Is the Charsada attack shaping a narrative for Pakistan that we need to change?

Published: February 21, 2017

Do people understand that maybe we are the victims of terrorism, not the ones who cause it? PHOTO: REUTERS.

As I started writing, breaking news tickers were flashing across my TV screen, stating that seven people have been killed while over 21 others have been injured in today’s Charsadda attack. An image conjures in my head, entailing a court session in progress, full of burning candles being dowsed in multiple blows. Another few die, while my brothers look for love.

To love is to comprehend; to comprehend something is to go beyond a single story. Yet one single story often goes beyond how we view the world. For example, some common assumptions include, girls are bad at sports, men avoid commitment, corporates are evil, Ireland is unsafe to travel across, and Africa is an entirely backwater dark continent where the population struggles to survive.

See where racism and prejudice stem from?

I work as an accountant, and so far in my career I have constantly been told that I need to develop skills in one specific field. It makes me wonder why it is impossible to accept that a person can effectively function across multiple arenas. We get pigeon holed and side-lined because that makes our expertise easier to explain and ultimately easier to sell. And that is the appeal of the single story – easier comprehension.

As I read updates on the Charsadda attack, I find myself thinking that maybe those western generalisations are true. Maybe Pakistan really is a train wreck in slow motion!

It is sad that Pakistan is often considered a fertile breeding ground for modern day terrorism, almost as if there is an incubator that plants terrorists across the country.

For me, however, Pakistan is home. I was born in Karachi and left when I was a few-weeks-old. During the time I lived abroad, the language I conversed in was not my own and my peers were not like me either. For me, Pakistan was a place I knew solely through the occasional mail I exchanged with my cousins who lived there. It was an imaginary homeland until I moved back at the age of 10.

I often wonder what it means to be Pakistani. Is it a question of values, religion, belonging, or of opposition? For me, Pakistan is not the wars it has fought, Quaid’s speeches, or a green passport. To me, Pakistan is much more than that.

Pakistan is so many different things all at once – it is Lahore’s Badshahi Mosque, it is food from Burns Road in Karachi, and it is the beautiful drive across Islamabad’s Margalla Hills. Pakistan is a monument encapsulating variant hues of beauty.

Pakistan is the sound of the myna birds that nestle quietly in the trees all day and come alive early in the morning. It’s the jasmine garlands worn around wrists. It’s the adrenaline rush of hitting a six while playing street cricket. It’s the nuclear green, cardamom smelling Pakola drink.

But most of all, Pakistan is its people. I remember participating in a sustainability project at work which involved distributing food in a village. The area was visibly poverty stricken, yet full of love. Everyone I met shook my hand and inquired about my journey. Each family offered me tea and water, and one woman even stretched her dupatta to cover my head from the blazing sun.

Terrorism is a brutal reality that paints ugliness on what is otherwise beautiful. What happened in Charsadda is tragic. Headlines are being updated; the number of casualties will increase. One would agree that given the surge of recent attacks, the past few days can be described as Pakistan’s bloodiest.

February 13th: Sariab Road, Quetta

February 14th: Punjab Assembly, Lahore

February 15thMohmand Agency and Peshawar

February 16thLal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine and Awaran Baluchistan

I fail to understand the hatred behind these actions. In these attacks, we have lost friends, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers. My Facebook newsfeed is full of updates on the attack showing remarkable solidarity for the victims.

We live every day under the threat of yet another attack. Do people understand that perhaps we are the victims of terrorism, not the ones who cause it? What is it that we miss when we look at things from their surface, rather than their depths? What other single stories do we have in our heads that prevent us from truly understanding each other? I hope that as the world watches us, it stands in unison to mourn our country yet again. We can find the courage to change our single story of Pakistan.

Pakistan constantly imparts lessons on acceptance across colours, castes and creeds; it teaches us to confront multi-faceted extremism and is gradually showing us the need to build a better place for future generations.

I wish I could tell the world to use love to replace hatred and misunderstanding. But it isn’t easy, because the cycle of change starts with each one of us.


