Pakistan News

The label matters not

The label matters not

THE low-cost residential area of Lahore verges on the industrial zone spread over many kilometres. In the recent past when the ‘garment units’ located on this stretch were doing good business, the area kept up a steady supply of boastful stories about how it had a healthy share in the consignments — T-shirts and all — sent to Europe and beyond.

The leftover stocks and rejects made it quickly to the sales points set up on the adjoining footpaths before spreading far and wide in the country to cater to those wanting to wear and flaunt the label that came cheap.

That was — and has always been — the thing about the business: You were able to select the leading international label you wore. Or they chose your name for you.

The number of branded T-shirt sellers may have thinned over time since business at the factories is not as good as it used to be for a variety of reasons. The trend of producing for various banners, however, continues in areas not located too far from these clothes makers. That arrangement was pretty much like today’s ‘reported’ trend where some local madressahs are accused of supplying the soldiers for work in this or that country, to this or that jihadi organisation.

Just as these local T-shirt manufacturers will be happy to put the label of the buyer’s choice to their product, the tag — Al Qaeda, Daesh, ISIS — wouldn’t appear to make too much of a difference to those looking to produce the Pakistani fighter to meet the international demand.

It is a size that fits all. It is a product ‘suspected’ to be doing well everywhere — so long as they are sufficiently angry which requires them to have been kept on the simmer for the right duration of time to ensure that they are properly provoked. What’s more, you always produce more than the demand abroad.

This would mean that even the avowedly most patriotic of producers cannot possibly guarantee that those which are not exported will eventually find their way to the local outlets eager to put on them their own stamp.

There is a reason why the glut of branded clothes that once occupied the walkways in the residential locality close to the declared industrial zone has struck back right at this moment: It is roughly the same area which took centre stage in reports about jihad in faraway Syria and the possible participation in it by a group of people gone missing from the city.

It is just like any other part of Pakistan that offers the narrator a variety of leads to build upon. As a sign of conflict or divisions or diversity, there are so many mosques in the immediate surroundings of the one over which hangs a question mark right now. Additionally, there is a cross on the skyline belonging to the church for use by those who may be looking for signs of interfaith tolerance and coexistence over and above their wish for sectarian harmony.

There is little to suggest that the place is sited at the origins of a storm, no signs that it has come under some close scrutiny from the media if not by the law enforcers. Life proceeds at its normal pace, made up of men and women some of whom would easily qualify to be used in the old classic analysis which said the underprivileged and the relatively poor are more vulnerable to extreme ideologies than others.

It is a place that contradicts the theory one more time. It once again confirms that the more privileged are as likely if not more to take the plunge of the faithful as the old susceptible, poor folks. It comes as no surprise that — according to the police officials — one of the main characters in the story, a married woman who is alleged to have gone to Syria along with her children, taught at a religious school for girls in this locality. What is new is that there is finally kind of a forced acknowledgement from the government of the outward movement. Still there is great reluctance to talk about the impact of this product both at home and abroad.

According to reports that are becoming increasingly difficult to deny, a ‘Lahore XI’ has slipped out quietly in the direction of Syria. In their trail they have thrown up stories raising suspicions that the actual number of Pakistanis attracted to the call of jihad in the Middle East is much larger. Punjab minister Rana Sanaullah admits to 100 Pakistanis joining that fight, but then he quickly returns to the supposedly reassuring refrain.

He is known to understate facts, beholden as he must be to a responsible government functionary’s pledge to never be a source of panic among public. The minister, however, cannot help resurrecting another set of images from the past. Apart from the fact he has done it many times over himself, there has been a whole line of officials who have taken this route before him.

They initially refused to acknowledge a threat and when they did they dealt with it not by taking administrative action. They did try to do their duty of calming the people’s fear but chose to underestimate matters. They ended up crafting little more than an excuse for doing nothing, in time leaving their own assurances so very bereft of substance.

The substance can only be restored if and when Rana Sana’s government is seen by the people to have undertaken at least some action at the source of the scare. There are at least a hundred reasons for governments in this country to find out why a Pakistani would want to go out to the war front, under whichever banner is available at the time.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2016

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