So, May 28, 1998, chauvinistic Pakistanis here and all over the world erupted in wild celebrations because Pakistan successfully exploded a nuclear bomb in the Chaghai hills. That day is celebrated since as Yom-e-Takbir. I won’t bore you with details and commentary that you can easily find elsewhere on the Internet.
Twelve years later, by some strange coincidence, on that same fateful date, 96 fellow Lahorias, most of them Ahmedis, were killed by extremist Islamic supremacists who seem to want to rid the country of whatever meagre diversity it still sports. It was a massacre that lasted several hours. Two sites were targeted, both mosques, one in Grrhi Shahu, the other in Model Town, just after the main congregational Friday prayers.
The day before the first anniversary of the attack, Salman Javed, a friend from the FASTRising days, posted on a Facebook group to remind us of the upcoming day of mourning and shame. The next day, I woke up to see an SMS from an old schoolfriend, essentially a “forward”, that congratulated everyone involved in the nuclear weapons programme (politicians from Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif, named various generals and prominent weapons scientists, but interestingly enough, did not mention Salam’s role), and advised us all to own this great achievement and to rejoice in such a grand success. I tipped over. I mentioned what happened the year before and I asked him if he had ever spared a thought for the children born in the district hospital at Naukundi with all manner of deformities. Not surprisingly, he wrote back to say that he condemned the preceding year’s massacre as all loss of life was regrettable. He also said that he had never heard of the effects of nuclear radiation on the local population, not even in media foreign or websites. I didn’t bother to point out that most Baloch separatist websites were blocked within Pakistan since he would not give them credence anyway. I did mention to him that I had heard of these deformities from in-service Baloch doctors at the Bolan Medical College (actually, their teaching hospital). He responded with the standard caveat: let’s not believe things that one has only heard of. I responded that, yes, I hoped one day to visit and confirm these stories myself.
Later in the day, a comrade from the National Students Federation sent an excellent SMS that tore apart the propaganda of the nuclear establishment. Still later, at the IPSS office, Diep was talking with a visitor about their inability to mount much of a protest campaign even after such a horrendous massacre. It was she who provided the figure of 96. I had forgotten. I forget.
So, finally, I snapped out of my paralysis and proposed that we do a small candle-light vigil in front of the mosque. Luckily, many of the young people at the lecture I was attending agreed to join and in the end, we were ten or eleven, instead of the two or three I was expecting. I was really heartened to see a courageous, young Ahmedi, a friend of the NSF comrade, join us. After all, it was such short notice, people have plans, commitments. Ten or eleven in a sprawling city of almost ten million.
At the mosque, despite our entreaties, we were refused space point-blank. The six or seven policemen on duty were sympathetic and appreciative but regretted that they were bound by the orders of the mosque authorities. The authorities, it seems, were too afraid to do anything that would bring about a repeat (or worse) of the previous year’s atrocity. We reluctantly moved away, and then decided to head to the Press Club. Our Ahmedi friend informed us that he volunteered for security duty once a week inside the mosque and that the community actually had very little faith in the ability of the police to protect them against a second attack. He also told us that they were under a barrage of constant death threats, many of whom mentioned intended targets by name, communicated via fax, sms or slips of paper. I suddenly realised that, deny it as much I would, I was on some strange kind of battle-front, where the state’s monopoly on violence disappeared and a certain class citizens had to take care of itself.
We stood in front of the Press Club for about 40 minutes in a long arc that helped slow down traffic enough for even motorists and motor-cyclists to read our placards:
- We demand that the killers of the tragedy at Grhi Shahu and Model Town be presented in a court of justice
- Yom-e-takbir or shaam-e-ghm? 96 Lahorias were massacred on 28 May, 2010
- Stop intimidating and threatening Ahmedis
- Stop shedding blood in the name of religion
The killers were never arrested. I think one of them was wounded during the gun battle, and shifted to Jinnah Hospital. The next day, they attacked the ward where he was convalescing and managed to extricate him.