How many more assassinations will it take for Pakistanis to unite, not just against the violence of a gruesome murder, but against the ideology that promotes such heinous acts? One cannot expect the JI or the JUI to condemn this ideology because their political success depends on it, but to see Shahbaz Sharif and Rehman Malik sparring at each other instead of collectively fighting the menace in our midst is terribly upsetting. It should be known to all parties that if they continue to blame each other, if they focus more on political point-scoring than on the intolerance that is being bred in our society, one day they too will pay the price. Banners inciting violence against Tehmina Durrani, for a book she wrote years ago have already been spotted in Karachi. Two PPP politicians have been assassinated this year and more are supposedly on the hit list. Several ANP politicians and their loved ones have lost their lives to extremism and military and police families have also paid a terrible price for combating terrorism carried out in the name of religion.
And yet, there is no collective stand against this disease that is destroying the fabric of our society. There is continual appeasement. Two steps forward, one step back. The PML-N, the PML-Q and the PTI, while acknowledging on television that the blasphemy law is misused, are not averse to promoting the law in rallies shared with banned outfits that fan sectarianism. The MQM, notwithstanding its claims against religious extremism, refused to participate in a fateha for the late Salmaan Taseer. Imran Khan cannot condemn the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti without bringing in unconnected issues like drones, which have nothing to do with the violence and discrimination that minority religious communities within Pakistan have faced since well before the drones hit our territory.
And then there are the supposedly liberal parties, the ANP and the PPP. Here we see a division and a troubling willingness on the part of the parties to distance themselves from members more willing to take a stand. When the video of a young girl flogged in Swat was released, there was a clear division in the denial that Mian Iftikhar exhibited and the reasonable wise reaction of Afzal Khan-Lala. And yet Mian Iftikhar later tragically lost his son to the same forces that flogged the young girl. This should be a lesson to the PPP as well. By distancing themselves from the stands of the bolder members of their party, the likes of Prime Minister Gilani or Babar Awan will neither ensure their own security, nor enhance their popularity.
Unless the powers that be, including, very importantly, the military, take a firm stand against appeasement of forces that breed violent extremism, we are doomed. The PPP government must act and exercise authority in order to be taken seriously. Unless the civilian and military leadership collaborates, speaks with one voice, refrains from a blame game and takes joint urgent action, we will have destroyed our very ethos.
Even if the civilian and military leadership fears speaking out or attending funerals, why can’t they take basic steps to reverse this fascist tide? For example, why can’t PTV continually air educational programmes promoting tolerant interpretations of religion and portraying the negatives of violence? Why can’t we put an end to banners and graffiti (wall chalking), especially as they encourage violence? Why shouldn’t proposed rallies require prior permission from a central authority which would ensure that their message is not one of hate? Why can’t Friday sermons be monitored? This happens in most Muslim countries. A Malaysian recently told me that all mosques in his country are ordered to give the same sermon every Friday. Why can’t we do the same? Why shouldn’t a unified sermon be drafted with government oversight and sent to every mosque? Why shouldn’t the state file FIRs and prosecute those clerics, media personalities and others who incite people to violence?
Serious steps must be taken to marginalise the forces that promote hatred. If the civilian and military leadership continues to backtrack and appease them, the state apparatus will soon become irrelevant and our country will descend into anarchy.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2011.