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The right course forward

March 05, 2016


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

THREE a.m. starts are always worrying as there is a fear the alarm may not work or you just might end up turning it off without realising and miss your flight.

Even though I won’t describe myself as an anxious traveller, in a situation where I have to get up in the middle of the night after barely a couple of hours of sleep for a long journey, I prefer to stay awake.

Last Sunday was no exception. Reading doesn’t work for me as I have been trained, like so many others since childhood, to read myself to sleep. Reading is a pleasure and if you are a bit tired it is the perfect way to relax and drift off to sleep.

If one has to stay awake what better noise than our wonderful news TV channels to keep one company? There was a time when news presenters used to go through their script and speak in calm, ‘projected’ voices. Now shouting their cues or introduction to news stories and packages is the norm.

At about 0200 I saw a Tweet from an unfamiliar handle, calling on ‘Ashiquain-i-Rasool (PBUH)’ to come out on to the streets as ‘Ghazi’ Mumtaz Qadri’s family members had had their last meeting with him and he was scheduled to be executed within a couple of hours.

The TV screen presented a business-as-usual scene for a few more minutes and then one channel started running a ticker confirming what was in the Tweet. It also said the time for the execution of the man convicted of killing Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer had been set at 0430.

Being driven to Karachi airport at around 0415 I noticed an unusually large number of bearded men riding two to a motorcycle, with some seemingly sharing jokes and laughing, headed in the same direction as us.

The impediments will be many but the fight must go on. The state must establish its credentials as the one entity that is committed to enforcing the law without discrimination.

By the time we reached the Star Gate entrance to the airport, we found it blocked by dozens of motorcyclists with dozens more arriving every minute. There was hardly a policeman in sight apart from four or five in a lonely van who wisely stayed out of the protesters’ and harm’s way.

Forced to turn around and take a long circuitous route to approach the airport from a different direction we got near enough to the terminal to see the departures ramp blocked and heard slogans being raised by hundreds of protesters who had gathered across from the departure lounges.

Of course, I missed the flight and went back. I am told a short while later after successful negotiations with the protesters the Airport Security Force officials were able to convince them to clear the airport and go home. And they did and other passengers were able to reach the airport without a problem.

The next day with the assistance of some friends I was able to rebook my flight after paying an extortionate penalty as the airline wouldn’t accept the force majeure argument. Nonetheless, some 27 hours later than planned I was airborne.

The idea of sharing my travel travails isn’t to bore you but for this rather trivial example to illustrate what the state must do: carry on despite the pain because there is no other option. One cannot countenance the consequences of surrender.

It is equally important to keep the fight against fan­aticism clean and simple and above board. It has been mentioned in these columns a number of times that the change in the state’s strategic priorities may well be spooking its once-favourite sons and surrogates.

This was evident in many disparate religious denominations coming together for the Qadri funeral. However, for once the state seems on the right path to enable Pakistan to take its place in the comity of democratic, modern nations where all its citizens enjoy equal rights regardless of their faith, gender or ethnicity.

The impediments will be many but the fight must go on. The state must also establish its credentials as the one entity that is committed to enforcing the law without discrimination and restoring law and order to a country wracked for years by lawlessness.

Qadri supporters, despite the unequivocal verdict of the Supreme Court of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, will believe what they will about the shooting incident in which he mowed down the Punjab governor he had taken an oath to protect. The state demonstrably enforced its writ.

A similar course of action must be followed in the case of the secular but equally fanatical MQM. Attempts at ‘engineering’ a change in leadership or causing rifts in the ranks of the party in the past have merely served to cement its support.

Mustafa Kamal may have a clean track record in terms of violence associated with the MQM but the same can’t be said about Anis Kaimkhani. Party insiders privately elaborate on the frontline role he played in executing all elements of party policy for decades.

What Mustafa Kamal says about his former leader has a ring of truth for some of us who have reported on the MQM for years but the party rank and file are not likely to believe him. Side by side with the whitewashing of Kaimkhani the whole episode speaks of yet another engineered change attempt.    

This is wholly unnecessary. The law should take its course and should be enforced with single-mindedness of purpose. Choosing or rejecting a leader for a party is its business and not that of the state. All the while it indulges in such schemes it must be distracted from keeping its eye on the ball where it matters.

This can’t be right.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2016