MOST Pakistanis will remember the month just past for some of the worst power cuts ever, but this last May reminded me of darkness of a different kind.
It was towards the end of May two years ago when an Ahmadi ‘place of worship’ in Garhi Shahu and another one in Model Town (both in Lahore) were attacked during Friday congregations. Nearly a hundred people were killed as merchants of hate sprayed bullets on those praying.
Two years after that tragedy our efforts to cleanse society of such poison have been so successful that someone approaches a Lahore court to seek justice.
No, the petitioner wasn’t asking if all the perpetrators of the mass killing had been punished or even identified. He wasn’t even concerned if the promised compensation had been disbursed to the innocent victims of this unprovoked hate crime. Of course, he wasn’t moving the court in order to find out what measures had been taken since the attack to protect our minorities.
His petition was aimed at seeking changes in the architecture of the place of worship built in 1952 in Garhi Shahu. He wanted the court to order that all features giving the impression it was a mosque be obliterated. The ‘offending’ features in the case were a dome and minaret.
Although Ahmadis were legislated out of Islam by the Pakistan People’s Party government led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s, Gen Ziaul Haq promulgated a law in 1984 where a ban was imposed on anything which could ‘misidentify’ Ahmadis as Muslim.
And the petitioner was invoking this law to seek changes to the architecture of a building constructed some three decades before the law was enacted. But then, when have we let such minor detail stand in the way of our hate?
The only message we continued to transmit this past May was that minority communities, even minority sects, couldn’t take anything for granted: neither life nor liberty — look no further than what the Quetta Shia Hazaras have been/are being subjected to. Aasia Bibi still rots in prison.
If the Garhi Shahu attack was an outrage, a year later journalist and friend Saleem Shahzad’s kidnap from Islamabad in broad daylight and murder was equally shocking.
The mass murder was blamed on what we dismissively term ‘non-state’ actors. Yes, dismissive, to wash our hands of responsibility. But the second murder had the state’s signature. While I have no idea what happened to the inquiry into the Garhi Shahu tragedy, the Saleem Shahzad inquiry commission did complete its proceedings and publicise its findings — or shall we say lack of findings.
Also, since the publication of the tribunal report where the intelligence agency largely blamed for the atrocity submitted a written statement but refused to appear to answer questions, suggestions have been put forward casting aspersions on Saleem Shahzad.
The most bizarre accusation was that he had lunch (or asked to have lunch) with the ISI media wing officers. This was the view of one of the commission’s members on national television. Now tell me how this, even if true, makes a man liable to be beaten to death?
A commission member has tried to deflect criticism by lashing out at journalists/ human rights activists and saying they made allegations but were unable to submit any ‘evidence’ of who murdered Saleem Shahzad. This is insane.
It’s the job of an inquiry commission to look into the circumstances of an incident and explore all facts, even propose remedies. Journalists deposing before it aren’t crime investigators. To expect journalists to produce evidence of ISI’s complicity when the police couldn’t is a bit much.
Yes, many like me will be seething at how murderers get away scot-free in our land. But why wouldn’t they? We specialise in expending so much energy on red herrings. We have infinite resources for ‘memogates’ and almost none for the dispensation of justice at the grassroots level.
But let’s not despair and focus only on the negative. The month of May saw the Supreme Court conducting robust hearings into the ‘kidnap, kill and dump’ policy in Balochistan as a nervy state deals with the challenge posed by Baloch insurgents/ separatists.
May also saw those responsible held to account for the security lapse at PNS Mehran which enabled extremists to attack the Navy’s air base, kill naval personnel, destroy a number of sea warfare aircraft and cause considerable damage to buildings. Kudos to the Navy for naming and shaming their own.
As I recall the attack on PNS Mehran, how can one not think of Saleem Shahzad who wrote about the possible trigger for that attack: the failure of the militants to have their detained comrades in the Navy freed? Many believe this story was the trigger for the journalist’s murder.
This talk of holding those responsible for our intelligence and security debacles in May will inevitably remind us of the Abbottabad Commission. All of us eagerly await its report, not least because if it represents a job well done, it’ll lead to the rolling of many heads. Or so we hope.
That a man most wanted around the world for mass murder was living in one of our garrison towns so comfortably for such a long period of time represents a horror in itself: criminal, even if he was enabled by sheer incompetence (and not collusion) of our security setup or elements in it.
No need for despondency here as well. We have started to punish those connected with the Osama bin Laden debacle too.
One Dr Shakeel Afridi has been sentenced to 33 years in prison? Others will follow without doubt. But wait. Afridi’s sentence has nothing to do with OBL.
I’ll leave you to figure out who is Mangal Bagh that the doctor, who may have taken a somewhat misspelt Hippocratic Oath, is supposed to have helped and how.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.