Minorities under Attack in Pakistan
24 August, 2012
By Saeed Qureshi
What happened in Astor? On the road leading to Gilgit, three buses were waylaid at a place near Babusar pass by the heavily armed fanatic Sunni Muslims. The passengers were disembarked, and lined up. Those discovered to be Shias were gunned down. The spine chilling tragedy is so ghastly as to make one speechless. It's difficult to describe the barbaric enormity of this carnage that spatters blood on the already bloody face of Pakistan.
This is one of those umpteen ugly manifestations of bigotry, sectarian hatred and prejudice based vendetta that are now fast mushrooming all over Pakistan. If this frightening intolerance and bigotry is allowed to escalate, Pakistan would turn into battleground for sectarian Armageddon. Can the Sunni radicals liquidate all the Shias and vice versa all the Sunnis could be eliminated by Shias?
The teenage Christen girl Ramsha's case and her arrest for allegedly burning the papers with Quranic writings is so pathetic and heart wrenching. It shows how the people turn wild on such gossips without pondering that their reaction does no good to Islam and the Muslims. Islam is larger than life and if it can be desecrated or threatened by a young girl with no knowledge of Islam or the papers she might be burning, then we must lament our vision of Islam.
The most persecuted minority is that of Ahmadis who are constitutionally declared as non Muslims. They are killed and their worshipping places are attacked from time to time. Of late their grave yards were ransacked and the inscriptions written on the graves were erased. Minarets of their worshipping places were demolished and Arabic writings white-washed. This community is becoming Diaspora and seeking asylums in other countries.
The Hindus mostly inhabited in Sindh are also not safe as a religious minority. The statements of certain Hindu pilgrims to India indicated the maltreatment and discrimination they were being subjected to by powerful majority religious sections. They alleged incidences of kidnapping of Hindus, and their forced conversion to Islam. Even otherwise we have been reading about their houses attacked and rampaged with casualties.
Islam enjoins security and other rights to the minorities. Unfortunately we Muslims suffer from a lurking paranoid that Islam is always in danger and prone to be desecrated. Deplorably the Quran is being used by the unscrupulous Muslims to settle their scores with non-Muslims or with the challengers of their vested interests. No Muslim not even the enlightened are ready to take Ramsha's word as credible and forgive her when that innocent soul swears that she did not know if she was doing something wrong.
This year in September, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi's gunmen stopped a bus and killed 26 Shia pilgrims travelling on a bus in Balochistan province. The attackers were reported to have checked the identity cards of all the passengers before removing the Shias and shooting them. In February gunmen killed 18 Shia bus passengers in a sectarian attack in the northern district of Kohistan.
Five security personnel were killed in suicide attack in Quetta. On the morning of August 16, religious Militants attacked Pakistan Air Force Kamra Airbase at Kamra near military headquarters in Rawalpindi and remained engaged in a fierce gun battling with security forces for several hours. Precious lives were lost.
Elsewhere in Pakistan in a continuous orgy of blood and inextricable cycle of violence citizens are losing their lives because of sectarian strife. Side by side citizens are killed by robbers, bandits and extortionists. One can walk into a shop with a gun and rob the shopkeepers at free will. Invariably the houses are broken in, the inmates held hostage, the women raped and the assailants decamp with money and jewelry.
More deaths accrue from the revenge killings between the feuding groups associated with political parties and regional roughnecks filled with hatred for their fellow citizens. Karachi and Quetta, among other cities rank highest in the target killings of marked individuals and groups. Hazara Shias are wantonly murdered in Balochistan by premeditated shootings and ambush attacks.
These are some of the latest events that suggest how fragile the law and order situation has become in Pakistan. One would tend to draw an inescapable inference that a nasty and diabolic game is being orchestrated and staged by the parties that want Pakistan to be rendered totally dysfunctional and crippled. Patently the sectarian, regional, ethnic fires are consuming this country and paving way for the renegade forces to balkanize it.
The religious frenzy and sectarian hate is assuming frightening dimensions as to render the human life as insignificant as a worm. Humans are known to turn barbarians but that stigma was exclusive to the past societies. The recurring massacre of Shias can be consigned to the sectarian madness, but what about the surging violence, devouring the lives of the people for other reasons. The hopes and aspirations of the residents are fading away about the sanctity and security of their life, limb and properties. But did ever any government or its functionaries seriously try to stem the raging tide of sectarianism and the religious right's bulging influence over the society.
Customarily, there have been bland and inane vows by the law enforcement bosses with regard to hunting the perpetrators and salvaging the society from their bloody clutches. As a matter of fact the hateful culprits are gleefully having a good time in carrying out their monstrous feat. It is the worthless people of Pakistan who are living in an inferno and constantly exposed to a thousand dangers.
