In Pak, a thin line between joy and tragedy
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.