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Missing in Inaction – The Express Tribune

A BBC report­er given access to the site of the stampe­de fears the death toll may exceed 4,000

The writer is Executive Director News, Express News. 
He tweets @fahdhusain 

The writer is Executive Director News, Express News.
He tweets @fahdhusain
[email protected]

Pir Muhammad Amin Ul Hasnat Shah is a name that doesn’t exactly reverberate in the pantheon of towering personalities. It shouldn’t. If anything, this name may be in the process of carving out a new category for itself and its bearer: Missing in Inaction.

The gentleman in question is the current Minister of State (MoS) for Religious Affairs and Minorities. He has been elected MNA on the PML-N ticket from Bhera. He enjoys all the perks and privileges that the State of Pakistan and its taxpayers bestow on a minister. And if all had been how it should, Pir sahib of Bhera should have been a household name (and face) in Pakistan today.

Instead we are forced to scratch our heads and wonder, “Pir who?”

It has been 10 days since the horrendous stampede in Mina during Hajj and still 97 Pakistanis remain “missing” as per the figures of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. For the families of those martyred and unaccounted for, this continuing nightmare is beyond imagination. But for the government of Pakistan, it clearly is not.

This seeming indifference is symbolised by the complete absence of Minister of State from the scene. Meanwhile, Federal Minister Sardar Yousaf and his team have flown off to Saudi Arabia where they remain till date. What they are doing there remains a well-guarded secret. The prime minister had already left for his New York trip so MNA Tariq Fazal Chaudhry was appointed focal person on the Mina tragedy. He now fulfils this responsibility by holding press briefings in which he really does not have much to share. Pir sahib, the minister of state who gets paid to act in the absence of the federal minister, is nowhere to be seen.

Not that he would have made a huge difference. The government would prefer the issue go away than for it to do, say, suggest or even insinuate anything that may displease our Saudi overlords. Just to make sure we the minions get the message, the government ordered Pemra to issue a warning to all media organisations which said:

“Some channels are airing programmes on Mina accident and indirectly alleging Saudi Arabia of mismanagement. They need to be reminded that Article 19 of the Constitution restricts comments that may affect relations with friendly countries. Matter may please be seriously looked into.”

Any self-respecting government should have instead issued a statement on these lines:

“The government is shocked and saddened by the loss of precious lives in the Mina stampede. The prime minister assures the people of Pakistan that he will take every possible step necessary to facilitate and assist those who have suffered in this tragedy. The prime minister promises he will personally ensure his government utilises all resources at its disposal to find those who are still unaccounted for. The government expects Saudi Arabia to conduct a speedy inquiry to determine the causes of this tragedy and share the findings with government and people of Pakistan.”

Instead, the government of Pakistan did what it does best in front of the Saudis: grovel.

And so 97 Pakistanis are “missing” but all is well in Islamabad. No shock, no outrage, no crisis management. The prime minister is wolfing down pizzas in Manhattan while the rest of his government is busy fighting the PTI and Nepra. And Pir sahib of Bhera, the MoS? Like the government he represents, he is somewhere where he does not want to be disturbed.

It is at times like these that Pakistanis feel ashamed to be represented by an elite whose callousness towards the plight of an average citizen is exceeded only by its incompetence to do what it is mandated and paid to do.

Make no mistake: the tragedy at Mina is still unfolding. A BBC reporter given access to the site of the stampede fears the death toll may exceed 4,000. This is at least four times the officially acknowledged number. Mortuaries are filled to capacity and family members have to go through the painful exercise of looking at pictures to identify their loved ones. Questions upon questions are begging for answers but none are forthcoming. Pakistanis, it seems, have been left to fend for themselves. The government dare not risk the ire of the Saudi overlords.

And why blame the government alone? Has there been a squeak from other political leaders? Has there been a storm of protest from the religious leaders? Has the issue figured prominently in highest elected forums? Have we seen demonstrations on the streets against the apathy of the rulers? Has there been a vocal demand from opposition leaders to make this issue the top priority? Is anyone in this land even remotely concerned that nearly a hundred Pakistanis are missing and unaccounted for? Is this not a moment of shame for all of us that our fellow citizens and their families are undergoing extreme trauma in a foreign land and we are treating this as just one more routine ‘accident’? Do we have no self-respect, no self-worth left anymore?

For had we any left, the State of Pakistan would have asked some very straight questions and demanded very straight answers:

a) What is the exact death toll?

b) Who is responsible for this tragedy?

c) Why is it taking so long to find people?

d) Why is every family searching for loved ones not being facilitated?

e) Why cannot martyrs be buried in Pakistan?

f) Why is there a cloak of secrecy wrapped around the tragedy?

g) What are the Saudis trying to hide?

Every nation that lost its citizens in the Mina tragedy deserves to get these answers. Perhaps some governments that do not compromise on the dignity of their citizens will in the end get some, if not all, the answers. Fear not, our government will not be among them. The families of Pakistani victims will remain at the mercy of the incompetent Religious Affairs ministry whose functionaries are floating around somewhere in Saudi Arabia trying to justify their presence in a land whose rulers give scant respect to them, their fellow citizens and their government in Islamabad.

Now that’s a truth that is not hidden.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2015.

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