On Thursday, 5 July, René, Minal and I emerge from our 36-hour journey from Houston to Karachi and step out into the open waiting area at Quaid-e-Azam International Airport. I hear my name being called. It is my mother waiting for us. We move onto the pavement so the car can roll around and we can stuff our bags for drive home. It is only six in the morning but the light is already strong and I know that in one hour, the morning light will be blazed away by the hot sun.
Leaning back into the car, René and I share tales of our painful journey to Ammi: six hours of a tortuous stopover wait in Bahrain, crowded airplanes, and Minal’s desire to hear stories the entire journey.
We’ve never had such a rough trip, I say.
Well, there’s even more drama here, Ammi says.
And that the first time we learn about the Lal Masjid seige in Islamabad. The takeover began on Tuesday, 3 July, the same day that we board the American Airlines airplane heading west. During our entire trip, we are too busy taking care of Minal and have little time for news. But since our landing last week, we have been glued to the television watching daily changes in Islamabad. This morning at 4 am, the army launched a direct action and more lives have been lost.
The last of the resistors are still hidden in the basement of the school barricaded by large petrol cases and bombs and women and children are being held back as hostages. In our house and in houses around the country, televisions and radios are on as the nation is riveted by another story of extremist struggle in the heart of Pakistan’s capital city. It is just a matter of time before this scary saga ends and many more lives are lost.
One night, in a debate with my cousins and friends, we talk about the situation in Pakistan today.
We’ve never had police officers and army officers killed like this, says Haris. Three Chinese men were killed in the north. There’re uprisings in the north and in Balochistan. Things are very splintered in Pakistan today. It’s different from before.
It’s more scary than before, adds Asho.
There’s militancy everywhere. I feel as if a bomb is going to go off any minute, says Masume, who’s visiting from London.
I think back to the seventies, eighties and the nineties when General Zia was ruling, or when the MQM was waging war in Karachi. It is hard to compare those frightening days with today when on the surface, there is much more personal and media freedom.
But it is true: Pakistan as a whole is more divided than ever before and talibanization is on the rise. The Lal Masjid incident—still ongoing—is just one clear example. Today, I eat mangoes in a city stripped off all its billboards, many of which fell in June and took the lives of more than 200 people during an early monsoon storm. In Sindh and Balochistan, provinces ripped by a cyclone, hundreds have died and many are still living without food, water, shelter. But all eyes are on Islamabad. Another story of drama and death, overtaking the needs of those who most need help.