WHILE a feeling of relief at escaping any big disaster on Muharram 9 and 10 is justified, the moment calls for sober reflection on the threat to citizens’ life and liberty and the means of countering it.
It is said that at several places the terrorists’ designs to cause indiscriminate killing were frustrated by timely detection of their plots and the seizing of weapons and explosives.
A major threat to Karachi is reported to have been averted by the capture of a truck full of explosives. Laudable though these preventive actions are, it is not clear whether such successes could have been achieved in normal circumstances, that is, without the unprecedented scale of law-enforcement agencies’ mobilisation witnessed last weekend.
It is another matter that the killing of 12 persons in D.I. Khan — seven on Saturday and five on Sunday — was not considered a major tragedy. That indicates the level of society’s callousness and its acceptance of belief-related violence.
Has anyone calculated the cost of the countrywide operation? Almost all government offices were closed for two to three days, schools were shut and countless people were driven by fear to confine themselves to their homes. Special control and monitoring cells were created by all provincial police chiefs. The Punjab government alone claimed to have commissioned more than 100,000 police officers, policewomen and policemen, to keep the terrorists at bay.
All those who planned and executed these measures certainly deserve to be commended. Even those who often ridiculed the interior minister’s emphasis on banning pillion riding and his reliance on blocking cellphone channels quietly adopted his tactics. Yet the hardships caused to the millions of cellphone users were immeasurable.
And all this to enable the country’s large Shia community to meet the call of their belief without bombs exploding in their majalis or processions. The terrorists must be laughing up their sleeves at the Pakistani state’s discomfiture and the enormous costs they have extracted from it.
Why should they waste the lives of their suicide bombers and their explosive devices if they can paralyse life across the land by simply warning the intelligence-gatherers that they are still in business?
Two questions now demand serious attention. First, can the kind of mobilisation of law and order personnel witnessed last weekend be sustained for any appreciable period? If the answer is in the negative, and one doubts that any other response is possible, then the threat from the terrorists has not abated.
True, the possibility of striking at large congregations has a special appeal to a thoroughly indoctrinated terrorist but he is unlikely to keep his weapons and explosives unused for long. The owners/keepers of dangerous weapons generally cannot bear the sight of their quarry moving around in one piece. Is any affordable strategy to counter the terrorists’ threat on a permanent basis in place?
Secondly, success in maintaining peace on Ashura does not mean that the monster of sectarian violence has been defeated. Indeed the frustration of their plans for Muharram might have turned the terrorists bitter and more vengeful.
One is yet to see or hear of any plan to deal with the root causes of the wave of violence against the Shia community that has been progressively gathering strength over the past many years. The plain and painful reality is that the country’s leaders, those in the government as well as those outside it, are afraid of defending the rights of the Shia community or condemning the murderous gangs for what they really are.
This view can be confirmed if we take stock of the reactions to the killing of over two dozen Shias only four days before Ashura — as reported by the media. Most of the leaders, headed by the president and the prime minister, condemned the bomb blasts, prayed for God’s mercy for the departed souls, and for the bereaved families to have the courage to bear their losses with fortitude.
Of course, they also called for full reports on the ghastly killings, a gesture that has been shorn of any meaning by its incessant use. The Jamaat-i-Islami chief said something similar and sounded preoccupied with plans for an electoral alliance. Several notable figures referred to the foul deeds of unidentified ‘enemies’, the implication being that some external hands were to be blamed.
The plea by the organisation called Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen for an edict by the entire clergy against the killing of Shias went unheeded. Quite a few leaders of religious parties and factions, including some of the knights of the Defence of Pakistan Council, chose to keep mum. The Punjab chief minister referred to the killing of Shias twice and in his second statement went to the extent of saying that the killers and their victims both recited the kalma but no farther. The reluctance to declare that the killing of Shias, or of any other religious group for that matter, is an unforgivable sin, cannot be condemned enough.
The statements referred to above may well have been issued on the death of 25 people in a road accident or in a blaze in a warehouse. There was no indication that the gravity of the killing of innocent people on account of their belief had been realised.
Bomb blasts were condemned but not the men behind them. The victims were not identified as Shia. Withholding of the identify of the killers and their victims, supposedly to avoid aggravation of the situation, made no sense as the entire population knew who the victims were and whose hands were stained with their blood.
The reality that most people with any influence do not wish to face is that the real threat to interfaith peace, the lives and liberty of the people and the integrity of the state is posed not so much by the gung-ho moron as by the preacher of hatred in holy robes who has arrogated to himself the right to decide who is a Muslim and who is not, and who authorises individuals to slaughter their fellow beings.
There can be no peace in the country and no glory for its citizens until this Frankenstein is laid to rest for ever.