my colleague in Lahore early one morning last year, saying he wouldn’t be able to work for the rest of the week.

My colleague is a guy who always has a smile on his face and an easy laugh, never takes an off (like most journos in Pakistan) and never shirks – but this time he had a compelling reason.

His brother-in-law, a major in the Pakistan Army who had been through several scrapes during operations against the Taliban in Swat valley, was ambushed and killed while going to the rescue of some other soldiers.

We try not to think about these things and put them away in some corner of our mind. While talking to folks back home, the usual questions about our safety are answered with: “Oh, we’re ok. That attack happened far away from our home.”

But the fear is there, nagging away in some dark recess. Having heard so much from colleagues about how the terrorists were using mobiles to trigger their explosive devices, I almost freaked out when I heard someone tapping on the keypad of cell phone during the Friday prayers at our neighbourhood mosque.

I ignored the instructions drilled into my head by my grandfather that one should not allow anything to disturb the namaz, and turned to see where the sound was coming from. It turned out to be a young boy in the row behind me playing with his cell phone.    

One tries to make some sense of the human cost of these senseless terror attacks and suicide bombings. Each of those hundreds of people killed that we report about have families and loved ones who will have to grapple with a sense of loss for a long, long time.

And one finally realises that one can’t really make much sense of things. What really drives these men who blow themselves up? What goes through their minds as they press down on the switch that sets off their explosive jackets or when they drive their explosives-laden vehicle into a target?

These are questions that people in Pakistan will have to grapple with while trying to find ways to end the militancy and terrorism in their country. We can only wish them luck and say a prayer for them.

(More thoughts on this issue by Kamran Shafi and Nadeem F Paracha, two Pakistani columnists who tell it like it is, here and here.)


  1. Yes this is so sad. All the bomb blasts in India and now in Pakistan- so many innocent people losing their lives for no reason. It is so wrong to kill any innocent person, it is like killing all of humanity.

    Wish you well and stay safe.

  2. @Taha, may we and all our loved ones stay safe. Thanks for reading.

  3. Praying for your safety from here in India! Ameen.


  4. Its the common man that gets to suffer...for no fault of his, its a sad situation and what scares us the most is not our security, but the security of our loved ones. Hope peace prevails and we and our near and dear ones live in a peaceful and a secure environemnt.

  5. Its so sad to read this, but south Asia has mired itself in a vicious cycle of self destruction , unfortunately the mandarins and the powers that be on both sides do not really care for the common people , they are just busy playing their stupid power games. In a all fairness the ISI must take more of the blame in this matter , but the sad truth is even our hands are not completely clean

  6. The blasts in Lahore recently had me very panicked as many of my family live there. I called my relatives to make sure they were okay, and thank God they were, it does disturb a person so much to see the places where you have been and recognise being attacked like this. The fear is especially more pronounced when you live abroad away from your loved ones...

    The remarks of the chief minister of Punjab show the mindset of his party, they are closeted taliban... this official turning a blind eye and complacency has to change, many people took offence to his comments quiet rightly... Pakistan has to change and these bombs are doing just that, its unfortunate that its bombs that are making people change their mindset... When people come over nowadays no one really talks about religion anymore as its such a touchy subject, its better not to sour any jovial atmosphere, as every cleric now declares the next one a kaffir!

    These blasts, and this religious overload brings one to the conclusion that religion should remain firmly out of politics as we are too diverse ethnically, religiously and linguistically its time now to move towards a more secular form of governance and for that we can look towards India and more recently Bangladesh for examples... The biggest challenge that has not been discussed is bringing the people together as one nation and strengthening Pakistaniyat or a common Pakistani identity... an identity that is independent of religion and for that we have a history that goes back many thousands of years and the river Indus that flows through all four provinces tying together the various cultures and languages of our people the way a mother brings together her many different daughters who have been married into different families far away...

    the government has been totally useless in fostering a national identity that is not dependant on religion. And this will be THE long term challenge and issue for Pakistan and its people...

  7. Planting that nagging fear is perhaps the point of the insanity unleashed by these misguided, gullible, suicidal souls. None of us can take anything for granted any more. Spotting an abandoned rucksack, toy, vehicle or just about anything else at a public place does send a chill down your spine. You do wonder. And that is such a tragedy. Walking into a hotel in Mumbai now involves clearing baggage screening and physical frisking like at the airports. In some hotels there are even bomb-sniffing dogs at the gates checking each vehicle. It's really sad that things have come to such a pass. Will we ever again be able to live without fear, doubt and uncertainty?

  8. I always try to fathom the root cause that gave birth to this destructive mindset in a few the Af-Pak regions. This has got to do a lot with the social ills, induced infighting, separatist policies and power games that were played during Russia's occupation of Afghanistan with America supporting the mujahideen resistance. That gave birth to Taliban and every other ill.

  9. Dear all, thanks for reading and commenting on this issue for what it really is - an issue that concerns people on both sides of the border. @Rupa, yes life has changed but even more so on this side of the border. I know coz it's a pain just going to the Foreign Office even for a briefing to which one has been invited.
    @Anonymous, yr idea of Pakistaniyat is refreshing and I wish more ppl would think on such lines.
    @Premal, thanks for being so candid.
    Once again, thanks for reading.

  10. It is unfortunate. These youngsters are so desperate,brainwashed and gullible. We can only hope and pray that some good sense will prevail.

  11. I felt the same way that you have written so clearly here. What were their thoughts when they went right into the target with a suicide bomb on their body? Did they feel just blank...maybe once they decided, they could not go back. They look so young and baby faced.

    Our South India is comparatively a safer place, they say. But when we cross the Tidel Park (IT park), when we go for morning walks, we always wonder nowadays, for how long this building will be a safe place. Even we might not return home safely. This fear was not there until a few years back.

    Take care.

  12. Your blogs are quite intersting. I came to know of your blog when Shashi Tharoor retweeted it, since then I have been following you. I read your blogs frequently but am leaving a comment for the first time. Very nice, very readable. Even for us in India it's scary sometimes nowadays, but, I guess, it's nothing like how it's there in Pakistan.

  13. Ranjini, very true!

    Sandhya, stay safe.

    Indra, thanks for reading :)

  14. Its time to remove hate from Pakistani textbooks.

    Anyone listening or still busy blaming India for Lahore blasts?