Saturday, May 26, 2012

Daily Times Editorial May 27, 2012

Chronicle of a tragedy foretold Sindhu Desh Liberation Army (SDLA) gunmen killed seven people and wounded many others through indiscriminate firing on the 50 passengers on a Swabi-bound bus on the National Highway not far from Nawabshah. One more victim expired in hospital later. From the reports in the media of eyewitness accounts of the incident, the gunmen had cleverly laid an ‘ambush’ by secreting one of their number on the bus, who asked the driver to stop and take on some of his companions. Those ‘companions’ turned out to be armed men who opened fire on the passengers after a rudimentary check of ethnic identity and allowing three passengers who claimed themselves to be Sindhis off the bus before the carnage started. Slogans raised by the perpetrators and pamphlets left at the scene spoke of the attack being revenge for the carnage on a Love Sindh rally in Karachi and the killing of a Sindhi nationalist leader, Muzaffar Bhutto, whose body was found dumped the other day. Sindhi nationalist and other political leaders have condemned the attack, with some amongst the former seeing it as a conspiracy to stoke ethnic conflict in the province. The police as usual took the cake by claiming it was a dacoity attempt! The ‘suspects’ they claim to have arrested for investigation smacks of karwai (going through the motions), at which our police is so skilled. The SDLA is a separatist Sindhi nationalist group that is held responsible for blowing up rail tracks and attacking National Bank of Pakistan branches in recent days. A few days ago, an incident in which two upcountry-bound trailers were set on fire, killing one driver and injuring another, is also laid at their door. While such acts of sabotage indicate an effort to cut the main lines of communication between the south and the north of the country, the attack on a bus is simply abhorrent. The victims were innocent of any responsibility for the two events purportedly the reason for the ‘revenge’ attack. The tragic incident has thrown the whole question of security of the highways and the risks of using the cheapest form of transport by ordinary citizens open to new and urgent concerns. No bus or coach service has any means so far to check the identities and luggage of intending passengers, nor do drivers abide by the rule that stops are only allowed at designated points. The incident highlights the risks attending picking up passengers randomly along the route. Even if it is conceded that Sindh has many grievances rooted in the history of the country after independence, the end does not justify any and all means. The victim parties of the Karachi carnage after all are continuing a peaceful struggle against the perpetrators of that tragedy. Recourse to the gun can only be justified if all other means have failed. Arguably, that is far from the case in Sindh. A parallel phenomenon that emerged during the armed struggle raging in Balochistan was the controversial tactic by the Baloch militants to target settlers. Even those sympathetic to the Baloch nationalist cause had occasion then to warn that such tactics would weaken the sympathy and support for the Baloch cause. In conflict situations, and especially when the weaker party feels it is being pummelled by jettisoning all norms of civilised political and legal behaviour on the part of its enemies, whether state or non-state actors, falling into retaliatory revenge acts of similar nature is a temptation only mature movements can avoid. The most just of causes can be muddied by indiscriminate acts of violence and killing of innocents not responsible even remotely for the grievances being agitated against. If the Sindhi nationalist conspiracy theory about the bus attack is incorrect (there is no proof to that effect so far), the SDLA and all Sindhi nationalists need to introspect whether such tactics are likely to retain, let alone enhance sympathy for their cause, or have the opposite effect.

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