When you live away from home, at whatever age or stage in life, you dread that middle-of-the-night phone call. It’s never good news. Imagine if your home is Pakistan, whose state of current affairs is perhaps best expressed by novelist Kamila Shamsie in a sentence in a short story reprinted in The Guardian on the occasion of 9/11: “America had 9/11; England had 7/7; India had 26/11; Pakistan has 24/7”.
That phone call came for me at 7:30 Monday morning, just as I was getting out of bed. As my father is the only person to have my land line number in Dubai, I knew the call was from home, and I knew it was not good news. As I walked the few steps to answer it, I played out various scenarios, from someone’s death – my dad’s or my dog’s – to a really devastating attack in or near a loved one’s home. After all, if my family started calling me every time there was a dastardly act of violence in Pakistan, they would be broke.
It was a bomb blast, four streets from our home, at 7:30 a.m. their time. My family thought it was a powerful earthquake, and when they stepped out of their rooms they found that some windows had been shattered, some doors were gone, but thankfully no one was hurt in our home. The same could not be said for the scene of the crime, four streets away, where eight people were killed, including a woman and her 8-year-old son, who were en route to school. (There are many schools in the neighborhood.)
It’s always worse when you’re far from home because you do imagine the worst. There’s a level of guilt involved in crying for broken windows or doors, because when that's pitted against the loss of lives of the policemen who were doing their jobs in guarding their boss’s house (the target is the head of the counter-terrorism unit in Karachi) or the mother and son on the way to school, your loss pales in comparison. Your loss is a blessing in disguise because it could have been much worse.
That is what Pakistan has become: in the past decade, a lot of us have been thinking, how much worse it could get, and it’s as if something out there replies to our queries with an even grosser act of injustice. If we had a tagline, it would read: Welcome to Pakistan: it’s not déjà vu, it’s Groundhog Day.
This is the part where I begin to lament how my city’s turned into a war zone, where I express outrage and indignation about the Taliban having taken over, how my childhood was safe and fun and our children’s won’t be. I will list arguments you’ve heard before: this isn’t us, it’s the result of American foreign policy (or a mixture of CIA and Mossad agendas to destabilize the country) or a host of other half-sensical, useless points that are irrelevant when your house has its doors and windows blown out and you count yourself lucky.
Replace Karachi with Sana’a or Damascus or, once upon a time, Baghdad, and even Tripoli, and you feel my pain. Perhaps even a little outrage that I compared the cities when the issues are different and complex. Pakistan is a democracy whose enemy is not a draconian government (incompetent but not evil), but morons fighting in the name of a religion the vast majority of Pakistanis do not recognize. Yemenis, Syrians, Libyans, Bahrainis and so forth may be fighting different demons, but we suffer the same consequences, the same pain and losses, when incidents such as the one in my neighborhood today occur.
And we ask the same question – when does this end? And when it does, am I safer?
(Muna Khan is an Al Arabiya journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)