From hell —Syed Mansoor Hussain

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Perhaps if I saw some of these men in black patrolling places of worship and other ‘soft’ targets, it might make me feel a little safer. But then my safety or that of ordinary citizens is not a priority

It is not often that I cannot decide what to write about. But it finally happened to me. No, not writer’s block, but rather a surfeit of issues that I really want to address and cannot quite decide on which needs my attention the most.

There is the Mumbai horror and its political aftermath, the four days of carnage in Karachi, the bombings in Peshawar, and as far as my old country is concerned, things that seem to be getting from bad to worse. And then there is the matter of the CJ’s daughter.

After Mumbai, the phrase ‘existential choice’ has been much bruited about. Since I could never get beyond the first few pages of any book by Sartre, I never got a handle on existentialism. Not that anybody I know who read him was any better off. But it seems that existential choice is one of those choices that changes the way we look at things forever.

As far I am concerned, such a moment came for me after the suicide attack on a police contingent stationed between the Lahore High Court and the GPO some months ago. I was at that spot literally a few seconds before the blasts and heard them when I was less than a kilometre away.

On that day, I came to the conclusion that terrorist attacks, like fatal traffic accidents and violent crime, are now a part of life and that I will just have to accept them as such. No, this is not resignation or despondency but acceptance of life as it is in these times. There are others with much greater expertise in these matters and I will leave it to them to expound on terrorism, its causes and how to curtail it.

As an average citizen who has no special ability to create a secure environment for myself, I have to depend on the government to provide me, like all others, with safety and security. For me, terrorism is a law and order problem and not a political problem. I used to, but I don’t really care any more why post-adolescent men are willing to blow themselves up and take a bunch of innocents along with them. I just want them stopped.

As I watched the Mumbai attacks unfold, one of the things that bothered me a lot was that, as some of the earlier reports suggested, when the terrorists were killing bystanders in the railway station, the police, instead of firing back, were hiding from them. In spite of all the mumbo jumbo spouted by ‘concerned’ authorities and talking heads on TV, that to me was a very ‘chilling’ aspect of the unfolding scenario.

Police in Pakistan are really no different from those in India. The policeman on the street, our first defence against all crime, usually comes from a poor family, is not well educated, is poorly trained and armed; is paid a little above the minimum wage; is entirely corruptible; and is often the only wage earner in his family. To expect such a person to lay down his life trying to protect others is unreasonable.

Lahore has many ‘anti-terrorist’ barricades manned by our local police. A few pot bellied men with old rifles stand by, looking quite bored. All they seem interested in is to hassle motorcyclists and drivers of minivans and small cars, probably to shake them down for a few hundred rupees each. That is the only anti-terrorist activity visible to ordinary citizens, and I must confess that it inspires little if any confidence among them.

In sharp contrast to these humble protectors of law and order are the smartly dressed, well-armed young men in black T-shirts emblazoned with the motto ‘No Fear’. These members of the elite police force are only seen bunched up in police vans riding herd on some VVIP motorcade. Most seem edgy enough to shoot you just for having the audacity to try and overtake the car they are ‘defending’.

Perhaps if I saw some of these men in black patrolling places of worship and other ‘soft’ targets, it might make me feel a little safer. But then my safety or that of ordinary citizens is not a priority. It is the VVIPs that need to be protected. Without VVIPs, the entire edifice of the Pakistani state would collapse in a matter of seconds.

The problem is made more acute by the sort of people we are dealing with. The lone survivor of the terrorist attack on Mumbai is reportedly a 21-year-old Pakistani, a functionally illiterate (fourth-grade dropout) vagrant who never held a job or underwent any professional training in his life.

The most frightening part is then that within a year, he was trained to use GPS devices, advanced weapons and explosives, and more importantly to read street maps and plans of complex structures like those of the hotels attacked. After all he did manage to navigate through the streets in a city he had never visited.

Reportedly, he also received advanced amphibious attack training in the landlocked part of Azad Kashmir. All this in one year. Clearly the sort of people capable of such miraculous transformations must be special. If only our governments could find these people and hire them instead of jailing them. Perhaps, if they train our police forces, we might then just stand a chance against these madmen.

Finally, a few words about the CJ’s daughter. The time has come to identify all fathers among politicians, bureaucrats, teachers and the well heeled and well connected that have ever managed to get their children’s marks improved. And then, as the Queen of Hearts said, “Off with their heads”!

Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at\12\08\story_8-12-2008_pg3_5


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