I first saw this Cricinfo photo over at Pakistaniat. It gives one a view of the large swarm of police deployed at the 2nd one-day international between Pakistan and South Africa, which Pakistan won by 25 runs.
This photo reminded me of how in the past I’ve been critical of foreign teams canceling, postponing and making an almighty fuss about “security” when touring Pakistan.
South Africa in particular got a lot of stick from me during their last tour to Pakistan, in which they finally decided, after much debate, that Karachi was not safe enough for their team to play in. I’m afraid I hadn’t begun blogging back than so I can’t provide you with links, but I do recall my frustrations back in 2003.
A blast had occurred in an empty building on Shahrah-e-Faisal barely days before South Africa’s scheduled arrival to Pakistan, the entire tour was subsequently in jeopardy, but when they discovered that the blasts were a product of a personal dispute between the owners of the property, and not an act of terrorism, at least the tour was saved. But Karachi nevertheless missed out.
I was upset on various counts, but firstly as a cricket fan, because I was deprived of seeing one of the better teams in world cricket battle it out against Pakistan in my home city against my favorite team. I hadn’t ever had the chance to visit a live international cricket match until this point, and I was very eagerly anticipating their arrival. But I was upset also, secondarily, because of the stereotypical images painted of Karachi at the time by some foreign journalists and even South African players in their analysis of the issue.
The South African skipper Graeme Smith, for instance, I recall related in one of his columns in a leading South African daily, how some of his friends told him that Karachi was so unsafe people never go to cinemas in Karachi. It is not that I didn’t recognize that violence was a real threat for my city. I did back then, and I still do. There is no point in living in denial of course. But my gripe was that some of these concerns were being needlessly exaggerated.
I also felt that Karachi was being singled out. Karachi isn’t any more or less safe then any of the other cities in South Africa’s itinerary, back then, and even today. Terrorism was a global threat, I argued, and the world at large, not just Pakistan, because of this threat was a more dangerous place. But if we all decide to isolate our selves in the safe havens of our homes, it is not only going to give more encouragement to those who’re behind all of this? Perhaps I because I was young, I was also naive, but the answer sure seemed very conspicuous to me back then. And it frustrated me that South Africa didn’t seem to agree.
Especially because this was South Africa of all countries making these complains. The same South Africa where in on one particular Pakistan tour a few years back, night time mugging had resulted in two Pakistani players being hurt. Several of the Pakistani players then wanted to return, but reassurances from Cricket South Africa meant we only returned after completing the tour as per scheduled. In this backdrop, I found the nature of some of these apprehensions about Karachi’s safety rather painfully ironic.
Their decision, thirdly, also upset me because it made realise my own worthlessness in the eye’s of the powers to be. We, the citizens of this city, I thought, we live here every day, and over time, we learn to cope with these threats. We don’t fuss about them, we only mutely complain and we try and always get on with our lives. And this is despite the fact that the taxes we pay sponsor much of the high profile security arrangements in place for such VIPs.
I felt peeved. Why do I never get such out-of-the ordinary protection? These high-end bullet proof adorned personalities, they always seem to get away unharmed whenever there’s any such tragic incident, it is always we, the ordinary folk of this city, that are at greatest risk and that have to pay the sacrifice. Yet despite that, no lessons are ever learned; our resilience and character are taken for granted and we’re left to fend of for ourselves with the least protection of all.
We’re ordinary people after all, why should we deserve anything special? Our lives and property are a thing few in the hierarchy are concerned with protecting, we’re frequently terrorized, robbed, killed and looted, and yet, when we complain, rarely is full justice brought. But then you have these people coming in from foreign countries, cricketers and ex-prime ministers with corruption cases, for all but a few weeks or days, and they get the highest, most “fool proof” security arrangements possible (and that too, of course, sponsored either directly or indirectly from our tax money).
All these very valid frustrations for me back then. I expected some of these VIPs people to show a bit of courage and get on with it, like the ordinary people of this country do. I still harbor many if not all of these frustrations, but my expectations of these VIPs have changed. Over these past three days, as I’ve been forced to just stick around home and all day hear about nothing Karachi’s worsening law and order situation, I can begin to understand the real extent of the fear a foreigner may feel before coming here.
