A little over a week has passed since the massacre of lawyers in my hometown and Balochistan’s capital, Quetta. The shock and pain from the attack, while writing these lines from a university bench on the streets of New Jersey, is ever recurring and daunting. Away from home and writing about a carnage, which was too cruel to be true, is beyond the description of words: however, they are my only refuge from the devastation at the moment.
On August 8, a suicide attack killed at least 73 lawyers, mostly the ethnic Pashtuns, in Quetta. The attack left as many severely wounded. The TTP’s splinter group, Jamat-ul-Ahrar (JUA), accepted the responsibility for it. A tragedy of global proportions as it was, the news about it soon reached the world capitals. The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, United States White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and French President Francois Hollande condemned the attack.
Long before the dust after the attack had settled and before there was any credible proof, many, including some sections of the Pakistani government, alleged that RAW was involved in the attack. On the other hand, DG Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Asim Bajwa, in a tweet, said that the attack was a sign of the terrorists’ shift to Balochistan from the country’s north where they have been defeated by the recent military operations. He further said that it was an attempt to destabilize the improved security in Balochistan and threaten the multi-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects between China and Pakistan.
There are certain problems with the government and military’s assessment of the attack. First, it is unethical and insensitive to talk about roads and money at a time when such a big tragedy has occurred. Secondly, even if one ignores the ethical aspect of the debate, the claim that it was an attack on CPEC is untenable. CPEC’s main route does not pass through Balochistan. Besides, these attacks were there before CPEC as well. Thirdly, the RAW link needs to be substantiated by evidence. It has become a fashion to blame RAW to evade responsibility and accountability.
When I read the news about the the attack, I first called home to find out about my brother-in-law who is an active lawyer in the leadership ranks. I confirmed that he, the father of 4 girls and a boy, and, above all, the most amazing human being, was alive and safe: however, what was to come yet was beyond belief.
My brother said that, among the dead, at least, fifteen were our close personal and family friends. Friends whose names came up in family discussions almost every day. Friends who were at our home for tea or dinner every now and then. Friends whose faces and smiles are hard to forget. The stories of those who had made it through the attack were also the most shocking. A very close friend told me that his father, wounded but alive, was found under the two dead bodies of lawyers.
My sister told me that, though, my brother-in-law was alive, his hands (friends) were cut down by the attack. Then, when I talked to him, we could only but cry our hearts out at our misfortune and the deadliest tragedy of our life. Though terrorist violence has destroyed our city and people for over a decade, we never had it so close to home and on such scale. He said, ‘They have annihilated us this time.’ The next day, the Washington Post wrote, ‘An entire generation of a city’s lawyers was killed in Pakistan.’ Sam Zarifi, the Asia director of the International Commission of Jurists, said in a statement, ‘This attack targeted mostly lawyers and intellectuals (many of them from the Pashtun community) who had gathered at the hospital to mourn the loss of one of their own.’
A week after the attack, friends and family say that the city is dead silent and in mourning. We are a small city of a million people and like a family where almost every one knows every other person or is related to them in some way. Many of my Facebook friends lost either family members, relatives, or friends. So, in a way, we lost the entire city.
Here is the saddest part of the sad saga of death and destruction of Quetta. Situated in one of the world’s most troubled regions with extremely unfortunate circumstances, the opportunities for higher education and personal growth and development are very scarce. Under extremely strained economic conditions and lack of resources, very lucky few among us make it to the position of those whom we sadly lost to vicious violence last week.
Many among the killed were not just lawyers. They were community elders and leaders, intellectuals, and civil society members. They were all proud family members and many the sole bread winners of their families. They were the product of decades of hard work and training. Seen in this way, the loss of our city is irreparable for generations to come. The trauma and agony that the victims’ families and the city are undergoing are intolerable.
Born in a small village and raised by a single parent after the death of my father; starting my education in a makeshift school in the village; coming out of the poverty trap; and finally making it to the US for a Fulbright Masters program, I know well what it takes to cross milestones of success and accomplishment.
Personal success amid such adverse circumstances is considered a miracle in the province. A miracle which is a normal expectation in the most developed parts of Pakistan. That is just one reason why, though devastation such as this is unimaginable anywhere in the world, the killing of the most educated people of our city is appalling and unparalleled in Pakistan’s history. This was indeed our 9/11, or even worse.
Now that we have lost so much, what do we do. Quite frankly, like many in Pakistan, I am helpless and have no clue. The sad thing is that before a week since the attack passed many had already forgotten the victims and their families. Rather than asking questions from the state and its institutions about relentless security failings, many were more eager to join the jingoistic and ostentatious independence day celebrations. There is nothing wrong with that, but doing it at a time when there is no security of life, no education, and no health for the people, and at a time when an entire generation of the best lawyers of our province was wiped out is beyond the understanding of a sensible mind and a caring heart.
Finally, when people forget and care less, why would their leaders be concerned. No government official from the provincial or federal government resigned. Had a tragedy of such nature and proportion happened in some sensible and civilized nation, the entire cabinet would have resigned, or would have shown some shame, at least. But, in Pakistan, not even a single elected representative resigned. Such culture of silence and apathy is pathetic and makes me more hopeless about the future of my city and people, and Pakistan.
The writer is a Fulbright alumnus and freethinker from Quetta and currently based in New Jersey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at @