Pakistan marked a grim start to Eid on June 26, mainly due to a deadly inferno killing more than 150 people in Bahawalpur. It was hard to ignore and also digest images of charred bodies of poor people merely hoping to collect a liter or two of free fuel. It was equally sad to learn that many people lost their lives due to lack of facilities in the largest province, by population, of the country.
This incident followed the callous sectarian terror attack in Parachinar three days earlier on June 23, killing more than 60 — along with another attack in Quetta — further paling the festivities of Eid. But such was the magnanimity of the Bahawalpur inferno that the Prime Minister had to cut short his Eid vacation in the UK, presumably for his grandson’s graduation, and join the mourners in the city. Conversely, there was a complete blackout on Parachinar.
The loss in all three incidents was equally devastating, yet people from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and FATA, were visibly angry at how these tragedies were prioritized by the government and political parties. This anger also led to a number of questions being asked of the political elite in the country.
Some wondered why the Prime Minister returned only after a major incident occurred in the Punjab province, ignoring those in FATA and Balochistan. Others asked why no political party or leader even tried to condole with Parachinar and Quetta’s affectees. And finally, many also wondered why — unlike two million rupees each for Bahawalpur affectees — was there no compensation for the victims of Parachinar.
Adding to their misery, the mainstream media has also failed Parachinar by prioritizing ‘Eid shopping’ and ‘moon sighting’, rather than the loss of lives, with their major sit-in going unnoticed. People in Parachinar are still persisting with their sit-in against injustice and lack of security. For them, this Eid brought nothing but sorrow, tears and devastation.
It is rightly argued that in Pakistan that the key to the Prime Minister house lies in Punjab, and thus most political parties focus on the province.
What saddened many was the fact that PTI – a party aspiring to rule the country – even though ruling the FATA’s neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, also showed little regard for Parachinar. Yet, a number of its senior leaders were seen condoling with victims of Bahawalpur. Even if the party is not directly responsible for FATA, Imran Khan still claims to be a ‘national’ leader, and yet he failed the tribal Pashtuns once again.
What further angered many was the fact that many supporters of the ruling PML-N party on social media, defending the PM, were laying the blame and responsibility to the PTI-led KP government.
Ironically, a number of Pakistanis living outside KP and FATA don’t realize that Parachinar is in Kurram Agency of Tribal Areas (FATA), which comes under direct control of President and the Provincial governor, both of whom are answerable to the prime minister. This equation is too simple for anyone to understand the onus of responsibility in the tribal areas.
For our major political parties, this was an ideal opportunity to prove that they were offering ‘national’ leadership for the future. Yet, all of them miserably failed.
In terms of security and the National Action Plan (NAP), even after claiming that Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasad succeeded in eliminating terrorism from the tribal areas, why, then, did terrorists succeed in targeting Parachinar three times this year?
Why is the agency still a hotbed for sectarian tensions and violence?
Then, aren’t tribal Pashtuns right in asking whether their blood is cheaper than ‘mainstream’ Pakistanis?
Now, even if after pressure from the civil society the government has announced a meagre Rs. 300,000 for the victims of Parachinar, along with a token condemnation, would that be enough to address grievances of Pashtuns in general and tribal Pashtuns in specific? And more importantly, wouldn’t this difference in the compensation send a wrong message of difference in worth of lives?
FATA has suffered enough. It’s a now or never moment for the ruling government. If the PM is even fractionally concerned about loss of lives in the tribal areas, he needs to take concrete steps to bring the tribal areas in Pakistan’s mainstream.
An unedited version of this article appeared in Daily Times. Click here to go to the original