This afternoon, twice I heard a helicopter hovering overhead our neighborhood (I live about five minutes off Bilawal House) and each time I heard those propellers forcing their way against the wind, for a moment my heart would be in my mouth. What happened now I would wonder, just another routine security check perhaps. Hopefully not another blast. I’d go tune in to the TV again, and if any breaking news didn’t turn up over the next five minutes, I’d get my breath back again.
Thankfully, despite the sporadic instances of firing, stone throwing and tire burning in various parts of the city, things have remained by and large peaceful. But as many of the dead from the October 18th’s blasts are being laid to rest, the sense of fear and insecurity that has gripped this city is undeniable. Private news channels here keep showing scenes of deserted intersections, closed down gas stations and memorial adverts with dramatic dirges playing in the background. There has been precious little else to watch on TV, and had it not been for the cricket, I might seriously have acquired something of a mild depression.
There is, after all, only that much of sadness you can keep seeing without being overwhelmed at some point or the other. Especially when the Pakistani media have seemingly decided to compromise every possible journalistic ethic in the favor of sensationalist reporting. What the point was behind showing corpses of unidentified dead being stored in Edhi cold storage, and worst still, the badly mutilated head of the alleged suicide bomber him self, I will not know. Had my remote not been in close vicinity each time, I may not have stopped my self from puking. I’m shocked beyond belief that producers could allow such footage to keep on running all day long, and that too without any warnings for viewer discretion.
Back in the city it self, life continues to remain on a virtual stand still, and often not by choice. One commentator at the Karachi Metroblog shared a story about how some 400 “workers” forced shops and business (including a Pizza Hut outlet) at Zamzama Commercial Boulevard to close down. My mom too was telling me how one of her tailors told her over phone that shops in Clifton’s Gulf-Way Shopping Mall were being forced to close down.
Clifton and Defense are two of the most so-called ‘posh’ areas of this city, and if this was the situation here, one can logically expect it to much more tense else where. Who may the “workers” behind such forceful closures are is not terribly hard to guess. The PPP have announced a three day morning after the blasts, and while the intention behind this may not be a bad one, both its application and its implication are not.
For a party that talks so much about the “awaam” (people) and it hopes and aspirations, it show know how such a sustained halt to the city’s day-to-day activities will hurt this very “awaam“. It effects the economy (I was told Karachi loses about 1 billion rupees in revenue for every such day), the education system (schools and colleges were closed on Thursday as well and Friday, and numerous exams to be held on these dates were postponed on future dates) and most crucially, the livelihood and very existence of the city’s poorest, most underprivileged class, some of whom survive on daily wages as meager as $2.5.
A year ago when I wrote about futility of such periods of “mourning” and “strikes” I asked if any of our so-called leaders actually care for these ordinary Pakistanis on behalf of which they speak so confidently. I still have the same questions, and I still have no answers. In the light of all this, I wasn’t expecting South Africa to continue its tour, let alone also confirm that the Karachi ODI a few weeks from now will happen as per schedule.
Perhaps I really was being naive four years ago, perhaps South Africa do have more courage then I was prepared to give them credit for. For the first time in a long while, I felt scared in my own city, and my solace came from the most unlikely of sources: this decision by the South African team and its cricket authorities. They courage they have shown has some how conducted into me as well. I wasn’t expecting this by any means but its a pleasant surprise, and an important reminder, that whatever happens, life must continue to move on. To quote Robert Frost,
In three words I can sum up everything I have learned about life: it goes on.
It sounds almost cruel, the fact that we can in due course, fairly readily, let ghastly days like Friday, pass down on our memory lanes and move on to what lies ahead, but as harsh as this may seem at first, this is also what allows us to overcome such tragedies and come out stronger from them. I don’t expect that security measures for the final ODI when SA come here will be anything less then what we’ve seen in this past week, it may be more if anything. But for once I wont be complaining. But I will most certainly be praying. May God keep us all safe and sound.