The interior minister, Rehman Malik possesses the inimitable knack of amazing composure after each and every tragedy that swallows precious lives. While making such farcical statements there is always a slight smile hanging on his faces that not even the best expert in physiognomy can decipher.
That begs the serious question about the incumbent government's ability and even intention to provide a modicum of worthwhile governance for social peace and enforcement of law. The exacerbating situation bears no visible indications of being arrested or contained. The law and order has gone to dogs, the country is in the throes of a civil war and the society is infested with all brands of clandestine terrorists and saboteurs. The law enforcement network is broken, rather over-worked and utterly incapable of dealing with even small emergencies.
The people are starving, the prices are sky rocketing, the gas is being switched off; the commodities are scarcer and getting out of the purchasing ability of the citizens. The sanctity of life has become a laughable cliché. Living in the presidential mansion or prime minister's well guarded palatial residence presents a detestable contrast with the life of a common man. The citizens come out of the houses with a mind torn by the phobias of lurking suicide bombers to strike him in a nook, on a bus stand and in a shopping center.
Democracy sans safety and accountability is a base coin with no worth. The leaders and the rulers better give security, accountable, efficient, and people-friendly governance to the citizens and take away the charade of democracy that survives on the blood of the citizens.
There is a pervasive and growing disenchantment with the viability of the country. If at all anyone can be pointed at as anti-Pakistan or unpatriotic, it is not the public but the powerful and the privileged classes. The harassed people and paralyzed intelligentsia are not to blame if they pose questions as to how the country was being run and whether this downward calamitous drift would ever be checked or that country's survival was at stake.
The cronyism, the foreign intelligence outfits and their insidious plot to destabilize Pakistan may be roses to the rulers but not to the traumatized people of Pakistan. How could the sublime ideal of national solidarity glow if the callous extinguishers are bent upon blowing it off?
Let us all candidly admit that Pakistan is in a mess, a mammoth and deep mess. The leadership consists of money grabbers, the shameless opportunists, the rank liars, the pledge brokers, the political dwarfs, the spineless foreign agents and fifth columnists. The people are flabbergasted, dumbfounded and losing their sense of proportion in the face of a dancing Dracula of death everywhere. If the prayers can matter, let there be peace in Iraq and in Afghanistan or at least Shia procession must have been spared by their divinities from the repeated nightmares. Then what's the way-out: honestly I don't know. I am dizzy and losing my sanity.
Before an open civil war breaks out, the government should move fast to hand over the task of restoring peace in Karachi to the army. The rangers and the police have failed in rooting out the crime and violence from Karachi. Invariably the action by the law enforcement agencies is to cordon the affected areas after the incidence of crime and then leave after some time. It would be ridiculous and futile to expect of them to sincerely put out the flames of ethnic and sectarian killings and stamp out deadly feuding, if the criminals, mafias, murderous gangs, terrorists and sharp shooters are being aided by the politicians and rogue feudal classes.
The army has been so far sitting on the sidelines. The army has an organizational structure, the array of weapons and is chartered to fight. It can therefore effectively neutralize the anti-state elements within a short time as they did in Swat.
It has the capability to clear the Karachi metropolis from the thugs, killers, mercenaries, the illegal immigrants, the warring gangs, the drug and weapon mafia, the sectarian terrorists and similar enemies of peace and for that matter of Pakistan.
The army knows how to deal with such a volatile situation. If required it can impose a curfew with intervals, for a limited period of time (say two months) and set up military courts for speedy trials. The whole country or at least main cities should be deweaponized. The citizens should be encouraged to send their anonymous reports about the whereabouts and names of the criminals and rogues in their areas. This strategy would equip the army with most of the data about saboteurs, outlaws, bandits and outlaws making easy their job of purging them in Karachi and elsewhere in the country.
The known criminals with incontrovertible evidence can be dealt with by summary trials and put to death by firing squads. The suspects can be kept in custody, interrogated and if proven guilty should be given heavy jail terms or shot depending upon the nature and severity of the crimes. The politicians and powerful individuals if found accomplices of the outlaws, should also be dealt with the similar unsparing yardstick. They should also be given death sentences or incarcerated for their complicity.
In order to avoid the above recourse to military action to curb lawlessness, the government should convene all parties' conference to hammer out a permanent solution to establish durable peace and order in Karachi particularly and elsewhere generally. The government should stop churning out false pledges to stamp out violence.
It is indispensible to rein in exploding sectarianism for the integrity of the country, survival of the civil society, effective governance and safety of the people. It is imperative also to reestablish writ of the state that is being eroded inter alia by militants, holy warriors, miscreants, anarchists, crime mafias, gangsters, regional militias, external string pullers and so on.
The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat.