Siege within

Siege within

Pakistan Air Force jets were spotted flying low through Lahore’s residential and market areas all week in what the PAF is calling patrols.

Pakistan Air Force jets were spotted flying low through Lahore’s residential and market areas all week in what the PAF is calling patrols. Not to be beat,Indian statements suggesting that air strikes in Pakistan are necessary have been given airtime since the massacre in Mumbai. In Lahore,the response has been unreal. It seems nothing can shake Lahorees out of the mood they get in during wedding season. Even Musharraf was at a wedding yesterday,where journalists snuck in to get statements about the Pak-Indian tensions. He said he wasn’t worried about them. Neither was anyone else. After a bomb blast took place a stone’s throw from the posh Aitchison school this Thursday,Mall Road is still full of shaadi-traffic. Before wedding tents were pitched up,the public’s mind was still elsewhere. After India deployed its Border Security Force during December’s first days,reporters were dispatched to collect opinion in the markets. They returned with public vitriol about the hike in onion prices.

Pakistani News TV has been busy remembering the life of Benazir Bhutto and the brutal way it was lost this day,last year. With all the trauma that’s transpired in twelve months,it’s no surprise there’s been no public outrage about attacks from India. Most already think their country’s being lead down the gallows by the United States; the fighting up north has already left Pakistanis emotionally exhausted. I’ve never felt the fatalism prevail in Lahore in the two years I’ve spent here. From all quarters,people have given up on their country. Chirpy graduates share plans about leaving the country. The urban working class say the country is out of their control; that America and Israel call all the shots now. And everyone I’ve encountered thinks I’m foolish for ever leaving Boston.

Lately I think I’m foolish myself. This country is deteriorating.

The first time I witnessed a bomb blast at a concert,I was tuning up back stage. It was in Gaddafi Stadium at the largest musical event in Pakistan all year,the World Performing Arts Festival. We were cramped up in a side room with a huge,ugly steel garage door. The blast made us jump,rattling the bolt holding the steel door shut. We had no idea what was on the other side. Artists who had flown in from Norway,the Balkans and France exchanged panicked worst-case scenarios. They were all half expecting it. Festival organisers rushed into the room to inform us that the blast was only a gas pipe. I knew it was a lie,but the fatalism had already taken hold. It took a second blast while we were on stage to snap us out of it. We had to move. Once outside the auditorium we saw people shoveling in their last tikkas and loitering by shops,as if they had no idea what had taken place. On the walk path to the parking lot,our evacuation slowed into an exit,and we talked about how we also anticipated the blast. Our bansari player Aqmal didn’t say anything,but I could see his eyes well up at the corners. I knew what he felt. It was going to be hopeless to book concerts now that musicians and artists are targets for terrorist attacks.


I have grown very resentful that there were no protests in response to those bombs. How many must be even more resentful? Juice-stands in Lahore were blown up six weeks ago,and in recent memory a sports stadium in Peshawar was bombed. No one protested those blasts either. Pakistanis who have endured direct attacks on their way of life are treated to a public that behaves like its living in India. If the public goes silent when Lahore,Karachi or Peshawar are attacked,what condemnation can you expect from them about Mumbai?

On top of the apathy,those Pakistanis who’ve lost loved ones to terrorist attacks sound a lot more like Pranab Mukherjee than Hamid Gul. My first television reporting assignment last year was to interview bereaved parents of police men who were killed by blast on Mall Road during Muharram. People mourning outside the city morgue placed the onus of the blame on Pakistan’s government and the “agencies”. They were already convinced that some in the army and government cooperated with terrorists.

It’s unlikely that many Indians wish to see a war break out either. They are likely as suspicious as Pakistanis are of the military. Nearly a year ago,Pakistanis showed self-determination and turned out in droves to vote out General Musharraf’s Q-league. There was dancing in the streets then,but the military on the move has dampened the mood since. One newspaper vendor shared his thoughts,“When I see the Pakistani jets in the sky,they’re not flying to warn India. They’re flying to warn me.”

The writer is a Pakistani musician