Throughout the night, I’ve been hearing gunshots at arbitrary intervals. At first I thought there was something wrong with my ears, then I thoughht maybe I was just imagining it out of paranoia because of all the latest emails from the VC warning the student body to avoid going off campus because of the threat of terrorism in the city. I was in my room when I heard the first round of shots, but I dismissed it as being boys playing with firecrackers (‘cuz we Pakis do that for fun around here). The next few rounds were louder and distinctly closer to our dorms. I even got up to look outside the window, a little apprehensive of what I might witness. But there was nothing wrong, the campus was just the way it usually is around midnight, mostly quiet but with groups of students peppered around here and there.
Talking to friends about it confirmed that those really were gunshots that I had been hearing, because they had heard it too. I had certainly been aware of all the bombings and terrorist activities that had taken place in Lahore in the past year, I had also noticed that the frequency of such incidents had escalated, and yes, I had also subconsciously realised that eventually it would get close and closer to the only internationally-recognised university in Pakistan that was renowned for its liberal environment. Everyone talked about it with a sense of nonchalance, and that too only for a few minutes. The fact that we were hearing gunshots at night and were situated only a few minutes away from where the latest terrorist attack had occured did not seem to bother many people, it was not an issue that was high on the list of priorities, certainly not higher than the upcoming midterm exams. I am not quite sure how to react to all of this. I know Pakistan is viewed as “dangerous” place to live, but it was my choice to come here. All the bombings that have happened in Lahore have certainly been devastating in terms of the innocent lives lost as well as the heightening of radical insurgent action, but they haven’t affected the day-to-day ongoings of its inhabitants per se. In fact, I can speak for myself when I say that despite the attacks on crowded marketplaces, I still continue to go out and shop as I used to. But now, it just seems as if something has changed. For one, the Lums administration actually sent a series of emails over the past few days, warning the students to stay cautious and not take any unnecessary risks.
Dear Campus Community,
Due to the prevailing law and order situation in the city, you are advised to take extra care and avoid all unnecessary visits to crowded places and security related buildings. The University is monitoring the situation carefully and assures you that it is communicating with authorities and taking all possible precautionary measures. We request increased vigilance by the LUMS Community and ask that any untoward activity on campus be reported immediately.
Dear LUMS Community:
As you know, several ugly terrorism incidents have occurred in recent days and more are to be expected, particularly in our major cities including Lahore. I have put the campus security on high alert, which means greater scruiiny at the main gate and more vigilance in and around the campus. I ask for your cooperation and patience when you are asked to identify yourself at the main entrance. This is a difficult time for our nation and we all need to be extra vigilant of any suspicious activity. It is important that we remain alert to our surroundings and avoid any crowded places when venturing off campus.
Dear Lums Community:
I am told that there are two terrorist incidents unfolding in town today; one near Badian Road at the Elite Force headquarter and the other at the FIA building. Please be aware of this unfortunate situation unfolding in town. Although there is no direct threat to LUMS at this time, we have put the campus security on the highest alert. Please do not venture off campus until the situation clears. We will advise you further as we learn more about the situation.
The last email is particularly disconcerting: Badian Road is only a 5-minute drive from the campus (I know it as the area where all the farmhouses are) and that is where the sound of gunfire is coming from. There is alot of security on campus, it is heavily guarded, but so were alot of the other targets of terrorist attacks. How long before they get through to us? Also, the fact that LUMS is known for being “liberal” in the sense that you will find all sorts of people on campus, from ultra-conservatives and super-religious to atheists and free-spirited souls. LUMS does not follow any one particular political ideology or religious school, it is accepting of all and lets its student body express its autonomy. However, the recent press that the university has garnered regarding PDA on campus ( http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/1014/p06s05-wosc.html ) has just given it more publicity, and, in my opinion, even more reason for the Taliban or Lashkar-e-Taiba or whatever other fundamentalist Islamic group there is out there to attack the campus in a bid to eliminate the “non-believers”.
Even as I am writing this, I am surprised at myself. I have always believed that it is unfair to judge a nation or a people by the way they are perceived by others. In other words, I am very critical of how people in the West see Pakistan and all that it represents in a harsh light that’s basically illuminated by the influence of terrorism. I have come across many people who have this way of thinking, and it always annoys me that they are so quick to judge, that they can so easily just conform to the lens of Orientalism that the media outlets of the West use to portray this region. And yet, I find myself straying to their train of thought. I do not want to be critical of Pakistan and its affiliation to terrorist groups, but something is really wrong here. I feel almost fearful that I am living in an area where I can hear gunshots so loud that they might as well be being fired outside my window, and where the people are going about their normal lives, unconcerned and pretty much detached from all that’s going on. But perhaps that is not their fault, such incidents have become so pedestrian in Pakistan that the people have become conditioned to dismiss it out of their minds, so that they don’t have to think about the deeper meaning of this: that their country, their homeland is under seige by elements of evil who have exploited and misrepresented Pakistan and Islam and out to wage an all out holy war for a bogus cause and that they might just end up accomplishing this. Such thoughts are depressing, no one wants them swirling around the confines of their minds, and so I suppose that is why many people are either just used to it have forced themselves to be indifferent.
Today was the first time I actually felt a little scared of being in this country. But this is the country where my ancestors come from, it is where my identity comes from. I cannot call it my home but for now, this is where I live. And if I have to get used to gunfire and violence to stay here, so be it.