The good old days (Karachi 1986)

“The Pakistani doctors were
angels. One of them gave me his stethoscope so that I could walk about
freely looking for a handy phone”…. lady doctor escorted him to the radiology department…..collected as many addresses of patients from Bombay. “As I
gave my father the last contact, the line went dead.”

The “bite hue din” when minorities (Shia doctors) were safe and there was a sense of working for an unified public cause (as opposed to multiple sectarian causes). Ironically even the terrorists of old were secular with a goal to establish a multi-confessional Palestine. Pipedream? Perhaps. But in the eyes of most citizens of Karachi, a golden age as opposed to now when you have jihadis shooting up planes (and killing old ladies returning from Haj).

We always hear about how – just below the surface – South Asians have a real sense of bonding. And the article below makes a powerful case for this sentiment. The problem supposedly is that at the official level each side is on a warpath against everyone else.

For this theory to be credible we have to believe that the government and the army are divorced from the people at large. Then again perhaps the common man, fighting against inflation and a hundred other injustices, is only a passive bit player. What is the responsibility of the elites in all communities in helping to create and sustain this mess?

Take one example. Right now we have a 50:50 nation in Bangladesh, the P-I type (partition I) vs. P-II type people. To put things simply (simplistically) are you a Bangali first or a Muslim first?

It is really nothing less than an existential battle. Each community (elites) want total domination at the local level and parity at the nation-collective level.

The consequence is deadly (and predictable). Now that Hindus have been wiped out from Pakistan (and in the distant future from Bangladesh as well) all we will have is Muslims being targeted by other people…everywhere. From Chittagong to Peshawar, muslims will die because they are muslim, or because they are the wrong type of muslim.

Gandhi, for all his faults, consistently maintained that killing is wrong and the path forward lies through non-violence. Today, the elite thinkers consider the G-man to be wrong-headed and old-fashioned. The elite left in particular wants more guns and more blood-shed….the storm-troopers are supposedly Gandhian with guns. But unless we forswear violence and lay down the guns, there will be no progress. None.
…Mukul’s first row account of the terrifying incident…. It
left 20 people killed, including Pakistanis, Indians and Americans, and
several others shot, or injured while escaping the four well-armed but
nervously fidgety gunmen who took control of the 747 Jumbo at Karachi
airport’s tarmac.

During the three or four days he spent in the
city Mukul acquired deep affection for Karachi, its Edhi Foundation and
its caring, selfless doctors. However, a broad-brush view of the
political context in 1986 could help us locate the distance we have
traveled through the turbulent decades with their sharp ideological
bends and political U-turns culminating in the brazen terror attack on
the same airport a few weeks ago, albeit with a contrary purpose this

The issue for the Arabic-speaking Pan Am hijackers was the liberation of Palestine from Israel’s occupation. 

Those who have watched the Middle East for the last three decades or
more would know how that objective has become a distant dream with
chances of an equitable and just fulfillment for the region’s Jews and
Arabs looking more remote than ever before.
By contrast the recent
attack on Karachi’s Jinnah Airport had pretty much an opposite purpose.
In fact, the outrage mirrored what could be a string of choreographed
events in Baghdad, Tripoli and Damascus whereby self-styled Muslim
puritans are targeting those who had assiduously supported the idea of a
free and multicultural Palestine.

At several levels, the
intra-Muslim bloodshed dominating the political firmament of the Middle
East and swathes of South Asia today, seems to have its genesis in the
disastrous 1981 Fez summit of the Arab League. Saudi Arabia’s Fahd Plan,
which effectively proposed to recognise Israel and promised it security
in return for what major Arab leaders saw as a moth-eaten Palestinian
state with municipal rights, was rejected by Iraq, Syria and Libya. 

Look closely, and you would find the three countries that steadfastly
opposed the Fahd Plan are the ones confronting an existential challenge,
their secular and tyrannical rulers being sought to be replaced by
rabid and tyrannical rulers who largely share Riyadh’s political
allergies, if not its worldview.

I didn’t ask Mukul Vaingankar if
he had a preference between Israel and Palestine
when he was seated on
the window seat right in the front row of the economy class cabin while
disaster prepared to strike the plane. Nor does he evidently have a view
What was evident from his narrative though was that ordinary
Indians and Pakistanis have a subtle bonding that endures, albeit
undetected largely because it is their governments mostly that are
handling or mishandling each other.

When the Arab gunmen stormed
the plane dressed as airport security personnel, an alert member of the
cabin crew was able to transmit the message to the pilots. The pilots
fled through the cockpit windows perhaps as part of a drill to deny the
hijackers leverage to use the plane’s communications and to immobilise
its flying ability. A total of some 360 passengers were rounded up from
different cabins and herded into the area where Vaingankar unwittingly
found himself in the crosshairs of the Abu Nidal gang. His two
neighbours were Gujarati-speaking women from a dance troupe on its way
to perform in New York.

At some point at night after a nearly
10-hour terror vigil, the power grid on the plane collapsed and the
lights went off. The gunmen who were parked right near Vaingankar’s row
began shooting randomly in the dark, but they spared the seats to their
left and right possibly as it would have required them to turn and risk
losing their bearings in the invisible commotion.

A military
assault followed and a chute was lowered for the surviving passengers to
escape. Vaingankar could have walked off to the safety of the airport
terminal as several other passengers had done. He was, however,
persuaded by a Gujarati woman with a fractured foot to escort her in one
of the Edhi ambulances that were headed for the Jinnah Hospital. He
briefly became her interpreter.

“The Pakistani doctors were
angels. One of them gave me his stethoscope so that I could walk about
freely looking for a handy phone,” he recalled, explaining that security
was tightened after one of the suspected hijackers was brought wounded
to the hospital. The phone lines were jammed with anxious callers. A
helpful lady doctor escorted him to the radiology department where
Vaingankar found a phone that had been spared the melee. By then he had
collected as many addresses as he could of patients from Bombay. “As I
gave my father the last contact, the line went dead.”

Vaingankar has nothing but unalloyed respect for the Pakistanis he
engaged with. He feels strongly that it is a particularly South Asian
syndrome — the instant warmth and readiness to help each other
unselfishly in a crisis.
He was pained by the turn of events in Pakistan
since his 1986 ordeal. He knows that the good doctors he met and the
caregivers of the Edhi Foundation he befriended are in trouble today at
the hands of those that attacked the Karachi airport recently. Mukul
Vaingankar wants to help, but like many others, he doesn’t know where to





Brown Pundits