Another bomb attack in Lahore. What to expect from the PMLN government in the Punjab? Lip service condemning terrorism, of course. But, as usual, keeping in mind the Punjab government’s past record, the condemnation will be general and vague.
Even as the PPP-led coalition government in Islamabad will not hesitate to take names – they’ll point to the Taliban or the many sectarian organisations working as Al Qaeda’s foot soldiers – it is expected that the Punjab government under the PMLN will not.
Determining which forces are hell-bent on mutilating the country is not rocket science. But brace yourself (yet again) to be bombarded by the PMLN leadership and the usual intransigent suspects on TV channels talking generalised nonsense about terrorism and the ubiquitous ‘foreign hand,’ consequently drowning out the obvious involvement of any of the many extremist organisations running amok in Pakistan’s largest province.
But why the Punjab? Although it has been ravaged and broken by extremist terrorism for over two years now, political parties strong in the Punjab (such as the PMLN), the Punjabi-dominant electronic media, and fringe Punjab-based politicos such as Imran Khan have simply refused to acknowledge reality.
Still operating from the fanciful high pedestal of a superiority complex, a bulk of urban Punjab and its leadership continues to live in a stunning, air-tight state of denial.
Whereas in Karachi one can find a majority of common men and women unafraid to air their distaste for the extremists, and walls can be seen adorned with slogans such as ‘Taliban raj namanzoor’ (Taliban regime not acceptable), ‘Taliban sey hoshiar’ (beware of the Taliban), and, my favourite, a slogan found scribbled in a thick coat of black on a wall in a rundown lower-middle-class area of the city, ‘Mulla Omar dajjal’ (Mulla Omar the devil), one just cannot expect such voices and scenes in the Punjab, at least not in Lahore.
Why not? How can a province and a city (Lahore), devastated over and again and plunged into the depths of chaos and fear perpetrated by monsters such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and the province’s many clandestine sectarian organisations, simply refuse to face its most ubiquitous tormenters and demons? Why the fearful silence by its people, and why the spin, the vagueness, and ultimate derailing of the issue by the electronic media?
Punjab is suffering. And it is not only from extremist terrorism. It is as if every time its leadership and people attempt to awkwardly repress the obvious lashings of fear and confusion that cut viciously across the province whenever there is a terrorist attack, they become more vocal in their condemnation of the present government at the centre, incredibly investing more emotional and intellectual energy on abstract issues such as corruption, judiciary, and ‘good governance’ through passionate displays of TV studio and drawing-room nobility, rather than directly tackling their greatest enemy.
Funny thing is, they would readily accuse the president of corruption and the US and India for having nefarious designs on Pakistan without offering an iota of evidence, but would get into a long navel-gazing exercise asking for proof of militant involvement in a terrorist attack.
Again, why? Why in the Punjab? Are the Sindhis and Karachiites more enlightened, liberal, moderate or whatever? Some of my most intelligent friends are from the Punjab, as was my father. And so I keep asking these friends, why isn’t the Punjab fighting back this menace of extremism? Why have most of this province’s brightest minds allowed themselves to be pushed in the background by this new breed of neoconservative ‘intellectuals’ in the shape of TV talk show hosts, ‘journalists,’ ‘analysts,’ et al?
I will continue by relating two small but relevant incidents that may help clarify what I am rambling about.
In a province that has been witnessing nauseating bloodshed perpetrated by those who have a painfully narrow view of Islam and are least hesitant to slaughter innocent men, women and children in their pursuit of both heaven and the shariah, one of the Punjab’s leading politicians and ministers did not find anything wrong in accompanying the leader of a banned sectarian organisation during a recent election campaign.
The minister was PMLN’s Rana Sanaullah, who proudly stood beside a notorious leader of a banned sectarian organisation during a by-election rally in Jhang. This organisation openly sympathises with the Taliban.
Only in the Punjab can such an episode take place. Only in the Punjab can a minister can get away with holding hands with a myopic violent fanatic and, in the process, openly mocking and insulting the feelings of hundreds of Punjabis whose loved ones were brutally slaughtered by the extremists that the fanatic sympathises with. Only in the Punjab can his party then go around and ask for votes from the same people. Yes, only in the Punjab.
One can also mention a recent incident that involves Zaid Hamid to hit home the point I am trying to make.
Mr. Hamid, a hyperbolic TV personality who is an animated cross between a foaming televangelist and an impassionate right-wing drawing room revolutionary, has been on a ‘speaking tour’ of various colleges and universities of the country.
Known for openly holding (and advocating) gun-loving militarist hogwash, Hamid has turned distorting history and dishing out the most twisted conspiracy theories not only into an attractive art form, but a lucrative undertaking as well.
Hailed as a modern Saladin (of the armchair variety, I’m afraid) by his mostly urban, middle-class fans, and flogged as a hate-monger with links to the most rabidly anti-India and reactionary sections of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies by his many detractors, it has been very easy for Hamid to speak at Lahore’s private universities and colleges.
This included a visit to the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) that only two years ago was the scene of a lively students’ movement against the dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf.
If the student body of the prestigious university found Musharraf’s action of dismissing a chief justice unbearable, I wonder what was so bearable about a man who is not only a self-claimed supporter of the ex-dictator, but also a proud war monger whose fans are famous of uttering insightful gems such as “if the Pakistan Army was really guilty of raping Bengali women in former East Pakistan, then they had every right to because Bengalis were traitors!”
Nonetheless, after smoothly completing his ‘Wake up, Pakistan’ speaking tour of Punjab’s campuses, Hamid and his entourage of trendy, designer reactionaries, made their way towards the country’s most ravaged province, the Pakhtunkhwa.
Faced by an insane spate of suicide and bomb attacks by extremists and the military’s war against the Taliban, the youth of the Pakhtunkwa province have shown great resolve to fight back. Student organisations in various state-run universities and colleges of the province have gone on to organise cultural functions that the extremists would term ‘haraam’ and ‘unIslamic.’
Just like the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO) in Balochistan, the Peoples Students Federation (PSF), and the All Pakistan Muttahidda Students Organisation (APMSO) in Sindh, students’ organizations of the Pakhtunkhwa have continued to fight a cultural war against extremism, even when a recent cultural function organised at a university by the BSO in Balochistan’s Khuzdar area was bombed by extremists.
So when Hamid and his army of patriots reached Peshawar University, he was confronted by loud groups of protesting students who wanted him banished from the campus.
The protest, perhaps the first of its kind faced by the likes of Hamid, was organised by the Peoples Students Federation (the student-wing of the Pakistan Peoples Party), the Pakhtun Students Federation (the student-wing of the Awami National Party), and the independent collection of liberal students under the Aman Tehreek umbrella. What’s more, also joining in the protest was the Islami Jamiat Taliba, a student organisation whose mother party, the Jamaat-i-Islami, ironically sympathises with the Taliban.
As the students threw stones at Hamid’s entourage and tried to chase him off the campus, the Aman Tehreek explained exactly why democratic student organisations had joined hands to throw him out.
“We have already suffered a lot due to the suicide bombers and militants and do not want people (in our city and campuses) who promote the extremists,” said an Aman Tehreek activist talking to Dawn.
In light of this example, it seems Punjab’s political leadership is out of sync with the prevailing psyche in Sindh, Balochistan, and the Pakhtunkhwa regarding Pakistan’s war against extremism.
The people and politicians of Punjab need to contemplate difficult questions before they can rid their province of the violence that it has had to face. More so, the confused mindset that is causing violence to be bred and sustained in the Punjab must be eliminated.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.
Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com
He tweets @NadeemfParacha
The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.