By – Mehmal Sarfraz
A senior journalist once said to me: “It’s good to see that you are still an idealist. Don’t ever change.” We were discussing the situation in Pakistan. The optimist — or rather ‘idealist’ — in me kept arguing with him that sanity will one day prevail in the land of the pure and this country will change for the better. The next time I see him, I will let him know that I am no more an idealist. That the idealist in me has died. Even after the martyrdoms of Benazir Bhutto, Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti, Bashir Bilour and countless others, I remained an optimist.
I thought things could not get any worse. Despite death threats to my friends and colleagues, I thought we must continue our battle against extremist narrative and challenge the status quo. The night my dear friend Raza Rumi was attacked, it finally dawned on me that I was wrong all along. It was a miracle that Raza survived. His guard was critically injured while his 25-year-old driver Mustafa succumbed to injuries. Why was Raza targeted? Well, he spoke out against the military establishment’s flawed policies, he spoke up for the rights of the minorities, and most importantly, he called terrorists what they really were: i.e. terrorists. Honestly speaking, writing against terrorism or the status quo in the English press does not take many guts because we hardly matter. Those journalists who write in the vernacular or appear on local television channels and do the same are the real brave ones. Raza was targeted because they knew he could influence public opinion as he was on national television almost every day, challenging their narrative. By now almost everyone has read Raza’s own account of what happened that night (for those of you who have not, you can read it here: http://tribune.com.pk/story/688869/escaping-death-in-the-land-of-the-pure/) so I will not go into the details but let me just say that his near-death experience shook me, for one, more than I could have ever imagined. It was too close to home. He taught me how to make proper chai (tea) some months ago; before that my tea-making skills were either a hit or a miss depending on my luck. Every time that I have made tea since the night Raza was attacked, I think of him and what would have happened if God forbid he had been critically injured or worse. The state has virtually given up on protecting Raza by plainly telling him that they cannot protect him if he steps out. Days after the near-fatal attack on Raza, another senior journalist — Mr Imtiaz Alam — received death threats. He was threatened for the same reasons that Raza was attacked. Imtiaz sahib may not be afraid of death — he has been attacked before, he has spent many years in jail under both military and civilian governments for speaking out the truth — but I would like to know what this country would gain by our courage. Why would anyone want to put up a fight to save a state that blatantly tells you that you are on your own? Why would anyone risk their lives for a state that acts like a coward? Liberal and progressive people of Pakistan think they can somehow save their country from self-annihilation, but the attack on Raza and recent threats to Imtiaz sahib have made me realise that we are just being naïve. It is hard, nay impossible, to save a state that wants to go down this path. Yes, we cannot and will not remain silent but sooner rather than later we will all be silenced one by one. And we shall all be the eternal losers, until the day we die.
This article was published in the Mid Day Magazine.