The Bullet Train – Aasim Zafar Khan

Pick a card – any card. That’s how the magician starts. And it’s all downhill from there. The die is cast, and with equal measures of sleight of hand and a fixed deck, the magician bamboozles his audience.

This piece isn’t about magic.

But in today’s Pakistan, there are an infinite number of stories and topics one can talk about and analyse. So, pick a topic – any topic.

How about the latest dropping by Zacarias Moussaoui, the man described as the 20th hijacker in the 9/11 terror attacks? Moussaoui alleges that some high-ups within the Saudi royal family supported Al-Qaeda. Although the 9/11 commission report released in 2004 concluded that there was no evidence of the Saudi government funding Al-Qaeda, all of the attackers were Saudi nationals.

But all that has happened post-9/11 has very conveniently bypassed the Saudis. Talk about putting business before everything else.

Or how about the two students who were arrested in Karachi recently for writing a threatening letter to a coaching centre using the name of the banned People’s Aman Committee just to get a day off? Pakistani parents are reeling in the aftermath of the Peshawar School attack and to find that juveniles are using that, and the threat of violence, just to get some kicks is not only disturbing, but such false alarms can also further stretch an already stretched thin security apparatus.

These kids need to be punished; even the Pope says it’s alright, as long as the kids get to keep their dignity intact. Add to this, the numerous text messages and emails going around about terror threats across in every park, school, bank and washroom across the country, sent – of course – by somebody’s cousin’s uncle’s neighbour who works for the ISI. We always knew gossiping was rampant, but it seems so is rumour-mongering.

How about the one and a half year old girl who was raped and then strangled to death in Karachi? Will the culprit ever be found? What kind of a sentence will be handed down? After all, we are a nation that acquits gang rapists, not hangs them. And then there’s Shoaib, the 17-year-old who raped and murdered a six-year-old child in Lahore recently. Fortunately, he’s dead, shot whilst attempting to escape police custody.

This piece isn’t about rape either.

For the past few weeks, I have been trying to dissect the National Action Programme (NAP). We have deconstructed the madressahs, the shadow economy that operates in the country, and our consistent use of non-state actors as a state tool. Is there any mention of abettors and sympathisers of terrorists? Perhaps. I didn’t see anything in the version that came to me. But naturally, the government must be aware that to successfully counter terrorism and extremism in the country, it will need to clamp down on both the sympathisers and the abettors. Hold on to this thought.

Let me take you back to a recent court hearing for Mumtaz Qadri, the garlanded and adored murderer of Salmaan Taseer.

As reported in the newspaper, a senior office bearer of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) bar association said that ‘the prosecutor in this case will get a US visa for sure especially if he succeeds in getting Qadri’s appeal dismissed…it will become difficult for the prosecutor to live in the country after this case’.

Another lawyer is on record saying that ‘He (Qadri) is approaching the court for the legal route. Otherwise look what happened in Bannu. People broke into the jail to free the inmates’.

Does this need to be dissected? Sure doesn’t look like threats to me. And incitement to violence. And perhaps jail breaking as well.

These are people within our judiciary. These are the ones who will perhaps be tasked with trying terrorists, hatemongers and the like. Is there anything left to say?

Apparently there is. One of the lawyers for Mumtaz Qadri is also on record hailing the Charlie Hedbo attackers as heroes. But so is ANP MNA Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour. He’s even offered a bounty for the owner of Charlie Hedbo. Presumably, he doesn’t want to dine with him.

Pakistan’s biggest problem apparently is terrorism. But terrorism is only the manifestation of a much greater ill. Extremism is described as: ‘beliefs, attitudes, feelings, actions and strategies of a character far removed from the ordinary’. And terrorism is the manifestation of this. But in Pakistan extremism is the ordinary. Look around you; that’s who we are. In our thoughts and actions, in our arguments, debates and beliefs, we take improbable, un-defendable positions and refuse to budge. That is Pakistan today.

How do you get into the minds of a 200 million strong society and work on this? Is it even possible? How long will it take?

I could very easily say: sorry, but that’s impossible. And in my heart of hearts I do believe that it is, under the current circumstances, impossible. But then that wouldn’t be fair. There has to be some light at the end of the tunnel.

There is. In fact there are two headlights – of a bullet train, which is shortly going to hurl into our collective existence.