I do not know if there are many countries where newspapers take the day off, but I am glad we have a respite every now and then. This is not because I do not read the papers, but because they never fail to scare and depress me.

The headlines of 'The News', of 22nd. March 1998, about the sectarian clashes in Hangu was enough to put a pall on the brightest of spring mornings, but that is not all. Signs underlying the clashes foretell of worse to come. Shias and sunnis have always lived in harmony in Hangu, previously predominantly shia. Even at the worst of times there was never any trouble between the two sects. That is, until the sunni Taliban and Orakzais tribesmen moved in on Hangu. After their experiments in Afghanistan, the self righteous Taliban are now preparing to make 'good' muslims of anyone who crosses their path. Those who resist are dispatched with haste. It would seem that human life has no meaning for those who believe they are fighting for God and Righteousness.

Turning the page I read of a woman committing suicide. The reason she believed life was not worth living was that her twice-married husband neglected her. I wonder whether life lose its meaning because her father did not seem to have given her the necessary emotional support?

Was she without hope because she was uneducated and had no way of sustaining herself?

Why should she have chosen death to a life without her husbands loving care?

Did she have no where to go, but the grave?

We will never know the answers. She has become another nameless statistic. Yet her story adds to the dismal image of a woman's self concept, to her worth, to her importance, in this society.

Between reports of busloads of people dying in accidents, and having become inured to such everyday tragedies, I read on. A particularly distasteful piece of 'news' caught my eye. Boys between 11-5 years of age had been sexually abused. After being duly threatened, they were paid Rs.20 in exchange for their traumatic experience, by a fiend disguised as human. How can one feel safe in a society with such a high level of frustration?

Is any girl, woman or boy safe from such testosterone-ridden males?

Would it not be logical solution, for such people to have a place to vent their passions, for the cash they seem to be prepared to pay?

But no, that would never do in 'Squeaky-clean-land'. To admit that there is such a need would be to admit to the ugliness that we shut our eyes to. How would we then be able to convince ourselves of our own 'purity', while pointing out the 'depravity' of the West?

Yes, 'news' like that is sure to take the brightness out of any day, but that is not all. There is still more.

Students of a 'religious' school attacked a cinema in Bannu. Injuring viewers in their frenzy to 'purify' society they threatened more violence, if video game arcades and cinemas continued to do business. That they looted the box office cash-box is another story altogether. Money, after all, is MONEY. It is not to be confused with mere 'morality'. Even 'religious' students are alive to the power of the almighty Ruppee. It is visible all around us.

The biggest, most ornate mosques in University Town, Peshawar, are built by the most successful smugglers and drug dealers. Each tries to outdo the other in his desire to please the Almighty. It is as though they are hoping to earn His blessings for their nefarious trade, by bribing Him. God is fast being replaced by gold as the most potent force, in this society. God works in mysterious ways; gold is forthright. God takes his time handing out largesse among the chosen; gold bequeaths its blessings instantaneously. God might seem to ignore your heart's desire; gold immediately buys you respect and an assured future for your children. What more can one with an expeditious mind-set wish for?

The next item to ring alarm bells that peaceful morning was the threat extended by the Khyber Union, Bara, to all Punjabis. Without mincing their words, aware that none could touch them, they warned that NO Punjabi would be safe in the Khyber Agency, unless the killers of Zarin Gul Afridi were arrested. He had been murdered by robbers on the Lahore-Peshawar highway. Why and how they decided Zarin Gul was murdered by a Punjabis does not really matter. What matters is the attitude behind the threat. What matters is the parochialism, the prejudice that is tearing at the seams of the Pakistani nation. If Zarin Gul was murdered by a Punjabi, or even ten Punjabis, why do ALL Punjabis have to pay for it? Don't Pathans murder twice as many Pathans? Then why are only Punjabis singled out for reprisals?

Thinking I had done with the worst of the news, I settled down to read the dirt that officials of the Ehtesaab Commission had uncovered on their latest jaunt abroad, on state expense. I was mistaken. I had not done yet, there was more.

Not many outside Peshawar may have heard of the local scandal that is brewing. It seems that a girl went to the offices of the Home Department on a Friday, at closing time, to get a job. Next morning she was found outside the premises, some say in a coma, others that she was sleeping off a hangover. At the police station she proceeded to unfold a story of gang-rape that raised more questions than it answered. Her story hit the headlines. She claims that after talking to some people in the office she climbed to the roof of the building and remained there for some time. Why she went onto the roof when she was supposed to be looking for a job, and what she did there "for some time" no one seems to know or care much about. Suffice it to say that, it was a perfect scenario for any politician worth his salt. Jumping onto the bandwagon of "Care for Womanhood", the Chief Minister showed his concern by visiting her at the police station. Offering her his help he sent her home in high style, in his official vehicle. His concern boomeranged.

Since the police failed to register an FIR, until it had become a full-fledged scandal, it is rumored that some influential people and/or their sons are involved in the scandal. Anti-government political parties entered the scene. Processions were taken out; speeches were made and threats were hurled. The Pasban Central President visited the girl's home and presented her with a 'chaddor'. We know this because he made sure that the press and locals were informed well before his visit. After all, what is a good deed worth if no one knows of it!

I wonder, is the girl telling the truth?

If she is, are the police dragging their feet because they are being pressurized by the criminals?

If she is not, how would this scandal reflect on authentic cases?

Would girls who do suffer such abuse succeed in being believed?

Would they get justice?

As it is, elopement and kidnapping are becoming synonymous. When a woman is kidnapped it is taken for an elopement and ignored by the law-enforcing agencies, unless forced to take action. Sometimes, when the pressures are great they even go beyond the bounds of the law and treat elopements as a criminal offence. On record are cases such as that of Saima/Arshad and Kunwar/Riffat to mention the most recent, high profiled elopements.

What has the Government done, besides building the motor-way-to-nowhere?

Why is education, the one means of raising the awareness of any society, the first to suffer when money runs short?

What are we, the common citizens of Pakistan going to do about the rot that has so firmly settled in?

Is anyone listening, the papers tell it all!

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