Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Business Recorder editorial written May 10, 2016

Civil society under threat The assassination of civil society activist Khurram Zaki in Karachi the other day underlines the growing threat to dissident opinion, particularly civil society. Pakistan has been drifting incrementally over the last four decades into intolerance, extremism and terrorism, a direct fallout of our intervention in Afghanistan. Whereas no part of the country can be considered safe from this deadly affliction, Karachi in particular has seen a spate of the murders of civil society activists, including women. Readers may recall in this long and tragic list the names of Perween Rahman and Sabin Mahmud, both cut down in their prime for no other reason than that they were in their own way attempting to address the problems of our society with the means within their grasp. Perween Rahman's killer has recently been caught and has reportedly said he killed the Orangi Town social worker because she did not give him permission to set up a martial arts centre in the area. And no one can claim, especially the authorities, that the apprehension of the killer has not taken years, during which Ms Rahman's family, friends and colleagues have been put through an emotional wringer while waiting for justice. In the case of Sabin Mahmud, the story is somewhat different. She was the moving spirit behind T2, a cultural centre that offered Karachiites cultural and literary fare to brighten their lives blighted by the gloom and doom that had overtaken the metropolis for many years. It is in those darkest times that Sabin Mahmud and her collaborators at T2 shone out like a bright beacon inviting weary Karachiites tossed hither and thither on the storms the metropolis was subjected to, storms that left little security of life or limb and even less in the way of food to nourish the spirit and soul. For these 'crimes', and in particular her 'temerity' in seeking a discussion on the vexed question of Balochistan, her existence was snuffed out. Khurram Zaki, widely known for his activism against intolerance, extremism and terrorism, is only the latest addition to this heroes' pantheon. Given the trend of this growing threat to those who speak truth to power, Khurram Zaki is unlikely to be the last of such martyrs in the cause of peace, liberty and progress. And it is unlikely to comfort those who mourn him throughout our society that the authorities are once again seen going through the motions of investigation and making ritual assuring noises that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. A claim of responsibility for Khurram Zaki's murder has come from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. However, the FIR registered names Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid fame, and the Karachi chief of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Aurangzeb Farooqui. Whether any nexus exists between the claimants of responsibility and those named in the FIR cannot be stated with certainty, but given the track record of collaboration between extremist and terrorist groups, cannot be altogether ruled out either. Even less comforting if not worrying is the thought that civil society activists like the three named above are now considered fair game by the tribe of fanatics and extremists who have nestled within the very bosom of our society. Unfortunately, there appears no sign that the powers that be recognise the threat to civil society or are taking any steps to protect this valuable human resource of clear thinking enlightened souls. Civil society is defined as all that political society is not. The latter evokes dismay if not mirth if it is suggested that our political class will one day wake up to the sword of extremism dangling over the head of our society, a sword whose cutting edge appears to cleave sharper with each blow it strikes at those who should be considered the conscience of our society. Before more of this precious human resource is lost or intimidated into silence, a silence that can only presage the silence of the graveyard of truth, the authorities must wake up to their responsibility to protect these bold, outspoken and courageous members of civil society, ensure deterrent punishment to their tormentors and murderers, and nudge Pakistan back from the brink of falling over the precipice into a dark pit of fanaticism and its concomitant bloodshed, a fate not to be wished for even an enemy.

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