Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Dec 5, 2012

Black tide rising Pakistan has been in the grip of terrorist and sectarian violence for many years. Those who see this as the most serious existential threat to the country are alarmed by the rising dark tide of fanaticism that threatens to destroy the state and society and turn it into an oppressive theocracy with the narrowest of possible interpretations of religion. This interpretation regards all who disagree with it or hold different points of view, whether about the kind of society we should be, or belong to different denominations or faiths from the extremists, as legitimate targets for threats, intimidation, and even murder. It should not perhaps surprise us then that the most frequently targeted groups are those that are peaceful, vulnerable, and not wedded to violence. Take for example the Hazara Shias in Balochistan or Gilgit-Baltistan, or Shias generally, including in Karachi, and the minority faiths, and a compete picture of anarchy, chaos, mayhem and blood shedding of innocents presents itself. Disappointingly, the authorities seem either to have no effective answer to this rising tide, or, in the case of vulnerable and voiceless communities, maintain a studied silence and indifference to their plight. Part of the problem is that the law enforcing agencies, particularly the police, seem imbued with the same narrow ideas as the fanatics out there. One only has to quote the example of Salmaan Taseer, the late Governor of Punjab, Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Minorities, and sundry others to demonstrate that the infection is both within and without the state. Two incidents in Lahore on Saturday and Sunday illustrate the fact that the disease is now also within the entrails of our society and eating it up from within. On Saturday, a Swedish 70-year-old charity worker was shot in the chest outside her home in Model Town. While she is struggling for life in a hospital, this was followed on Sunday by a horrific attack on an Ahmedi graveyard in the same vicinity. Ten to 15 armed and masked men overpowered the guard and caretakers at the graveyard and desecrated more than 120 graves by smashing their tombstones, all the while threatening the hostages that they would be killed if they did not flee the country. Identifying themselves according to reports as belonging to the Tehreek-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the perpetrators voiced their objection to the tombstones carrying inscriptions from holy texts. Would this too not constitute blasphemy under our flawed laws? After all holy texts, no matter where they occur, are supposed to be sacred, aren’t they? Which religion, including Islam, allows desecration of graves? It seems that while the Swedish charity worker was targeted because she belongs to a Christian organisation helping Christians in Lahore over many decades, the Ahmedis have been sent the message that they cannot find peace even in the grave. Had the policeman accompanying the guard, who had alerted the Ahmedi centre in the vicinity, not opened fire in the air, the vandals would probably have dug up the graves. It should be recalled that these are not the first incidents of this kind. While Lahore has witnessed numerous bombings in recent times, the kidnappings of an American, Warren Weinstein and Shahbaz Taseer from Lahore indicate that there is a malign presence of fanatics right amidst us. As if all this were not bad enough, the authorities in Karachi have done us proud by demolishing a Hindu temple in the Garden area of Karachi, ostensibly as an operation against encroachment at the instigation of a land grabber and despite a stay order by the courts. Denials and dissembling notwithstanding, it turns out to be another instance of the land mafia grabbing even land belonging to the residents or holders for a century. This will add further fuel to the fire of Hindus being driven out of the country and into India to seek safety and a better life. Knowing our police’s legendary efficiency, nothing will come of the investigations into any of these incidents. Although the government/s have failed to stem the rot while terrorism, sectarianism and fanaticism continue to take their toll, it is encouraging that the young chairperson of the ruling PPP, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, has taken a bold stand against the fanatics and terrorists. He has called for all people of good faith and sensibility to rise to defend Jinnah’s Pakistan (a long forgotten venture) and protect the minorities against this kind of targeting. More power to the young, then, since not only is their future at stake in this country, they seem clearer about the challenge and how to tackle it.

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