It’s just over a year since I left Pakistan and things seem to have gone from bad to worse there in the intervening year. With the arrival of the new government of the Muslim League with Nawaz Sharif in control, at least there were less power cuts than there were when I was there – 4 hours of electricity in 24 was excruciating in such high temperatures.
Now it is the month of Muharram, when Shia men march through the street, flagellating themselves as a sign of mourning and bereavement for Husayn ibn Ali a cleric (imam) a grandson of the prophet Mohammed. Husayn was killed in the Battle of Karbala (in modern day Iraq) by the forces of the Umayyad caliph, Yazid I.
Today the processions through the streets cause animosity between Sunni and Shia Muslims and this year was no exception. The processions occur on the 9th and 10th of Muharram which is the first month of the Islamic year. It is now several days after these marches, but schools in Rawalpindi will remain closed on Monday 18th November because of security measures. There is a curfew with the army from the local GHQ patrolling the streets in jeeps. This curfew is a blanket one. No one is to be on the street at any time.
On Friday 15th November the curfew was lifted for three hours so that men could attend the mosques for the Friday prayers. Unfortunately at least ten men were killed and many more injured near the ancient Raja Bazaar area of Rawalpindi and so strict curfew rules were once again imposed.
When I was there, schools were closed, it seemed on an annual basis because of threats of suicide bombers and other threats by terrorist groups. Once in October 2009, terrorists attacked the army GHQ in Rawalpindi and schools were closed for some days. Later, on 4th December of the same year, a mosque was attacked and this left many children in the school I was teaching at traumatised as they lost cousins, fathers, uncles and brothers. Children, boys as well as girls, are not able to attend school freely.
I am sorry that I had to leave Pakistan because I did not feel safe there. I am even sorrier that Pakistanis, who have no hope of leaving the country, have to suffer because of the wrong-doings of a minority. I wish that I could go back there, but I know that it is too dangerous a place for me to live there without fear. I hope my friends remain safe there.
- Curfew clamped in Rawalpindi after sectarian clashes (thehindu.com)
- Pakistan Imposes Curfew in Rawalpindi After Clashes (voanews.com)
- Pakistani city goes under curfew (bbc.co.uk)
- Army called in after deadly clashes (nation.com.pk)