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Enemy inside the gates

Intro: A political government has allowed the sovereign parliament of the people to become hostage to the bullying of a minority bent upon imposing its will on others

By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times,Mar 11, 2011

" I have not mourned the killing of Salman Taseer because I never knew him. I mourn that enlightened Pakistan is being killed. I am leaving the country because it is close to becoming an unsuccessful state, full of extremism and Muslims are being killed, not by Hindus, by Muslims.” 

Nothing illustrates the situation in Pakistan, after the brutal assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti,than this warning above by George Fulton, a British journalist who settled down in Pakistan after his popular TV programme, appropriately named ‘George Ka Pakistan’, almost a decade ago.

Fulton has bid farewell to his adopted country “due to the extremism prevailing in the country,” according to a national daily. His decision should not come as a surprise. It is the logical consequence of the continuous decline that we have been witnessing for quite some time now. Following the assassinations of Taseer and Bhatti, all eyes were on a hapless civilian leadership and an equally indifferent military establishment. The civilian leadership has failed us because it abandoned Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti once the clergy rose in fury against the proposed changes to Blasphemy Law. The military establishment has disappointed the people because it has chosen to stay silent over the words and deeds of forces it once considered its allies.

All those pleading for rational amendments to the Blasphemy Law, passed by a lame duck parliament, under General Zia’s Islamist military dictatorship, three decades ago, are targets of the ire of the religious parties and clerics. 

This has forced the government into silence, with the consequence that Sherry Rehman has had to go underground, and even ministers – including Rehman Malik and Dr. Babar Awan – have publicly expressed their readiness to “kill blasphemers with their own hands”. They are obviously playing to the tune of the extremist religious clergy; an act of shameless appeasement of sections who refuse to debate the issue in the parliament – the representative of the sovereign i.e. people of Pakistan.

It amounts to a total capitulation to blackmail. A political government has allowed the sovereign parliament of the people to become hostage to the bullying of a minority bent upon imposing its will on others. Worse, none of the representative houses offered condolences for Shahbaz Bhatti, a federal minister and a member of the house. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) are indirectly complicit in this crime by refusing to stand up for one of their own.

As the politicians continue to duck under the dictates of expediency, the military establishment watches on with a strange and an entirely unexplainable silence. The civil society and those who stand for a liberal Pakistan find it difficult to absorb this silence. A letter addressed to the chief of the ISI, put together and endorsed by social activists, captures the sense of frustration and helplessness in the society today: 

“Dear Lt Gen. Shuja Pasha

We think it is now time to appeal to your sense of patriotism and respect for human values to urge you to inject some sense into the religious parties like the JUI, Jamaat-e-Islami, Sunni Tehreek, Jamaat-ud-Dawa over whom you have considerable influence. We feel you owe it to the country to exercise your great influence and leverage over the religious parties and groups to at least spare the name of the Prophet (PBUH) and agree to stop using and supporting the laws intended to exploit his sacred name.”

With reference to the frenzy whipped up by the religious right – which terrorists are also exploiting to disguise their violent acts – the letter says:

“In addition to the stigma of being alleged a state that sponsors terrorists, we are being branded a state which persecutes the poor and the helpless in the name of our great Prophet (PBUH). You, sir, are one of the most powerful persons in the country but power and authority are supposed to come with responsibility.”

This letter betrays the widely held belief that the military establishment can help rein in the forces that are blowing hot and cold on the issues such as blasphemy. In the past they were allowed to operate with impunity given their strategic importance in foreign policy. Now if we were to take General Kayani and his men on face value, they tell us, in earnest, that the support for militants within the establishment has been extinguished. One would presume that the military then would not hesitate in impressing upon its former allies and assets to refrain from resorting to violence against others – whoever they are and thereby creating instability and chaos in the country.

f at this critical juncture when fear has gripped Pakistanis of all variety, the military establishment’s failure to show its teeth vis a vis non-state actors will make it increasingly difficult to prevent the country from sliding into outright anarchy, which would be to the advantage of the extremists. Unless the state declares an unequivocal and definite divorce with these forces, the space foral Qaeda inspired religio-political groups will keep expanding to Pakistan’s detriment. 

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk