What Remains

By Aisha Fayyazi Sarwari

Every day I am asked the same question: Where do you want to go?

Proceeded by a request to show identification. I reach out for my purse at the back seat of the car, open my wallet and pull out my Pakistani national ID. After it is scanned and my numbers are jotted down in a dog-eared journal, I can’t help but ask: Do you have to do this every day? You can see my car has a Government employee sticker for the secure area. Why do I have to go through a security check every day?

The answer: Because the terrorists are part of us.


I count 7 security check posts on my way to work in Lahore. There are even more in Islamabad to what used to be my hiking route. Security has no name in Pakistan, it has no face, its omnipresent, scattered as it is useless against the modern warfare adopted by networks of militants around the country fighting for what they say is a cause, but with means that communicate nothing but a message of terror.

There was once a time of chivalry, when men fought men, both were fit, able, and representative of their armies and of their tribes. It was bloody and savage, but it didn’t scale that well because it was contained in time and space markable like Gettysburg.
And hence it was also marketable. History, depending on whose side it was could be written with an emotional lesson of loss. It could be measured by what it was worth fighting for. 20000 men lost for honor, freedom, faith, glory, wealth, access, truth, God, women, friends. 500,000 for oil. More for weariness of ending a stalemate.

Yesterday while we sealed a deal to create a mega city project in Punjab with a European Consortium, a blast shook a middle class market in Iqbal Town, killing over 38 and injuring hundreds. The explosives were detonated by remote control in a rickshaw. Followed by another a few meters from it.

Last week militants hurled grenades in a mosque in Rawalpindi, in the middle of Friday prayers, killing hundreds, among them 10 children.
In front of the fortified GOR 1 in Lahore where the Punjab Chief Minister sits, a car slows down in front of me, it doesn’t have an access sticker. The driver takes longer than usual to provide ID or roll down his window. The driver in the car and the security guard both have beards. I wonder which way the cookie crumbles.

I look in my rearview mirror, perhaps to see if a retreat can be possible. And I look straight in the eyes of another driver and another behind him doing exactly what I am doing, looking for an exit, in case today this is the security check that will be the next target.

 When I finally drive in through the gates, I notice a sniper taking a direct shot of my head. I drive further down and the lined security personnel are not playing roll the stone with their boots, they are alert and watching every move like a hawk. Today is a high alert day.

At work someone talks about a colonel in Rawalpindi who lost all three sons visiting from the US in the blast at the Mosque. When Hilary Clinton visited Pakistan in November, our office, responsible for Investment Promotion, while building a case for Trade Access for Textiles in the US and the consequent doubling of our industry size in 5 years, the employment boost affecting 35 million potential poor in Punjab alone, we said one thing to her officials: Pakistan is on a short fuse, there isn’t much time.

Wars end when the courts stop functioning. This means that life has come to a standstill. Institutions as well as individuals are paralyzed. One side has lost in a clear defeat. Those people rise from the ashes of time, but with a new name. The tragedy is that there is no name. Terror is a war that cannot be armied out. Terror attacks our posterity — Our hope for a future for our kid’s kids. Remove posterity and the banks and courts stop functioning.

Shall I send my daughters to school tomorrow?  I think about the new arrangements the school has made: raised the wall, put snipers on the rooftop, sand bagged the outer walls, barb wired the playground, and it seems cosmetic when I think of how a terrorist can blow himself up at the gate anyway. Mt family has to make a decision, to keep them in school but minimize the probability of being caught in an attack by sending them on test days only. It’s a compromise, the kids are getting dumber staying at home for a month, and yet, at the rate of the attacks in and around busy areas, it makes no sense to keep them under protected. For each day we send them to school, we risk their lives, for each day we don’t we risk our future.

What remains is that we, like the majority of Pakistanis, drive our cars, take the busses, ride and walk to work or to find work. People shop, eat out, entertain themselves and travel. Each day, too many new children are born, each day people go to funerals, some tragic, others just an insult.

Many nations have risen from Insult. South Korea was once the poorest country in the world, its president once visited West Germany to discover what makes them so industrious, and they put him up in a motel where he had to pay to shower. He learned a lesson in frivolousness which he brought back to South Korea and turned the country around, with this and with the 5 year plan that Pakistan had developed for its own Economic development. Even today Koreans credit Professor Mehboobul Haq for their turn around economy with focus on High Chemical Industry.

Koreans eat dogs not because that was a tradition but because they ran out of food for years, they loaned their people to Germany to exchange for money to buy fuel for heating. Dire times have taught them and built them. Israel has risen from insult. Jews were hated, tortured and exiled. Till lately they were targeted by terrorist attacks similar to these in Pakistan and have suffered civilian deaths in numbers that are highest in the world for decades. Its own international law violations notwithstanding, it has an economy in trillions of USDs as it stands next to a Palestinian neighbor with an economy that is so low, it can’t be measured.

Palestine has yet to rise from Insult, African countries, and War torn Iraq.What still remains is the unwritten end of Pakistan’s story and in that, a hope that if we keep getting out of bed each morning in the name of those who didn’t know what face had in store before they were a victim to terrorism, that maybe we will become a larger force than those who don’t believe in posterity.

9 Comments

Filed under Pakistan

9 responses to “What Remains

  1. Nimra

    Excellently written.

  2. Milind Kher

    Very well written indeed. Unfortunately, it will be lost on the conspiracy theorists, right wing media and the Taliban supporters.

    As for the intelligentsia, it is all preaching to the choir. I feel sad for the author and all Pakistanis who are going through this

  3. ved

    A very excellent articles, touches inner self. A very sad, and an unfortunate situations for a country such as Pakistan born out from a clear thought and high expectations. Qaid-e-Azam would not have imagined in his wildest dream for such situations.

    Pakistan should now arise from ashes like phoenix, it should identify where it went wrong, it is better late than never. It should make peace with India that will unfetter its forces from eastern borders then concentrate its full energy and might to defeat the forces which has challenged its own existence.

  4. stuka

    A very touching article. I hope you and your family always stay safe.

  5. mohammad

    Pakistan is facing an existential threat worse than israel or any other country, security apparatus is trying it’s best to contain the menace with some modest success. There is big dilema for civilian law enforcing agencies as they find themselves in a no win situation, the moment a terrorist leaves a safe house or precisely a madrassa, their lives are on the line. That’s why agencies have to target terrorists dens on pre emptive basis. Collecting intelligence on madrassas is not pudding at all, many of them are out of bound for police, especially the ones run by Sepah e Sahaba. However there is always circumstantial evidence before any terror strike, for example today’s DG Khan carnage can be associated with mr khosa’s request to Sepah e Sahaba’s chief to bring down a controversial hoarding. To end all this bloodshed some body has to liquidize SeS threat, even if that is done with drones. Americans should understand that silent majority of pakistanis will cheer drones if they take out ‘nurseries of terrorism’, right now we have to understand the situation and act accordingly.

  6. vajra

    What can one say?

    What can any father of a daughter say?

    We can only pray for every Pakistani woman who is vulnerable to this murderous milieu.

  7. “Mt family has to make a decision, to keep them in school but minimize the probability of being caught in an attack by sending them on test days only.”

    I believe that should read,

    “My family has to … ”

    Just wanted to point out the typo, you can delete this comment after its fixed.

  8. sid

    Very touching article; sad situation indeed.

  9. sharafs

    Aisha,
    Well Done!