In Pak, a thin line be­tween joy and tragedy

DNA (Delhi) - - WORLD -

As Pak­istan erupted in ec­stasy over a breath­tak­ing cricket win against India this sum­mer, five-year-old Noeen lay dy­ing in the coun­try’s north­west, the tiny vic­tim of an of­ten deadly tra­di­tion: cel­e­bra­tory gun­fire.

Un­load­ing a few rounds into the air is a well-es­tab­lished cus­tom to cel­e­brate wed­dings, re­li­gious cer­e­monies and sport­ing vic­to­ries in tur­bu­lent Pak­istan, where firearms stuff black mar­kets along the Afghan border and gun crime is rife in its ma­jor cities.

Fol­low­ing Pak­istan’s trounc­ing of arch-ri­val India dur­ing the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy in June at least two peo­ple were killed and hundreds wounded in the en­su­ing cel­e­bra­tions as cricket fans fired gun­shots into the air na­tion­wide.

In Now­shera, in ru­ral Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa prov­ince near the coun­try’s tribal belt, Laeeq Shah was with his son as the fes­tiv­i­ties kicked off in the park when a stray bul­let struck the five-yearold in the head.

The tod­dler was rushed to a nearby hos­pi­tal in Pe­shawar where he bat­tled for close to 60 hours in a coma be­fore suc­cumb­ing to his wounds.

“One can ruin the house of another un­know­ingly,” says Shah.

In the tribal north­west Pak­istan’s ob­ses­sion with guns is par­tic­u­larly vis­i­ble, with firearms cheaper than smart­phones and most men trav­el­ling armed. Weapons are so ubiq­ui­tous they are al­most seen as jew­ellery.

Pak­istan’s deeply rooted gun cul­ture was ex­ac­er­bated fur­ther in the 1980s af­ter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when the US and Saudi Ara­bia be­gan fun­nel­ing weapons to Mu­jahideen fighters bat­tling com­mu­nist forces across the border. The del­uge of arms into the re­gion gave rise to what was later la­belled “Kalash­nikov cul­ture”, with au­to­matic weapons read­ily avail­able in gun bazaars across the coun­try fu­elling mil­i­tancy in Pak­istan long af­ter the Soviet war ended.


Noreen’s fa­ther, Laeeq Shah, looks at old pho­tos of his son at their home in Pakhtunkhwa.

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