Sarah Fazli

A qualified accountant with a business degree, I work for the banking sector in Karachi, and am very interested in reading and writing

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Yogi Berra

    The problem is this. Once you allow free run to Jihadis then there is no turning back. If you then take action against them then they get incensed and want to avenge perceived injustice. They expect security forces to look other way. Pakistan is experiencing this now. As Army is trying to tackle militants they are finding at cross hair of these hardened fighters. They are wrecking havoc on society because they are angry that action is being taken against them. Instead of asking “Why us good people” I would suggest Pakistanis should ask what led to this state of affairs and who is responsible for this mess. I do not see such soul searching. just sense of being innocent victim.Recommend

  • fayaz –

    Indeed, an incisive piece. what we need to know is that among other interpretations, terrorism is a form of political communication. consequently, we need to read the messages carefully, is it mere hatred that is expressed though violence, or some thing different, that we are not attempting or unable to grasp.the answer is not simple but warrants curious minds to delve into……regardsRecommend

  • Rohan

    These attacks will keep happening .good taliban vs bad talibanRecommend

  • Avinash

    u must be living in a dream world if u think “Pakistan constantly imparts lessons on acceptance across colours, castes and creeds”
    if u dont understand where the hatred comes from, you will not be able to counter it.
    its easy to blame india for ur own follies and most of your establishment does. as long as u are the subject of dreams and fantasies you aint gonna rise.
    the reason of such attacks is karma. u created monsters to kill ur neighbours and those monsters have turned on u. accept it, its for ur own good. dont accept it well then cheers, it helps us indians as we go on the path of development while u slip into the abyss of blood, war and chaos.Recommend

  • Rohan

    When’s the next attack? I’ve got my popcorn readyRecommend

  • Arman Ashraf

    What a beautiful piece of writing! Such a breath of fresh air! Thankyou for being able to see beyond the surface. Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    “Do people understand that perhaps we are the victims of terrorism, not the ones who cause it? ”

    The world does not buy this Sarah, let me tell you why:

    1. You want Afghanistan to hand over Mullah Fazlullah whereas you harbour Hafiz Saeed, Maulana Masood Azhar and Hakkani’s.
    2. Your agencies vehemently justify and defend the actions of Afghan Taliban but hate TTP.
    3. You are desperate to impose Taliban on Afghanistan but at home you want to keep Taliban restricted to the tribal areas while living cosmopolitan lives in cities like Karachi and Lahore.
    4. You call yourselves a democracy but the ISPR of the deep state decides how much to malign a democratically elected leader and how much a General’s standing needs to be elevated among the populace.
    5. It’s all good saying people condemn terrorism, afterall nobody wants to be blown to smithereens but terrorism does not grow in vacuum, it is a product of an ideology which the masses have fallen in love with, an ideology which was very carefully cultivated using Saudi funds.

    You can’t be a Salafi and a Sufi at the same time, the Sufi shrines are getting blown apart by the followers of Salafism. The bombs are not the issue, the minds are.

    It must be Deja Vu though, Pakistan never found any amount of evidence enough to prosecute those who bled India and now Afghanistan does not find Pakistan’s evidence enough. Pakistan finally seems to be finding it tough to play the game which it considered itself a master of.

    Pakistan is truly sandwiched and does not even have the incentive to ask the question ” who started first?” because it is tasting it is own medicineRecommend

  • ron

    i am touched by this articleRecommend

  • Ahmar

    “Pakistan constantly imparts lessons on acceptance across colours, castes and creeds”

    Yes. I have seen these lessons imparted on walls across the city of Karachi,

    “Kafir kafir Shia Kafir”
    “Mirza Ghulam Ahmed Jhoota!”
    “Daesh Zinda bad. ISIS zinda bad.”
    “Sar tan se juda, Sar tan se juda.”
    “Punjabi Kutta, Mahajir Ghaddar, Pathan Dehshat gard.”

    Must be RAW and Mossad agents writing all this on the walls, eh?Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    It is not the ideology of Pakistan that needs to change, but the ideology of the GHQ that needs a revision.

    Hate cannot be selective. The GHQ may have started by hating the Hindus – Indians as a collective – but it should not expect that the hate-perimeter would not be broken in to contempt for the Christians, Jews, and their own Muslim-kind – Shias, Ahemedis, Braelvhis etc.

    Ideologies, once adopted, are near impossible to change. The idea of a Jihadi state is set in stone for the GHQ, and it shall remain that way for a foreseeable future.Recommend

  • Bhanu

    Ireland is unsafe to travel?? Never heard of it.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    “It is not the ideology of Pakistan that needs to change, but the ideology of the GHQ that needs a revision.”

