Silence of the Lambs

What do you do when courage bleeds to death?

There is something sickeningly wrong when slaughter is revenged by the deafening sounds of, ‘bleat, bleat’, while armchair warriors beat their chests and retire for the night. There is something nauseatingly wrong when 45 executed bodies cannot make the leader do the right thing.

For make no mistake: we are living in the midst of genocide. The randomness of this barbarity hides a steely purpose, and day after day more dead people fuel it with their blood. Terrorists kill with impunity. They kill with ease. They seem unstoppable. And all because we are bleeding courage. And resolve. And clear intent.

But we have a plan. The National Action Plan (NAP). It’s been four months since the entire leadership stamped its approval on this ambitious plan. Here’s where it stands today:

Point 4: Strengthening and activation of Nacta (not done); Point 10: Registration and regulation of madrassas (half-hearted effort); Point 12: Fata reforms (not done); Point 16: Taking the ongoing operation in Karachi to its logical conclusion (nowhere near); Point 17: Balochistan reconciliation (no progress); Point 20: Revamping and reforming the criminal justice system (not even started).

Now contrast this abysmal record with the points that have been worked on: Point 1: Execution of convicted terrorists; Point 2: Establishment of special trial courts; Point 5: Countering hate speech and extremist material (limited progress); Point 6: Choking financing for terrorists and terrorist organisations (some headway); Point 8: Establishing and deploying a dedicated counterterrorism force (some headway); Point 11: Ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organisations through print and electronic media (progress); Point 19: Policy to deal with the issue of Afghan refugees (some progress).

The rest of the points? Well, take a look and judge for yourself:

Point 3: Ensure no armed militias are allowed to function in the country; Point 7: Ensuring against re-emergence of proscribed organisations; Point 9: Taking effective steps against religious persecution; Point 13: Dismantling communication networks of terrorist organisations; Point 14: Measures against abuse of internet and social media for terrorism; Point 15: Zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab (right!); Point 18: Dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists.

A clear pattern emerges: progress has been achieved on those points that needed a quick administrative order; some headway is seen on those points that needed relatively easy decisions; but nothing has been done on the issues that require fundamental structural reform of deep-seated problems. In other words, wherever serious political will is needed, there is silence.

Why does it seem that the government has outsourced the fight against militancy to the army? Does the government not have the capacity to lead this war? Does it not have the will to do so? Or do the top men in the government not really and truly believe that this fight must be fought at every level? Something, somewhere does not add up.

Look around you and ask yourself: are we in a state of war? Does it look like that? Forty-five people executed in cold blood on the streets of Karachi, but do you hear the sounds of war? More than a hundred children slaughtered in Peshawar exactly five months ago, but do you see the sights of war? Or do you see life as usual punctuated with sights and sounds of green trains, orange metros and black highways?

Don’t get me wrong: planes, trains and automobiles are good, and we need them. But for God’s sake, we are in the middle of an existential war and the waging of this war requires every single waking second that our leadership has. Nothing else matters, because well, that gleaming train and that shining Metro won’t really help me if I’m dead. And that’s the real tragedy here: the completely messed up priorities of the leadership. Yes, the civilian leadership. There, I’ve said it.

Democratic sensibilities outraged? Good. They should be. The leader can obsess about infrastructure projects but Nacta does not interest him; he can get feverish over motorways and industrial plants but cannot be bothered about serious madrassa reform; he can babble on and on about solar plants but cannot get a grip on Fata reform; and he can lecture us on economic growth rate but doesn’t seem to be bothered about the death rate. Give away laptops? Sure. Hand out loans? Yep. Roll out crazy employment schemes? Absolutely. Reform the criminal justice system? Err…?

The prime minister has the biggest bully pulpit in the country. He can set the national agenda. That’s what he gets paid for. Every single day or every week of every month, he should be obsessing about this existential war; every second of every minute of every hour he should be expressing his resolve to fight and win this war, whatever it takes, and howsoever long it takes. The prime minister should be leading from the front, using the media space he has to be here, there and everywhere — telling a battered nation that he will do everything possible to protect it. Everything possible.

But here’s where the lambs break into cold sweat. Who has courage to take on the madrassas and their powerful sponsors? Who has the courage to lock horns with the apologists who provide physical and ideological space for the extremists? Who has the courage to bring down political parties that feed a narrative of extremism and who soften the ground for intolerance among the population?

How many buses and schools will we protect? How many shopping centres and places of worship will we guard? There are not enough police and Rangers in this country to protect every soft target. The only way to win this fight is to go to the root of the problem buried deep inside the folds of this society, and cleanse the cancer from there. But to do this the leader has to obsess with the challenge. To do this, the leader has to understand that his legacy is far more important than his next election.

