Spiral of despair

November 29, 2014


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

OF all the pointless debates, the one currently engaging the attention and energy of a former and the incumbent interior minister must take the cake.

The two illustrious gentlemen have taken opposing public positions on whether the self-styled Islamic State has found a toehold in Pakistan with the incumbent insisting that no trace of the murderous entity is to be found on the country’s soil.

Of course, you could argue that discussing this isn’t pointless as the takfiri monster is one of the most potent, toxic and lethal threats to appear on the horizon of the Muslim world with the potential to not just destabilise the Middle East but cause murder and mayhem beyond too.

Its hate-filled ideology, mind-boggling brutality, access to oil revenue and other riches in parts of Syria and Iraq it has now under its control and rapid military advances have made it a magnet for extremist elements from around the world.

And like Al Qaeda it won’t take much to establish its franchise in Pakistan, given that the country’s environment appears already so conducive to violent manifestations of intolerant religious beliefs that extremists of every hue seem to thrive here.

Just look at some of the incidents of this week alone. There were indications that the polio immunisation programme of the World Health Organisation in Balochistan and Unicef’s field work in assistance of the provincial government were affected after four polio workers en route to vaccinate children were killed by unidentified gunmen.

The episode of the madressah girls speaks volumes for state failure at multiple levels.

Balochistan now represents such a mess that it is difficult to say who might have targeted the polio workers, though Jundullah has claimed responsibility. But, when for years the state doesn’t target Taliban-affiliated sectarian terrorists because it itself is accused of using such elements in its bloody fight with armed separatists, what else would one expect?

Then there was the news about a 26-year-old Christian cleaning lady in Sheikhupura, who reportedly had an argument with the women of the house she was working in. Two young men belonging to the same family beat her with a hosepipe, stripped her and left her in the street.

She was three months’ pregnant and was so badly beaten that she miscarried. So warped is the environment now with awful tragedies an everyday occurrence, I am embarrassed to say my first reaction was thank God she wasn’t accused of blasphemy. A woman is assaulted by two men, has a miscarriage, is left virtually stripped to the skin in the middle of a street and one has the audacity to be grateful for small mercies. But even this rather shameful relief was momentary.

After the Christian community leaders and other human rights activists publicly protested this outrage and demanded that the police take action, the inevitable threat faced by the Christian community raised its ugly head as the protesters were reportedly warned to back off or face blasphemy charges.

The Punjab government’s record of protecting the Christian minority is so, so appalling that any expectation of provision of justice to the wronged woman would be more wishful thinking than anything rooted in reality.

Is there any point talking about the other news of the week which, as a father of two daughters, sent a chill up my spine and continues to do so? Many facts are still not in the public domain but the ones that are, are troubling enough.

Just ask yourself what circumstances forced the parents of three dozen, tender-aged, girls to send off their daughters from Bajaur to distant Karachi to be educated, clothed and fed at a madressah. Doesn’t it speak of multiple state failures from breakdown of the security situation to the abandoning of large chunks of population in utterly abject poverty?

That these girls and their plight became public was merely accidental as the callous madressah administrators used them as pawns in what was reportedly a monetary dispute with someone. God knows best how many more such angels are facing similar circumstances away from the spotlight.

Then of course there was the murder of the Shia cleric, Allama Nawaz Irfani, in Islamabad. His supporters and even some independent observers credit Irfani, who served as an imam in Parachinar for 14 years, with organising a successful resistance to Taliban in the Kurram Agency.

But the government had apparently expelled him from Parachinar for inciting sectarian sentiments. In either case he was left unprotected and was gunned down in broad daylight in the capital to the delight of a sectarian party allied with the PML-N, which loyally serves the ‘establishment’ as well.

If the state spent as much time safeguarding its citizens as it does hounding those who, in its view, don’t fall in line Pakistan would be a much safer, better place. How else would you describe the 26-year prison sentence given to Jang-Geo owner Mir Shakilur Rehman (and three others) after a court found him guilty of hurting religious sentiments?

This isn’t a defence of his group’s editorial policy or practices. It may have erred in the manner it reported Geo anchor Hamid Mir’s brother’s allegation that the ISI chief was responsible for the attempt on the anchor’s life after he received multiple bullet wounds in an attempted assassination in Karachi.

The regulator Pemra penalised the media group for that coverage, fining it and suspending its broadcasts. The matter should have rested at that. But no, it didn’t. The media group needed to be taught a graver lesson.

All of this wasn’t a digression from discussing whether the IS debate is pointless, superfluous. No. It was an attempt to underline how even when we know well what ails us, we do nothing. Let’s believe the IS threat is indeed real. What then? We’ll deal with it as we are addressing other existential threats, won’t we?

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.


Published in Dawn, November 29th , 2014