THE cold-blooded targeted killing of Sabeen Mahmud in Karachi should prompt sane minds in Pakistan to look back and reflect. The pattern of several hundred gruesome targeted killings across the country must now be seriously analysed.
Among the several hundred targeted killings across the country over the past decade, there are some prominent names that readily come to mind. Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was killed in 2011 in Islamabad; Malala Yousafzai survived a fatal attack in 2012 in Swat; social activist Perween Rahman was killed in 2013 in Karachi and human rights activist and lawyer Rashid Rehman was murdered in 2014 in Multan.
Apart from almost 50,000 people killed in terror attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from 2001 to 2014, some 600 elders in Fata fell victim to targeted killing between 2001 and 2009. Several dozen activists and elders were killed in Peshawar, including ANP leader Bashir Bilour and worker Mian Mushtaq, between 2001 and 2014. KP’s Malakand Division has also had its share of targeted killings; dozens of elders and peace committee members were killed between 2007 and 2014.
Impunity is evident in the killing of rational voices.
If we exclude the incidents of targeted killing that have been traditionally categorised as ‘sectarian’ in nature, we see three common patterns. First, except for the killer of Salmaan Taseer, who was caught on the spot and tried, very few perpetrators have so far been punished. This seems to show that the state’s resolve has weakened considerably. The state security apparatus, which includes the intelligence and law-enforcement apparatus as well as the prosecution, seems to be withering.
Second, almost all these incidents of targeted killing seem to follow a pattern. Mostly, those political workers and social activists have been targeted who are known for rational thinking, have a liberal outlook and are engaged in progressive activism. This indicates shrinking of space for freedom of expression and independent thinking. It is a matter of extreme concern that some sections of the public have been heard justifying killings of these individuals. This behavioural pattern points to another disempowering phenomenon.
Italian intellectual Antonio Gramsci, in his Prison Notebooks conceptualises the theory of ‘spontaneous consent’ and ‘coercive consent.’ He propounds that various tools are used by the powerful to obtain ‘spontaneous consent’ which leads to manipulation of resources and power. Through a subtle method, the powerful are able to construct and permeate sociocultural, sociopolitical and socio-economic narratives to their advantage. With the passage of time ‘privilege’ and then ‘influence’ is attached to the narratives constructed by the powerful for concentration of power and resources. Hence, a time comes when all those subscribing to the narratives of the powerful become ‘privileged’ and ‘influential’.
In the process, most sections of the population who have been divested of power and resources lose collective self-respect. They embark on attaining ‘privilege’ apparently saving themselves from stigmatisation. On the face of it, the marginalised think they adopt the ‘language’ and ‘culture’ and subscribe to the powerful narrative out of their consent, but in fact, it is ‘coercive consent’. It is in this context that we see large-scale adoption of the narratives of the ‘foreign agent,’ the ‘traitor,’ the ‘corrupt’ and the ‘immoral’. This paradigm seems to be manifest in glorification of vigilantism and justification by sections of the population of the targeted killing of the ‘liberal’, the ‘secular’ and the ‘rational’.
Third, we see a pattern of impunity in the targeted killing of rational and liberal voices. Almost all perpetrators have so far got away. The police and judicial investigations deliver no concrete results.
The state and civil society need to devise a strategy to put an end to this horrific trend in Pakistan. Civil society can help end this fatal threat to civilised human living, fundamental rights and freedom of expression in three ways.
First, academia must produce objective studies investigating the context, motives and situation of targeted killings in different parts of Pakistan. Second, civil society organisations must form networks in different provinces promoting the discourse of the pluralist mindset as an alternative to the extremist mindset. Indigenous pluralist cultures and historical traditions of Gandhara and Indus, linked with modern human civilisation, might be a springboard for promoting a pluralist mindset and non-violent behavioural patterns.
Third, various organs of civil society like media organisations, trade unions and teachers’ associations, must assert consistent pressure on the state’s law-enforcement and security apparatus to get individual cases investigated. The security apparatus, in turn, has to proactively pursue individual cases and must show concrete results.
Brain drain from Pakistan has already reached a dangerous climax. Something must be done before the brilliant minds of society start considering the whole of Pakistan as a concentration camp which they yearn to leave.
The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.
Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2015