The newspapers next day carried different headlines. One said that the suicide bomber had “avenged” the 2007 Lal Masjid operation. How come the reporter knows more than even say interior czar Rehman Malik? Is it not too early to claim why the suicide bomber struck? Who knows the reason why this madman decided to kill 19 people in Islamabad last Sunday evening? Might be the bomber wanted Bara avenged? Maybe the bomber wanted Swat avenged. Most headlines pointed towards the Lal Masjid being the motivation of the suicide bomber.
The media rushing to judgment is unwise. We need a crash course in how to report such horrific incidents. One very excited TV “senior analyst” heaped all the blame on Rehman Malik while the anchor egged him on and joined in the verbal whipping. My question: was this analyst present on the scene to talk about this specific event with such authority? Another TV personality kept the viewers engaged with repeatedly asking banal questions of his reporters for almost an hour – why, when, how, where, who… while catching us unaware to show body parts, blood and raw flesh splattered on the road, grass and tree branches.
Just 30 minutes before the bomber struck I was in that area with my little grandson. My daughter had to pick up her clothes from the tailor in the shopping plaza past the gas pump. We had entered the area from the opposite side of Melody Chowk, the scene of the crime. It was one of those evenings when the rain had brought a cool freshness to the environs all around. One didn’t need air-conditioning in the car. Suddenly I spotted an ancient looking armoured vehicle parked on one of the side roads facing the Holiday Inn. It looked like a piece of junk, hardly a sight to raise red flags. In the meanwhile, I noticed several young boys and men in beards, skull caps with their ankle high shalwars moving about. They all looked disciplined, clean and harmless. They seemed to be minding their own business. As we approached the Melody Chowk to take a turn for the tailor’s shop, I saw a wall of blue-uniformed policemen wearing helmets and holding shields. They were just standing around.
Humans have a sense of preservation. Something didn’t look right. Why was so much police standing guarding the roundabout? The thought entered my mind. Still, the chores of life have to be attended to. You can’t lock yourself inside your home and not go outside each time Rehman Malik warns of suicide bombers striking Islamabad. Life must go on and mundane things like collecting one’s stitched clothes from the tailor attended to. Plus, I had thought of treating myself to a qulfi falooda from a shop that excels in it at the Melody food park adjacent to the tailor’s shop. It was to be my after dinner treat. And while at it, buying a few paans from that funny man who dresses in a mughlai robe with tresses coming to his shoulders was in my plan of action.
But something told me to drive on and not loiter. “Let’s get out of here,” I told my daughter at the wheel. She agreed and we decided to give our shopping a miss. As we leisurely turned the corner where the Lal Masjid congregation was in full gear, people were still pouring in and getting themselves searched by a half-hearted Punjab policeman who was perhaps too tired to take the body search seriously having been standing there for hours. A few cameramen were also around.
On reaching home, I switched on the television. It were those same policemen whom I had seen just 30 minutes earlier who had now turned into headless bodies with twisted pieces of burning flesh mangled on the road which we had driven on never once realizing that rivers of human blood and pieces of body parts will cover it just half-an-hour later.
The policemen had indeed attained shahadat. They died with their boots and caps on. One saw someone later collect the scattered blue blood soaked berets of these shaheeds. They were poor and they were only doing their duty.
Enter Rehman Malik. His immediate reaction was defensive. He denied a security lapse. He said the bomber sneaked in on the policemen from behind the bushes and blew himself up along with those standing there. I agree with this statement. The drawing room analysts who like to hold forth and claim wisdom of such incidents while sitting in the safety of their four walls must hold their tongues before castigating the government. Had these analysts been there, they would perhaps have noticed the tall wild shrubbery everywhere. Anyone can hide while waiting to strike at the right moment.
Also, anyone, repeat anyone on foot could have been walking around wearing a suicide bombers jacket without being detected. The roads were open to the public and the traffic was moving freely. It is well nigh impossible to grab hold of a madman and stop him in time from detonating the bomb strapped to his body. Even the best law and order personnel in Israel failed to stop their citizens being killed in droves by such acts.
Becoming angry, emotional and playing to the galleries is the easiest thing for some security analysts. Instead of attacking people like Rehman Malik for having failed to prevent suicide attacks, we should be attacking the root of the evil. No Pakistani analyst worth his salt has the guts to blame these people who run the camps that train and indoctrinate these youths. We all know who these outfits are but like the NWFP government prefer to zip up instead of being bumped off by these crazy people who have successfully infiltrated into our environs and have threatened death should they be exposed.
A suicide bomber is a person who is poor, who is driven to desperation and would even take his own life because he’s been deprived? I asked Carlotta Gall, the political correspondent for the New York Times who is based in Islamabad. I was interviewing her for my TV show last December. This is what she said: “What became clear to me after travelling and working on this (suicide bombers) story for the last two years is that somebody is getting them and indoctrinating them in a very serious manner. There is a concerted effort to remove them from their families. Some of the families I spoke with were clearly upset and very unhappy about it; some of them didn’t know that their sons were being taken to suicide bombers camps. There was one father who was terrified and told me ‘I’m terrified they would take my second son.’ In the camps they talk about jihad, religion but they actually remove these boys from everyone they know and then I think there’s a very severe brainwashing.
“So I wouldn’t say that boys are running off to become suicide bombers because they are desperate or have no jobs. They are vulnerable if they don’t have a great life but that is not the main reason for them to kill themselves.”
I asked Carlotta Gall about the people responsible for brainwashing the youth. “The jihadi groups – some of them are banned; some of them run underground operations and some of them we know who they are. They pretend to have a humanitarian or political front but have actually militant plans which aren’t overtly seen. When you trace how the youth reach the camps – it’s usually through a mosque and then into a jihadi group that runs such camps.”
Last Monday as I sat down to write my column, the walls of my room shook. The television channels began blaring that Rawalpindi cantonment had been hit. Some said it was the Army House; some said it was near the airport and some said it was the Pindi kutcheri. The confusion lasted for hours with the anchors on the mini-screen babbling away excitedly. Hours later, it was discovered that a sonic boom had shaken our homes and hearts.
This Monday, I sit down to write about an actual attack that occurred Sunday evening. I happened to be there just 30 minutes before.
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting.
The News, 8/7/2008