Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was published in Daily Times in two parts. The first part was published on June, 26, 2012 and the second part was published on June 27, 2012. For convenience of the readers I’m pleased to cross-post both the parts together on my blog from Daily Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)
Peace is fast becoming a distant dream amidst the aberrant state of affairs in Pakistan; almost everyday people are killed in the name of religion, ethnicity, enmity and honor. The state institutions have shown little or no interest in putting an end to these killings, especially the ones being committed in the name of religion. Instead of persecuting the militants carrying out these terrorist activities, government is found pandering to the militants behind such killings, hence emboldening the killers and instilling terror and insecurity in all religious minorities. On the other hand, the superior judiciary of the country that, otherwise, sounds keen to nip every evil in the bud, remains apathetic to the carnage that poses an imminent threat of inflicting a civil war in the country. Shia populace, by far, has been the most affected community at the hands of these incessant killings in a bid to establish shari’ah in the region. Despite several protests against the relentless Shia killings and countless appeals, the honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan who is otherwise, known for his judicial activism and the knack of taking suo motu notices fervently, has apparently refused to move. This is despite the gravity of the deteriorating situation of law and order pertaining to the minorities’ persecution in general and Shia killings in particular. This shows apathy from the superior judiciary, which has strengthened the exceedingly growing perception among the Shia community that the state institutions, including the superior judiciary, are shielding the militants who have had pyromania against the belief and community of Shias in Pakistan. The negative reactions of those who have been silent upon the genocide of the innocuous community of Shias in Pakistan have vandalised the ethos of national integrity. Terming the ongoing Shia killings as a ‘sensitive’ issue, thus impermissible to be discussed, the mainstream electronic and print media have also turned a blind eye to the frequency and ferocity of these events. In the latest episode of Shia genocide, five more Shia students have been killed and another 70 are injured, as unknown yet ‘well-known’ terrorists detonated a remote-controlled bomb, planted in a jeep parked along a road, when a bus carrying 75 Shia students, from Hazara community, of Balochistan Information Technology University drove past.
Plagued by the aforementioned mayhem of law and order, members of Shia community have been inexorably massacred in Pakistan since the late 1980s by a group of terrorists, now known as Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat. It is the latest incarnation of the outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) that was established in 1985 by Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, another explosive product of the Islamic seminaries functioning in Pakistan, on the behest of the then President of Pakistan Ziaul Haq. That was for the sake of spearheading Zia’s strategy ‘to teach Pakistani Shias a lesson’ after they had refused to pay zakat to his regime. Assisted by the perusal assiduity of a similar school of thought in Pakistan’s security infrastructure, the militant organisation manifestly targeted high profile Shias, holding important offices, aside from indiscriminate bloodshed of common peole belonging to the Shia community in Pakistan. From 1987 to 2011, as many as 5,000 Shias are estimated to have been killed in order to establish ‘real’ shari’ah in the land of pure by the hotheaded Islamists. The terrorist outfit Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat, currently led by Ahmad Ludhianvi, epitomises the self-righteous mentality of the hardcore religious fanatics who are on a mission to enforce their version of Islam on others at gunpoint. To top it all, this mindset has been incessantly nurtured by a number of seminaries fanatically working in different parts of the country, bereft of any regulation by the authorities whatsoever. It is an indoctrination of vulnerable minds with hatred and ‘holy’ violence, thus perpetrating a fresh breed of militants, intoxicated by absolute intolerance for those who dare to differ with their ideology. Heaps of decrees released by radical clerics at different times, declaring Shias as ‘infidels’ and thus liable to be killed, have only added fuel to flames. Forlorn, there is either no political will to eliminate militancy or the will is preposterously bemused and fragmented. Plausible deniability of the existence of a number of sanctuaries for terrorists in Southern Punjab has played its own role to facilitate the religious fanaticism penetrating deeper in our society.
A couple of months ago, the media cell of the SSP/LeJ released a video footage of the Balochistan’s Mastung massacre in which 27 Shia pilgrims, hailing from the Hazara tribe, were forced off a bus and subsequently shot dead in cold blood by LeJ’s militants in September 2011. The video, posted on internet, puts on show some incredibly horrific scenes of the callous carnage, inculcating the real terror, in the minds of the audience, emanating from the unperturbed and unhurried comportment of the killers. The helpless pilgrims are hauled off a bus by ruthless terrorists and forced to assemble on the ground. As a jihadi anthem, extolling the militants’ inalienable commitment to the mission of exterminating ‘infidels’, blares in the backdrop of the footage, the militants open indiscriminate fire on the besieged pilgrims with automatic firearms at a point blank range. The video then goes on to show a young boy, most likely a teenager, clasping his hands in despair and pleading for some mercy. One of the terrorists responds to the boy by gunning him down. Another terrorist is then seen walking around the bullet-riddled bodies of the slain pilgrims, unhurriedly but deliberately firing into them, to guarantee that no one gets away alive. After graphically recording all the carnage, the camera points to the ground, showing the shadow of a terrorist pumping his fist in the air in delight.
