The brain is a very strange organ. I have great difficulty sometimes remembering what I was doing 24 hours ago without looking it up in my diary. But for some bizarre reason I remember quite clearly what I was doing on the 19th December 1979, exactly thirty five years ago.
As a fifteen year old I was flying to the land of my birth for the first time since leaving its shores on 14th June 1965. Along with one of my brothers and one sister we were flying out for his wedding. We nearly missed the flight. We were late getting to the airport (I can’t remember why). I ended up getting stuck in a long queue for passport checks and the miserable immigration officer wouldn’t let me jump to the front (so very English!). Fortunately a nice man in the queue next to his told my frantic sister to bring me to the front. Then we ran – in heels (my sisters heel broke) my brother (not in heels) carrying a case with 20kg of medical magazines as hand luggage (that is another long story). But we made it onto the plane for a flight that was far from smooth (I think someone spilled tea over my brother). Eventually we landed in the motherland – Pakistan.
This was the first time I had been anywhere outside of Leeds. I’d never met grandparents uncles aunts or cousins prior to this. So everything was an adventure. We had had quite a strict traditional Pakistani Muslim upbringing with parents who had tried to maintain their culture and tradition within the home. My mother had gone to Pakistan a few months earlier and was shocked at how modern Karachi had become. We were quite “backward” in comparison to the locals. I bought my first pair of jeans in Karachi after my uncle convinced my mother there was nothing wrong with them. I remember sitting outside a theatre on Christmas Eve waiting for my uncle, suddenly realising the date. My sister and I then sang christmas carols and songs at the top of our voices – Silent Night, Away in a Manger. Rudolph – if we knew the words we sang it! Karachi was lit up with fairy lights, not, I discovered, to celebrate Christmas, but to celebrate the birth of the Quaid-a-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan. 25th December was a national holiday! After our impromptu carol service we stopped to hear cheering from the street as a group of people had gathered to listen.
One of the most iconic monuments that I have never forgotten are the three marble swords in the centre of Karachi engraved with three words – faith, unity, discipline. This was the motto espoused by the Quaid-a-Azam showing the characteristics on which the nation was based, each one just as important as the other. How Pakistan has changed. The beautiful cosmopolitan city of Karachi is not a place I would choose to visit. In fact I’m not sure I’d want to send Ian Botham there either let alone his poor mother in law. The vibrant cosmopolitan welcoming safe port is no more. The beaches, the bazaars, the boutiques, the restaurants, the boat trips, the fresh fish, the drive in cinema, Ruby Jewellers, Bandu Khans, the street stalls selling gol gappas, sweet paan and kulfi are now distant memories of a world long gone. A story repeated in many many part in the rest of Pakistan too.
I have some very happy memories of visiting Pakistan in 1979, then again in 1985 and many times after that. I don’t think I will visit Pakistan again soon. It has changed – and not for the better.
A country in which 142 children and their teachers can be slaughtered in what should be the safest of places outside their home is not one i recognise. A country when grown men can shoot, blow up, behead and set fire to fellow human beings, most of whom were children, under the orders of others, is indeed a land cursed. A country where political and religious allegiances prevent people from condemning such outrages is not one I would choose as a holiday destination. Humanity died 142 times three days ago and the world is powerless. Mothers fathers brothers sisters grandparents uncles aunts nephews nieces. They all died alongside those who were so brutally massacred. For what? Revenge? Anger? Fear? Power? Glory? Or simply because pure evil corrupted the hearts and minds of the criminals who committed the offence, to the extent they became unable to distinguish right from wrong or good from evil.
The men behind the brutal massacre of 142 innocents in Peshawar cannot be called human. They cannot be called animals. Even animals who live in packs protect the young and the vulnerable. They cannot by anybody’s definition be called followers of the peaceful religion called Islam. A religion that states the taking of one innocent life is like the killing of all of humanity. A religion that instructs us to protect the vulnerable. Those who pulled the triggers, detonated the explosives or were the masterminds behind the attack, whispering in the ears of those doing their bidding. Anyone involved in these murders and terror attack should never be associated with a religion of peace. The warped twisted interpretation of the religion is exactly that. Too many acts of horror have been perpetrated in the name of Islam. Terrorism, suicide bombings, murder, beheadings are what they are. Do not try and justify these shameless acts of cowardice to me by playing the blame game. I don’t want to hear it. Bush, Blair, Brown, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, foreign policy yada yada yada. There can never ever be a legitimate excuse for what happened in Peshawar on Tuesday 16th December 2014.
Pakistan has a long journey ahead. I hope and pray that God grants those in positions of power and authority the strength and courage they need to rid Pakistan of this evil within. I pray they make the decisions that are in the best interest of the masses not the elite. I pray that God grants the bereaved families patience to bear their grief. I pray the children are playing and dancing in Gardens of Paradise. And I pray that God grants us all the ability to speak out without fear and rid the world of this rebellion against the true message of Islam. Perhaps then Pakistan can return to the land the founder dreamed of and as described in the words of the National Anthem, which currently, is nowhere to be found.
Blessed be the sacred land,
Happy be the bounteous realm.
Thou symbol of high resolve,
O Land of Pakistan!
Blessed be the citadel of faith.
The order of this sacred land,
The might of the brotherhood of the people
May the nation, the country, and the state,
Shine in glory everlasting!
Blessed be the goal of our ambition.
The flag of the crescent and star,
Leads the way to progress and perfection,
Interpreter of our past, glory of our present,
Inspiration for our future!
Shade of God, the Glorious and Mighty.