Probably the most callous thing one can do is to compare tragedies – especially in the current world, where deaths come in varying forms and at an equally precipitous frequency. Juxtaposing reaction to the tragedies, in turn, falls into a similarly inconsiderate bracket.
But while contrasting global outrage to certain events with others might be counterproductive, especially when hashtags are the yardstick, and can eventually metamorphose into acquiescence for all forms of the episode that cause the indignation in the first place, calling out the state rulers’ antipathy over the one set of the citizenry is anything but a case of whataboutery.
And so without the slightest of intents to minimise the agony of the victims of Ahmedpur Sharqia oil tanker fire, and their families, one would have to question why the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hadn’t already cut short his London trip after bombings in Quetta and Parachinar on Friday.
Parachinar, where the death toll from twin bombings has already climbed to 72, has completed a week of mourning and protests, amidst the leaders’ continued indifference to the violence in a city that has been the most victimised this year.
While the PM’s lack of concern was visible over his lack of reaction, the Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa saying that the Parachinar attacks were intended to ‘target Eid festivities’ also underscores our collective insensitivity towards the people of Parachinar.
The obliviousness can also be gauged by a leading English daily’s online edition first reporting the bombings as striking ‘Peshawar’s Parachinar area’ in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
At the time of writing, neither the PM nor the Army Chief, has visited Parachinar as yet – the latter citing ‘bad weather’ as reason for continued delay.
If Eid celebrations were the desired target, they have been the aim for jihadists since before the creation of Pakistan, with the Shia majority capital of the Kurram Agency long being the hub of anti-Shia violence.
This year alone Parachinar has witnessed three major terror attacks now, after a Lashkar-i-Jhangvi al-Alami bombing killed 24 in January, with Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JA) targeting a local market in March to kill 22.
Both the groups struck in tandem on Friday to target Parachinar and Quetta on Friday. The duo has also overlapped with the ISIS, after paying allegiance to the Middle Eastern terror group, which has formed a global jihadist umbrella that has now well and truly penetrated Pakistan.
More than any festivities being attacked in Parachinar or elsewhere, ISIS affiliated groups are vying to strengthen their stranglehold along the Af-Pak border, where a perpetual political vacuum persists.
While the sectarian strife in Parachinar dates back to the pre-Partition British India, the last decade has been particularly ominous for the local Shia populace with the city put under a Taliban siege after 2007. In the next ten years, the negotiations with the Taliban groups and their constant breaches of the agreements have meant that the locals in Parachinar have had to bear the brunt.
The 2008 Mari agreement allowed the government to target Taliban militants that had blocked the only land route linking the city to the rest of Pakistan: Peshawar-Thall-Parachinar Road. But not only did the Taliban blockade continue for years, the only military action that has been orchestrated by the state has left tens of thousands of citizens from Kurram Agency homeless as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
If there is one city that has epitomised Pakistani state failures on the counterterror front it has been Parachinar – both ideologically and militarily.
As the anti-Shia ideology continues to surge in the region, unchallenged, one jihadist group replaces the other, now culminating in the most grotesque jihadist group the world has seen: the Islamic State.
The state’s indifference to the Parachinar Shia population comes at a time when it is going out of its way to support Saudi Arabia in its military alliance that is increasingly revealing itself to be anti-Shia. And then we have the audacity to say that we won’t let the ‘enemy fan sectarianism’ in Pakistan.
When sectarian foreign policy couples with indifference to the plight of a people of the same sect, we don’t need any enemies to fuel religious extremism and sectarian divide. And before we release any more videos to pin this on RAW, let’s be clear that anti-Shia violence isn’t brewed in New Delhi, but Riyadh. We’ve used the now meaningless phrases like children of a lesser God, or lesser Pakistanis, for the people of Parachinar so frequently that they have lost any intent that they might have once had.
We’ve long abandoned Parachinar and thrown the locals at the mercy of the jihadist groups hungry for the blood of followers of any ideology that differs with their hardline brand of Sunni Islam.
If we believe they’ll stop at the Shia, we’re grotesquely mistaken.