By Najam Sethi
March 15-21, 2013
Political Islam and national security policies are ravaging Pakistan. But neither the generals, who spawned this symbiotic process in the 1980s and nurtured it in the 1990s, nor the politicians, who exploited or condoned it for legitimizing themselves, have the will to turn back the tide. In consequence, the country is besieged by dozens of armed non-state ethnic, sectarian, Jihadi, criminal, separatist and terrorist groups in one garb or another that have overrun law and order and plunged various communities into a blood bath. The minorities, in particular, are being targeted with a genocidal vengeance.
The targeted killing of Shias, in particular the Hazara community in Balochistan has captured headlines in the last two years for three reasons. First, the scale of the killings is alarming - nearly 1000 have been killed in the last eighteen months, mainly in Balochistan, Karachi and the Northern Areas. Second, the assassins - Sipah e Sahaba, Lashkar e Jhangvi and various related offshoots - have been audacious enough to claim responsibility. Third, the civil-military establishment has admitted its unwillingness or inability to tackle this menace for reasons that are flimsy and self-serving.
The Ahmedis and Christians have been laid low by the blasphemy laws that enable mischief mongers and vested interests to target them with impunity. Chapels, charities, schools and homes have been attacked. Graves have been desecrated. In the Gojra riots in Punjab, 2009, a Christian community was forced to flee, its homes were looted and burnt down. In 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, a notable Christian leader, was assassinated in broad daylight. The same year, a mob attacked a Christian community in Gujranwala. And last week, another frenzied mob burnt down 200 Christian homes in a Lahore suburb. In every case, the PMLN administration has either avoided pre-emptive action or stood by while the Muslims mobs have rampaged. Indeed, in every case, the provincial or local government in question has screamed its party-political innocence by scapegoating the police department, swept the inquiry report under the rug and refused to learn any lessons for the future.
The Gojra incident illustrates this well. A Tribunal of Inquiry headed by Justice Iqubal Hameed ur Rehman, who is now a Supreme Court judge, delivered a 258-page indictment of the provincial government. The report was never made public precisely for this reason. But its main conclusions saw the light of day. First, it warned that "the unfortunate incident of Gojra must be taken seriously and the needful be done on a war-footing without further loss of time." But the PMLN government did exactly the opposite by consigning it to the rubbish bin. Second, the Tribunal advised appropriate amendments to the blasphemy laws - in particular PPC Sections 295, 295-A, 295-B, 295-C, 296, 297, 298, 298-A, 298-B, 298-C, and relevant provisions of CrPC 196 and 196-B and Police Order 2002 - to strip them of their mischief-making potential. But no government has had the courage to do this. Third, it focused "on the inability of the police to assess the gravity and sensitivity of the situation", it noted the "inadequate precautionary and preventive measure by the police", and the "failure of the intelligence agencies in providing prompt and correct information". Much the same charge is now being laid at the door of the various law and order departments of government. Fourth, it criticized the "irresponsible behaviour of the administration" for wilfully ignoring the developing situation. This happens time and again.
The recent incident in Lahore demonstrates the opportunist political approach of the PMLN. The police - and therefore the government - knew the full facts of the matter before the alleged Christian blasphemer was even arrested. They knew the charge was patently fabricated; that a section of local traders had a vested interest in seizing the Christians' property; that local PMLN "influentials" were egging on the vested interests. But the police did nothing for 36 hours after the arrest to thwart any Muslim mob attack on the community. If anything, the lack of any preventive show of force by the administration or warning to potential trouble-makers that they would be dealt with an iron hand probably encouraged the mob-drivers to attack the Christian community. Indeed, when a contingent of the police arrived on the scene during the mob's looting and arson, it preferred to stand aside and watch rather than wading in to disperse the arsonists. Police officials openly admit that when they sought orders from their political masters, the orders were either ambiguous or delayed or contradictory. In other words, the government only moved to redress the situation with offers of compensation after the media flogged it for its antipathy.
The PMLN's attitude towards the Christians and Ahmedis is distinctly blameworthy. Worse, its soft, hands-off approach to militant anti-Shia organisations like the SSP and LeJ is condemnable. A bit of fear and some sneaking sympathy for the cause of such groups is all too evident. For a party that plans to rule Pakistan for the third time, this is unforgiveable.