    The ideology of Pakistan and GHQ are the same in my opinion, the ones who can with or without people’s support change the course of Pakistan is the GHQ. It is highly unlikely that the GHQ would do that because they are not just a war machine but also a political and an economic enterprise.Recommend

  • Sarah

    Go beyond the graffiti, maybe? The change starts from within each of us. It might sound idealistic. But it is not impossible.Recommend

  • Sarah

    Go back to the Roman Catholic / Protestant strife. Security was a concern then.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Would you marry a non-Muslim Pakistani? You do not know how much in fear non-Muslims live and lived among Muslims majority and Islamic rulers.Recommend

  • Vish

    “Pakistan constantly imparts lessons on acceptance across colours, castes and creeds”. Woohoo denial anyone. The nation that has seen a steady decline in the proportion of non-Muslims since its birth and whose founding mantra was ‘we cannot live with the other’, acceptance lessons anyone? Ask the Hindus, Christians, Ahmadis, Shias etc.Recommend

  • Malik

    “” who started first?” because it is tasting it is own medicine”

    If one can not unequivocally sympathize, then it is best to stay silent.Recommend

  • Sarah

    That is to be said to most of everyone who has commented..Recommend

  • Sami Shahid

    Why should we Pakistanis change our narrative when terrorists were Afghans and even came from Afghanistan ! WHAT non sense are you talking about ?Recommend

  • Sami Shahid

    What can the GHQ do in a case when terrorists are Afghans and are even coming from Afghanistan ? What non sense are you talking about ? Did anyone asked your opinion ?Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    A great piece of writing by Sara Fazli, a reminder that not everything is lost in the land which is perceived by many in Europe a talabanised Pakistan where the minority faction is living at the mercy of the majority faction and where the khakis have polarised the entire land from north to south and beyond, causing roughshod throughout with the concurrence of the civilian overlords to the extent of displacing millions from their mud dwellings, holding military courts and hangng civilians on the charge of terrorism.
    The author should continue to write and talk about the regular people of her country who have so much love in their souls and want nothing more than the rest of the world, a life of dignity, respect and peace with the neighbour.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Kp

    A country created by a sentence that Muslims can not live with Kafirs. Then they couldn’t live with Muslim Bengali? oh dear you mixed Politics,Institution with religionRecommend

  • Swaadhin

    Sir- I might be talking non sense and you have the liberty and right to call it so in as many words as you have.

    Let me try and reply since you have asked me a question. I was trying to make a broader point:

    It was during the time of Gen Musharraf, India and Pak came closest to making some sort of agreement. Nawaz and Zardari can’t afford to do so because if Bhutto could not stand upto military, these folks stand no chance.

    As far as militants crossing into Pakistan is concerned, that is a product of an ideology and policy rather than the policy itself. Why did not Pakistan complain of terrorists crossing into its territory a few years back where as India and Afghanistan would ask Pakistan to control its so called non state actors, the answer is simple, it was either not happening or the magnitude of it was much smaller.

    Today, you have multiple enemies who might hate each other but seem to have put their differences aside to bleed Pakistan. This is where the GHQ needs to pitch in and explain its people:

    1. The Good Taliban ( who operate out of Quetta) have been bleeding the Afghans exactly the way the bad Taliban are doing to Pakistan
    2. You cannot buy peace for your cities by making peace deals with terrorists and literally ceding certain parts of your territory knowing fully well how those areas are going to be ruled by these terrorists.
    3. You could not get the Taliban back in rule in Afghanistan with American help and you are now counting on Russia and China to do that for you hoping the Russians are going to take on the Americans in Afghanistan as they have in Syria, how about letting the Afghans decide for themselves.
    4. A free Hafiz Saeed serves India’s purpose much more than a man put behind bars and a dead Hafiz Saeed is bad news for India. All the Indians need to do is point fingers at Pakistan and the rest is there to be seen for all.Recommend

  • vinsin

    sympathize with terrorists. Since when Muslims start showing any sympathy. I have never heard any sympathy for Arab Pagans.Recommend

  • vinsin

    But what change? Have you changed and changed to what?Recommend

  • Malik

    My previous comment was edited for some reason. I had explained that even militants believe in “giving a taste of own medicine” whether in Pakistan or India due to various greiviances, and so one should not buy into their propoganda. My edited comment made me seem more blunt than I intended to be.Recommend

  • Razzy

    check what all these ‘pagans’ did to the early Muslims . Yet then mecca was conquered, they were spared the fate which they richly deservedRecommend