The last couple of weeks have witnessed an escalation of violence and sheer showmanship, which is completely beyond the pale and which, furthermore, has left the entire population reeling in a horrified mixture of full frontal shock combined with stunned fascination.The wholesale massacre of Hazara Shia’s in Quetta managed, for once, to unite the entire population of the country in an absolutely unparalleled outburst of anguished grief. That, surprisingly but not before time, crossed all artificially induced sectarian barriers, bringing everyone together to peacefully protest this terrible outrage. The Hazara population of Quetta have been victims of target killing and vicious attacks for many years now, a situation largely ignored until the sheer scale of the latest atrocity finally managed to grab the people’s attention. Although, frankly speaking, if the bereaved Hazara community had not expressed their sheer helplessness by sitting vigil with their unburied dead on Quetta streets in the middle of a freezing winter, then their plight would, as it has so often before, have passed unheeded. The bereaved community stuck to their guns, demanding protection, for four full days and only went about the heart-wrenching business of burying their loved ones after government assurances as to their future safety had been given. The disgusting fact that, within a matter of days, the government performed an abrupt about – turn and abandoned them to fate, hardly raising an eyebrow amongst those who had championed them by holding candlelight vigils in cities throughout the country in supposed solidarity.When, within just a week of the long-suffering Hazaras finally burying their dead, 18 Pathans were murdered in a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa village and their family members set out, literally carrying the blanket wrapped bodies in their arms, to lodge a formal protest about lack of protection from the predations of militants, they were welcomed with teargas shells and volleys of bullets before they reached their destination - the Governor’s House in Peshawar. And no one, meaning the general population at large, uttered so much as a word. One presumes, perhaps callously, that in this supposed ‘land of the pure’ where all regional people are, irrespective of whichever form or sect of religion they follow, equal in the eyes of the ‘state’ and its nationals, that some are still and always will be more equal than others.It is pertinent to point out, particularly at this juncture, that the indigenous occupants of each province or region retain the age-old trait of suspicion - be this suspicion and outright mistrust grounded in proven realities or perceived conjecture of a historical or current event - when it comes to interacting with those from elsewhere. That, unfortunately, perpetuates traditional feuds between, for example, Baloch and Sindhi, Pathan and Punjabi, Baloch and Punjabi, Sindhi and Pathan, ‘Urdu speaker’ and Pathan, Baloch and ‘Urdu speaker’, Kashmiri and everyone else and so on right down the line in every conceivable combination until it becomes, on the surface at least, apparent that Pakistan is a nation divided where it most matters: the vital heart and soul without which a nation cannot, in the long term, survive.This being the longstanding state of the nation, it was, therefore, absolutely astonishing to witness how traditional ‘enemies’ of all kinds and from all walks of life, miraculously joined together in collective fascination at the sheer audacity of Dr Tahirul Qadri. He, along with his merry band of followers, not only managed to hold Islamabad hostage for four long days, but also, and this is extraordinary to the inth degree, actually made a high-level government delegation crawl into his ‘container’ for negotiations, which, if the content had been as purported, could have and would have, if enforced, probably have seen them all in jail or, at the very least, out of office. The show, for this is exactly what it was, held the entire nation spellbound with, as one day merged into the next, an increasing number of people actively prepared to rally to Dr Qadri’s electrifying call for peaceful change. Thus, swelling the ranks of his existing ‘long marchers’ to a much needed degree - estimates of these high spirited, dancing, music making, wonderfully peaceful followers, ranging from a mere 20,000 up to, by the fourth day and in the rain, 400,000 that is really stretching imagination to the limit - but, when it came to the crunch, Dr Qadri fell apart at the seams, completely losing any hope of serious victory the very moment, after almost five hours of negotiations, he emerged from his plush container beaming as broadly as were his government companions. It was obvious to all and sundry that a deal had been done and that the momentous ‘event’, one which could have galvanised the otherwise divided nation towards holding hands and moving forwards for betterment, change and peace, had been so completely and wastefully thrown away to the consternation of many and to obvious government and political glee.This Pakistani-Canadian of, if currently head-hunting media have managed to get their facts right, dubious background and still unknown intentions, arrived out of nowhere, promising an end to corruption, political exploitation and violence and, interspersed amongst unwarranted religious rantings, managed, all so fleetingly, to shine a ray of peaceful hope on a much divided nation which was, desperate as times are and despite the fast-approaching election, largely prepared to listen. The upshot of all this is that the people will never again be conned into believing that across the board unity, leading to peace, can actually be. They will, no doubt about it and despite the seeds of change being so briefly sown, return to traditional divisions and mayhem.

The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban.Email: zahrahnasir@hotmail.com