Just like the massacre itself, the released video of the carnage managed to evade successfully the attention of the law enforcing agencies as well as the free and the hyperactive judiciary. Albeit the Chief Justice of Baluchistan High Court (BHC), Qazi Faez Isa, in an unprecedented move took a suo motu notice of the Mastung massacre, but without disturbing the militants or their ‘mentors’. For that matter, the case seems to have already passed into oblivion, thanks to the ‘memogate’ commission headed by BHC’s Chief Justice Isa snubbing any chance of the Mastung incident to be heard in the court, thus incarnating the legal maxim of ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. The memogate commission consumed almost six months in an attempt to resolve the ‘mystery; surrounding a piece of paper that apparently has no locus standi. The nihility of any efficacious action by the state has inevitably encouraged terrorist groups to continue wrecking havoc on the Shia community.
One cannot and should not see any incident involving Shia killings in isolation. It has to be analysed in line with all such attacks resulting in scores of Shias being killed throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan. Be it Karachi, Quetta, Lahore, Dera Ismail Khan, Hangu, Parachinar, Gilgit, southern Punjab, Kohistan or Chilas, Shia killings have turned into a well-thought out genocide of the Shia community in Pakistan. As per the official data released in 2010, more than 12,500 seminaries (almost 65 percent of the total seminaries running in Pakistan) are located in Punjab. A breakdown of those located in Punjab clearly ascertains a preponderant cluster of more than 7,000 seminaries operating in southern Punjab, providing the felicitous recruiting grounds for the terrorist and militant organisations. It took more than four long years for the Chief Minister of Punjab Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif to accept the reality that the volatile southern belt of his province is a ‘breeding ground’ for militants. Nevertheless, whether the chief minister, who is also Punjab’s home minister, is ready to take on the sectarian and jihadist outfits concentrated in and operating from southern Punjab as well as other quarters of the province remains a big question. Whilst sitting on the top of a volcano that is very much alive, we are hoping against hope that it will never erupt, hoodwinking nobody but ourselves. Living in a delusional world at the cost of your life is never a good idea.
Apart from massacring members of the Shia community and other religious minorities, these self- righteous militant groups have been actively involved in publishing and distributing literature spewing venom against any group or individual who dares to challenge their ideology. Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, Shaheed Salmaan Taseer and the slain federal minister for minorities’ affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti are the prominent public figures to fall prey to the same mindset that is dealing some serious blows to the integrity and solidarity of Pakistan. The road to peace in Pakistan, unquestionably, does not offer a smooth drive. With our tribal areas falling to the militants and our society, at large, having the perilous proclivity of favouring the militancy by using a variety of lame excuses, the dream of seeing peace prevailing in Pakistan sounds like a distant one. In dire straits, Pakistan needs to harmonise its political response originating from a productive stratagem of showing zero tolerance to miscreants and their sanctuaries. The state institutions need to come out of their coma and should formulate an efficacious strategy to go all out in order to combat the fierce menace of terrorism. Our security infrastructure desperately necessitates an unprecedented purge to get rid of the personnel and policies facilitating the militants in any way using any cover. Eliminating seminaries that provide the recruiting grounds for the terrorist and militant organisations is indeed indispensable for any chance of eradicating the cancer of extremism from Pakistan.
Pakistan direly needs a democratic system with the basic principles of having laws for minorities and an attitude of tolerance towards the oppressed. Laws originate from the ‘constitutional’ tenets of a democratic country and tolerance comes from the psychological mindset of its inhabitants. To reinstate democracy to its fullest authority and governance, one has to separate state-related affairs from religious ones. The state should have no business in deciding the credibility of one’s religion as long as one is not imperilling the lives of fellow citizens in the name of one’s beliefs. The amalgamation of political ideologies with religious ideologies has already made a nexus of chaotic perceptions in Pakistan in particular and worldwide in general. Any elected government has to follow denominations of ‘constitutional democracy’, ‘human rights’ and ‘law and order’ at any cost. On the other hand, the army should be in the defence wing of the country and not in the administrative parameters. Regimes like General Zia’s catapulted political and religious matters, making them akin, but in return, made them ever so abysmal, consequently increasing the wedge between radical elements and the moderate population of Pakistan. Home affairs (law and order, minority rights, justice) should come first rather than religious/vote bank appeasement of a few minds who flout peace of the entire nation. Mainstream political parties, specially the Pakistan Muslim League-N and the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf should shun them rather than give them a pedestal. Being a democratic country, Pakistan must stop all kinds of intervention in its internal matters keeping its sovereignty in mind. The religious persecution of Shias and their relentless killings at a rampant rate by declaring them as infidels, has come from Saudi Arabia and the likeminded states in the Gulf. Pakistan will have to realise that religious introspection is more vital than religious intervention. The bottom line is that the current frenzied situation demands something huge to be done on an emergency basis, and that too now. It has already become a matter of now or never.