THE strange case of the hides has not been brought to the fore by Robert Louis Stevenson but it does feature a split personality belonging to none other than the government. On the one hand, rulers instruct officials to stop banned faith-based groups from collecting the skins of sacrificial animals on Eidul Azha. On the other, members of these, often pro-militancy, groups freely roam the streets, collecting hides. An intelligence report prepared in Punjab says the hides collected by some groups that have been proscribed or are under watch sold for more than Rs78m on the market last Eid. The actual figure may be much higher since it is almost impossible to verify the number of hides sold. An effort seems to have been made to come up with round figures. For instance, one group is said to have collected 60,000 hides in Lahore alone. But whatever the estimates, they piece together a picture that is disturbing and calls for action. Also mentioned in the intelligence report are specific instances which bring out the dangers of carrying out directives to keep these banned organisations from the lucrative business of hide collection.
The police have encountered the might of political groups over claims to hides. But in this case, they appear to shy away from their duties in the face of threats by banned faith-based groups. Indeed, the instance where police in a Punjab district are shown to have quickly released three men arrested for gathering hides is a true manifestation of the influence, actually fear, that some banned organisations exercise over the whole system. The report says the release came on the orders of senior police officers who are in turn answerable to the rulers.
Reflective of the general approach that manifests itself in other instances too, it seems it is the rulers who do not want to take on the might of such groups. There is a tendency to explain away this matter in terms of the growing religiosity in Pakistani society. This is something that cannot be denied; but what we have here is a classic case of camouflaging what is essentially a law and order issue. Just as policemen are inclined to blame petty crimes on poverty, the administration chooses to explain the leeway it allows banned groups on hides and the collection of cash donations by referring to the religious choices of the people. It is a simple problem: what is legally banned cannot be allowed. Unless we truly want this practice stopped, there is no use having intelligence officials trace all these hides to the market.