Leading by example

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My dear Imran,

I thought I must write to you at this time when both our countries are in a state of shock and disbelief at what happened in Sialkot last week, when Priyantha, a Sri Lankan manager at a garment factory, was brutally beaten to death and his body set on fire, apparently for the ‘crime’ of removing a poster.

To say the least, Imran, this incident came as a complete surprise to all of us because we viewed Pakistan as a friendly nation which was a ‘friend in need’, especially when we were fighting terrorism unlike some of our other neighbours – and we both know who we are talking about, don’t we?

That friendship has been long-lasting and extends back for decades, even before terrorism emerged in our lands. Our ‘B’ family were good friends with your ‘B’ family in the 70s when they both controlled our nations. The ties between us continued even after JR led us and Zia took over there.

Since then, there have been many changes in governments in our countries, but our relationship was never tested. Your country was always there to help us when we needed it most. This was never more apparent than when we were at war with the Tigers and had to rely on you for arms to fight them.

We felt so much at home when we played that World Cup final in Lahore 25 years ago – and you helped Arjuna with some tips and tricks then, Imran. Your people cheered our team against the Aussies as if they were your own. That spurred us on to what still is our greatest sporting victory.

Why, even when our cricket team was attacked by gunmen 13 years later, ironically in the same city, Lahore, we didn’t blame your nation for that. We understood it was the work of a terrorist outfit. At that time, we were also nearing the climax of our own war against terror and you were helping us.

That is why, 10 years later, when the cricketing world was shunning Pakistan, we sent our team back to your country for a tour. Not only did it prove that it was safe to play cricket in Pakistan again, it also meant we didn’t have any ill-feeling towards you. This is why Priyantha’s killing is so shocking.

After the incident, the eyes of the whole world were on how you would react, Imran. It was suggested that you had lifted a ban on an extremist group just recently and that they were responsible. Your Defence Minister’s comments that ‘murders take place when young people get emotional’ didn’t help.

Despite all that, we were encouraged by your swift and decisive actions, firstly saying sorry and that you are ashamed of what happened, nabbing those responsible within hours and detaining them, granting a bravery award to the Pakistani who tried to shield Priyantha, and compensating his family.

You did so in an Islamic country where this crime was committed purportedly in the name of Islam, though we know this is not what Islam teaches. You did what was right and moral, not worrying about the political consequences for you or wondering whether religious groups would blame you.

Through your actions, Imran, you demonstrated that you are a man who values principles more than opportunities. In fact, this incident has prompted some soul searching among ourselves in this country. Some interesting questions are being asked about what happened and your response to it.

Some recall ‘Black July’ in 1983, when many members of the Tamil community were lynched and burnt in a similar way for the crime of being Tamil, pointing out that what we feel now would have been what they felt then – and unlike you, JR waited for many days without taking decisive action.

Others wonder whether, if such an incident occurred in our country, our leaders will have the courage to act against the main religion or whether they will take the easy way out and join the majority – some of whom want them to act like Hitler – just so they could win elections and remain in power.

It has also been said that you acted decisively because you are not from one of the two major parties which dominated Pakistani politics for decades. We too are sick and tired of our main parties but the problems is, we do not have someone like you who is able to convince the nation of their sincerity.

We do have someone who parallels you. That is Arjuna but even though he won the World Cup for us like you did, he can’t even win the Cricket Board election. Also, he has already been Red and Green and now he’s left the Greens too – and he carries too much baggage from his family to be his own man.

We know that regardless of what you did, Imran, Priyantha’s family will not have him back. Still, he wouldn’t have died in vain, if his passing opens our eyes to the extremism that dominates both our societies and motivates all of us to shun such behaviour and respect each other as human beings.

Yours truly,

Punchi Putha

PS: On hearing of this incident, a Pakistani eye surgeon said that Sri Lanka had donated more than 35,000 eyes to your country but that it had lost ‘sight’. Seeing what is happening not only in your land but in ours as well, we cannot but help think that an ‘eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’!

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