Abominable hopelessness

February 07, 2015


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

THE Peshawar school carnage seemed to bring together all disparate players, eager and reticent alike, in what was stated to be a resolve to battle all forms of terror.

The prime minister and the military also announced that the distinction between the so-called good and bad Taliban would be no more. Anyone who took up arms to challenge the writ of the state and terrorise its citizens would be crushed.

This promise of indiscriminate action against the merchants of terror looked closer to realisation with the announcement of what was called the National Action Plan. Of course, those with a wit pounced on the acronym with a relish.

NAP jokes aside, there were the cynics who said nothing had and would change: a few weeks on from the tragedy it would revert to business as usual. Then there were some of us. No matter how cynical as a default, we started to believe that the Peshawar massacre would mark a turning point.

So where are we now? If you ask me for an honest response, I’d say in a state close to ‘empty’ where whatever little hope there was now seems to have seeped away. Please don’t ask me to detail why.

I wish I knew where to start but let me try nonetheless to convey my thoughts, fears through a series of snapshots. Snapshots that, in no particular order, now clearly demonstrate how far down the road to perdition we are.

One of the key leaders of a political party, which has prided itself for decades on its espousal of liberal, progressive causes and professes to be inspired by the pacifist Bacha Khan, announces ‘$200,000 reward’ for anyone who kills the publisher of the Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo.

If the current state of affairs owed itself only to civilian politicians one could look for hope elsewhere. But it doesn’t.

Charlie Hebdo whose cartoons, seen as blasphemous by many Muslims, caused more offence than the bulldozing of holy sites in Saudi Arabia did even when both the offender and the offended in the latter case shared the same faith and values.

Then a former chief justice of a high court says those who carried out the killings in the Paris magazine office were his ‘heroes’. He is no ordinary judge. How revered is this man by the party in power can be understood from sections of his book, as quoted by journalist Khaled Ahmed.

He claims to have been offered a cash-stashed envelope by none less than the current prime minister’s brother and the ruler of the country’s most populated province today while the latter was in exile in London. This, besides a lavish meal where the current chief minister served him the choicest pieces of meat (chun chun ke botiyan) at his Park Lane flat.

These are but two small examples why moderation is dying a miserable death in our society. Such manifestations of intolerance find an echo in so many minds that attempts to challenge these are met with obtuse contempt.

The party in power at the centre never staked a claim to any progressive mantle. But the party in power in Sindh claims to be the keeper of the legacy of pro-people, even secular, politics in the country. Look at how it has capitulated to the religious ultra-right.

This capitulation is manifesting itself almost daily in the city of Karachi in the form of (the rather misleading term) ‘sectarian’ murders, where the victims belong overwhelmingly to one community, and is also spreading to the interior.

If this was due to the ideological affinity of the rulers with the zealots, as is suspected to be the case, elsewhere, it would be one thing. But critics believe the provincial administration has been rendered a helpless bystander because the party leadership doesn’t wish any backlash to endanger its personal commercial interests.

However, if this state of affairs owed itself only to civilian politicians one could look for hope elsewhere. But it doesn’t. Decades of using religiously motivated militants to further the goals of our national security by the military establishment has sown confusion in society as it has in the administration.

What else would explain how an outlawed, sectarian militant group (and not going into the technicality of the word ‘outlawed’ since NAP pledges action against all incarnations) was able to demonstrate in the streets of the commercial capital while three dozen protesters who raised their voice against the travesty were taken into custody?

These ‘Kashmir Day’ demonstrations by several ‘proscribed’ but alive and kicking groups may have been to thumb their nose at their civilian critics. But even at GHQ? I doubt it. They were just a reminder where ideologically this ship is heading.

And all this the day after a formation commanders meeting in Rawalpindi, we were told, reiterated its pledge to act against terror of every hue. In the wake of the Peshawar carnage, only the naïve, the very naïve, would have expected overnight, effective action.

However, it wasn’t naïve to anticipate hints of change. All we have so far got is some ‘revenge’ hangings, air and ground assaults in distant parts of the country, the details of which we are of course unable to confirm, and military courts.

The ticking bomb that needs to be defused is far more challenging even if a ‘no favourites’ policy was sincerely followed to enforce the law. The burning alive of the caged Jordanian by the abominable Islamic State elicited a Twitter exchange between two Pakistanis, one of them a journalist representing a mainstream media organisation.

The journalist agreed with his interlocutor who suggested that the horrifying spectacle was Jordan’s fault as it refused to swap IS prisoners in its custody. They were factually wrong as Jordan wanted verification that the pilot was alive and only refused when IS wasn’t forthcoming.

That they thought there was any justification at all for such bestiality was the final straw of the week draining hope from me completely and, as an eternal optimist, I hate it.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.


Published in Dawn February 7th , 2015

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