HANDERY Masih, the Balochistan provincial assembly member who was shot dead last Saturday, and his assassin, Ghulam Mohiuddin, of the Balochistan Levies, roughly represent the forces that are locked in a deadly combat, and the outcome will define tomorrow’s Pakistan.
Let us first identify the characters.
Handery Masih was a secular democrat and an activist. A Christian among Muslims he threw his lot with the Balochistan Student Organisation, whose secular, nationalist credentials are no secret, and rose to be its top leader.
Several religious seminaries all over Balochistan have greatly influenced the thinking of the young generation.
His passion for the socio-economic development of his people, the Christian community in particular, guided him to Lahore to join a civil society organisation’s (South Asia Partnership) programme for training community-based groups’ leadership. Back home he joined the National Party, and not a denominational outfit, and did well enough to earn a seat in the provincial assembly.
Thus Handery joined the forces that are striving to realise the goal of a secular, democratic Pakistan, in which all citizens, regardless of belief or domicile, are not only guaranteed equal rights but are also ready to struggle for achieving them. For all those who are guided by reason and humankind’s history this is the only path to Pakistan’s becoming a modern, civilised and responsible state.
The other contender, Ghulam Mohiuddin, supports the forces that reject secularism, democracy and human rights. They do not grant the religious and sectarian minorities, as well as women, any rights beyond some meaningless concessions available to second-class citizens. These forces are using violence against both the state and the people to capture power and then impose on the whole population a harsh regime based on narrow exclusivism.
It is possible that those charged with investigating the murder, and we have little trust in their efficiency and freedom from communal/sectarian biases, will attribute the crime to a petty dispute and the peculiar working of the tribal mind. But it can be shown that in a highly intolerant society, such as the one Pakistan has become, belief is a significant factor in determining the course of a quarrel in which one of the parties belongs to a religious/sectarian minority.
The consciousness that the other fellow belongs to a disadvantaged group emboldens the offender to reject all legal and moral constraints on his behaviour. Religious intolerance legitimises murder to a greater extent than class or ethnic distinction. The possibility that Ghulam Mohiuddin, consciously or unconsciously, believed that his quarry deserved to be killed for being an infidel cannot be ruled out.
This calls for serious reflection on two aspects of the matter.
The first issue is communalisation of the Balochistan society. Till some years ago, Balochistan was universally respected for its tolerance of religious, ethnic and cultural divergences. The religious-political parties did have a slightly different agenda than democratic/nationalist parties but they won seats in elections largely on the strength of their educational enterprises. During the Ziaul Haq period they resorted to greater exploitation of religion for politics and started religio-political agitations, such as the one against the Zikris. However, now they openly back the militants’ challenge to the state.
More important than that, the large number of religious seminaries built with foreign money all over Balochistan, especially along the Makran coast, have greatly influenced the thinking of the young generation. They have replaced their faith in pluralism with exclusivist communalism. The result is that in Panjgur girls’ education has received a terrible setback. Intolerance of non-Muslim citizens has increased and there are reports that Balochistan’s youth are learning from Punjabi terrorist outfits’ use of violence for practices such as extortion, abduction and forced conversion.
This spread of religiosity in Balochistan bodes ill for the country. The attacks on the Hazara Shia in Quetta, on the pilgrims’ caravans (at least those who are too poor to accept the Interior Minister’s advice to travel by air), and the dwindling Hindu community might increase. Indeed the wave of religious bigotry in Balochistan presents the state with a greater threat than the nationalist upsurge. If Islamabad wants to save the federation it must find ways of reversing Balochistan’s drift towards intolerance.
The second issue is that of extremists’ infiltration into Pakistan’s society and institutions. Everybody knows that the terrorists have their pockets of support, that they call “assets”, all over the country, especially in large cities. Those who attacked the Karachi airport are reported to have spent two days in houses close to the target. They had local friends who helped them acquire Airport Security Force uniforms, shoes, food items, medicines etc. The terrorists have their sympathisers in the government, political parties, and bureaucracy, even in the judiciary and law-enforcement agencies.
The fact that the law-enforcement agencies have been infected by the terrorists is an especially grave matter. Instances of policemen/guards killing people suspected of offences against religion have increased to an alarming level. This is the enemy within that could cause Pakistan more harm than the terrorists.
This matter has become more serious after the start of military operation in North Waziristan. The government’s answer to the terrorists’ warning is ordering a ‘red alert’ and extraordinary security measures at important sites. These measures have often failed in the past and they are unlikely to succeed now.
The principal flaw in the government’s thinking is its treatment of the religious militants’ threat as merely a law and order issue. Little has been done to answer the militants’ strategy of misleading the people with their quasi-religious rhetoric. The theory of takfir under which the clergy can declare anyone an apostate or an infidel and thus liable to be slaughtered by any Muslim has not been analysed. The licence given to militants to kill non-Muslims must be revoked. It is also necessary to liberate the religious discourse from the monopoly of extremists. This may not be possible without the government leaders’ ability to expel the friends of terrorists from their hearts.
Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2014