When it comes to Parachinar

Published in Dawn

As we all now know – despite the best efforts of the mainstream press – twin blasts tore through Parachinar last Thursday, killing scores. Parachinar in turn proved to be part of a hideous week that saw attacks on police in Quetta and Karachi, and a massive oil tanker disaster in Bahawalpur.

And though desperation followed disaster, no one was listening. Long deaf toward any province that’s not Punjab (and within Punjab, any place that’s not Lahore), the Muslim League has – even by its own high standards – stuffed quality cotton wool in its ears.

It began as badly as it ended: the prime minister left London to rush to Bahawalpur. The naysayers were unimpressed: prior attacks in FATA and two other provinces didn’t shatter his complacency, so why this? We hoped the PM would prove them wrong.

Instead the naysayers were proven right. Bahawalpur is part of Punjab. Parachinar is not. Quetta is not. Karachi is not. As of this writing, the prime minister has visited one of the above, and none else.

The same can’t be said for his rivals. When it comes to Parachinar, the PPP may be credited with trying and failing; the PTI for trying and succeeding. But the ruling party can’t be credited with anything at all, because it never tried in the first place.

What it did do made matters worse: announcing a million rupees for the family of each martyr – half of what was pledged to the Bahawalpur families already. When it comes to compensation, the PM may have been paraphrasing Orwell: all lives are equal; some are just more equal than others.

Even otherwise, chopper rides and compensation packages weren’t about to cut it in FATA (just as Bahawalpur’s millions were no substitute for burn units). Had Nero been more skilled at playing the lyre, Rome would still have burned.

It would be best to turn to the root causes instead: sectarianism being the first. We’re told sectarians aren’t terrorists or – more recently – that terrorism isn’t sectarian. We read a circular to that effect by the military and, before that, interior minister Chaudhry Nisar told the Senate that sectarian outfits shouldn’t be equated with terror groups – besides, the Shia-Sunni war had been raging for 1,300 years anyway.

No and no, actually. We know sectarianism is terrorism because the law says so. Section 6(c) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, literally defines terrorism as ‘the use or threat [of action…] made for the purpose of advancing a religious, sectarian or ethnic cause.’ Equally ironic is the fact that the ATA was brought in by the same Muslim League twenty years ago, to combat a wave of sectarian attacks in the wake of the Mehram Ali bombings.

As to the myth of the 1,300-year (or 1,400-year) Shia-Sunni war, the minister would be better off reading journalist Murtaza Hussain: Sunnis and Shias have lived together in peace ‘to a degree without parallel elsewhere in the world,’ as centuries of coexistence (between the Ottomans and Safavids to name just one example) stand testament.

Dead myths and dead distinctions out of the way, we turn to the actual nature of state failure in Parachinar, and setting things right.

First, having endured everything from jihadi training grounds to Taliban sieges, Parachinar needs to be construed less as a boxing ring for Afghanistan-related hijinks than as a part of Pakistan proper.

Second, decades of inertia towards sectarian militants in Kurram Agency have now culminated in 2017, with the LeJ and its affiliates attacking Parachinar in January, March, and June. It’s now or never.

Third, the Gulf’s financiers continue to fund these maniacs, while Pakistan’s lending its former army chief to Riyadh – for what seems a Sunni NATO by the day – has done us few favours. That funding must be cut, and General Raheel must return.

Fourth comes the other side of the coin: reports that Iran is knee-deep in Parachinar, recruiting Shia locals for Syria via its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. That Pakistani citizens be used as cannon fodder for the grisly Assads is intolerable.

Fifth, those demanding clampdowns on social media – against those rightly calling this attack sectarian – would best read Jahanzaib Haque and Omer Bashir’s investigative report in this paper instead, and go after the actual offenders in all their unchecked glory.

Finally, this is about FATA, and oppressing it using the same tools as our colonizers.

Until FATA is merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Islamabad will continue to treat it as an alien planet. Until the FCR is lifted, we will continue to witness security forces opening fire on protestors. Until parliament steels itself, it will continue to be cowed by Messrs Fazl and Achakzai. Until Pakistan owns, reforms and revives FATA, we will continue to be a federation in name only.

Until then, all that may be left is to pray for Parachinar.