By Hiranmay Karlekar
07 May 2015
After the murder of the fearless rights activist Sabeen Mahmud, India must know that nothing has changed in Pakistan. Peace with it will remain a chimera
The savage murder in Karachi on April 24 of Sabeen Mahmud, Pakistan's prominent human/women's rights activist, fearless champion of free speech, patron of arts and much else, bears the unmistakable imprimatur of the country's notorious dirty tricks organisation, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Some have dismissed the allegation. In an article in Pakistan's The Daily Mail of April 30, Ali Afzal Sahi refers to “pseudo intellectuals” who have once again “started bashing [the] intelligence agency and accused it of killing Sabeen”. Next, wondering how “such people can function logically in life”, he states, “To me the claim of ISI killing her is simply ridiculous and absurd for quite a few reasons.”
Mr Sahi begins his first, and principal, line of reasoning by stating that “a fundamental rule underlying criminal law is that the primary suspect is that who benefits most from the murder”. He then asserts, “What can be clearly ascertained is that ISI has nothing to gain and everything to lose. Any sane person would have guessed that if she is hurt, ISI will be blamed. The real beneficiaries of this incident are those who wanted to highlight the Balochistan issue, while attempting to weaken and demoralise the security enforcement agencies. Reducing an intelligence agency that is otherwise ranked as number one in the entire world, and that too on the basis of flimsy evidence, leaves me utterly flabbergasted.”
Mr Shahi's glowing description of the ISI and use of highly derogatory language regarding its critics, makes clear where he stands in Pakistan's blood-stained and murky political landscape. While he has every right to take whatever position he wants to, its validity is another matter. For this, it is important to recall the murder, after gruesome torture, of the highly-respected Pakistani journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad, in May 2011. Widely believed to be the ISI's work, it had, like Sabeen Mahmud's murder, led to widespread condemnation of the rogue intelligence agency. What happened? Nothing.
The ISI continues untrammeled on its murderous, regressive and repressive course at home and with the promotion of terrorism and mass killings abroad. Pakistan's civilian Government either cannot, or does not want to, shackle it. Nor is the Government sensitive to criticism in the civil society, media and human rights abroad, which has not stopped the American Government from stanching aid to Islamabad. Witness the recent sanctioning of a billion dollars as military aid which, of course, will be used for buying arms against India.
Despite the storm it triggered, Shahzad's death has been forgotten except for private remembrances. There is no reason to believe that it would be different in Sabeen Mahmud's case. Clearly, the ISI had no reason to fear the consequences of her death, as it had none in Shahzad's. Gains? Shahzad's murder followed the publication of an article by him linking the attack on the naval base, PNS Mehran, in May 2011, to ties between naval personnel and jihadist elements, and years of reporting on Al Qaeda's infiltration of Pakistani military. Sabeen Mahmud was killed after she had hosted at Second Floor (T2F), the café/bookshop/ performance space she founded in 2007, a meeting on the disappearance of people in Balochistan where the ISI and the Pakistani Army have launched a savage campaign of repression.
Significantly, she had hosted it after the Lahore University's Department of Management Sciences, which had agreed to hold it earlier, had cried off under the Pakistani Government's pressure. Repression in Balochistan and Pakistani military's Jihadi connections are beyond critical gaze in Pakistan. The message for media and social activists is: Anybody venturing into forbidden territory will perish. As for India, it needs to recognise that nothing has changed in Pakistan and peace with it will remain a chimera best not pursued.