So dear prime minister: go and stand inside that bus in Karachi, alone; look at the empty seats and hear the silent screams; smell the stench of ammunition, and let fear cover you like a thick blanket. Close your eyes, and think. What must you do?

Bleat, or roar?

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Forget free speech, where is our right to life?

recent survey showed that Pakistan was amongst the least racist countries in the world. Certain people celebrated this whereas others used this as an excuse to taunt our Indian counterparts. Today, the results of this ‘survey’ are now null and void – 43 people from the Ismaili community were killed in a bus attack today.

Eight armed motorcyclists, some of who were disguised at security officials, boarded the bus and opened fire on the passengers. The bus only had Ismaili passengers on-board, which clearly indicates the intent with which this attack took place.

Events like these mean nothing more than a day of mourning and people going back to their regular lives the day after. Pakistan has completely failed in protecting one of the most peaceful and sacrificing religious minorities of the country. There is no longer any room for error. No Ismaili has ever been involved in politics or crimes in Karachi yet they are being targeted for a war they are not even a part of. Their only crime, perhaps, is peacefully following their belief.

The social implications of such an incident are disastrous. Either the Ismailis will become extremely enraged and will want to take matters into their own hands, leading to reactions that we do not want to see happening, or they will lose whatever little trust they have in the government’s ability to protect them. People already feel insecure within the boundaries of their homes; this is now doing nothing but destroying their confidence in humanity, peace and the government.

The sky is red again and dead is the conscience of our leaders. This attack only goes to show that we are now a ‘failed state’. The basic principles upon which Pakistan was made are now not only being neglected but also rejected. Let me remind us about Jinnah’s first speech as the Governor General:

“We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle, that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State… You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

There is nothing that can even be considered close to equality within Pakistan. Discrimination upon basis of creed and race is prevalent. People like Aamir Liaquat conduct sessions of hate speech on their shows, they incite racism and sectarian intolerance amongst Pakistanis and yet we live on. Our government seems to have washed their hands of all responsibilities with regards to minorities in the country, and yet we live on. Our politicians have failed again and again at providing security to the citizens of this state, they are a disgrace to our parliament, and yet we live on. They are working on metro busesWi-Fi in rickshaws, subways, IT towers, distributing laptops and living behind huge walls of protection whereas the first and foremost requirements are food, water, security and shelter. And YET we live on, blindly. Selfishly.

Promises are made every day in the wake of such incidents but never have they been fulfilled. The murderers of Allama Nasir Abbas and Sabeen Mahmud still roam free, savages like Mumtaz Qadri are still celebrated and people like Zulfikar Mirza get extensions for bail but the government has yet to stand firm. Our politicians are concerned only with the economic prosperity of their own bank accounts and nothing else. As always, promises have been made but when will these savages be captured? When will the police uniform become a symbol of fighting crime instead as one committing it? When will there be justice?

Have we honestly learnt nothing from the Peshawar massacre? Have we forgotten how mothers of the victims were left to die from within? How could our intelligence agencies, police and government bodies let this happen again?

This is indeed a failure at which we must end this series of barbarism. We have been broken as a nation; our eyes cry red tears, our hearts burn in anger and anguish. The flags on our rooftops must fly at half-mast today. Our government must avenge the death of these innocent women and men.

We talk about right of free speech but now is the time to discuss the right to live. Not only must the criminals be brought to the courts of justice but the government, police and intelligence must be held accountable for this. They take oaths to serve us, not rule us; lead us not enslave us; protect us, not sell us. They must be taught a lesson for it is not only the enemies’ inhumanity but their incompetence that we end up paying with our lives for.

Pakistan was made by a Shia – Jinnah was a Shia – and yet we cannot protect those who have given their lives for us? If this is where Pakistan is headed? There is not a rough road ahead, it is no road at all.

Pakistan one of the least racist countries? Tell that to the Pakhtuns

The recent ‘revelation’ by the Washington Post about Pakistan being among the most racially tolerant countries in the world, was met by jubilation by the nationalists. However, much of the Pakhtun community being systematically oppressed, mocked and expelled from the country, was offline and unavailable for comment.

As a liberal who has long decried our nation’s exquisitely racist attitude towards Pakhtuns,Hazaras, Jews and any mound of protoplasm not strictly conforming to our expectation of what a ‘real Pakistani’ looks like, the study was, at first, humbling. Though I was certain that I hadn’t imagined all that racism, perhaps we were still relatively better than most of the world, and that’s something to be relatively happy about.

That joy was short-lived.

This is after all a country where if we can’t agree on anything about the causes of terrorism, we can at least shake hands on the fact that there are “too many Afghan/Pathans” here for our comfort. It was unsurprising that following the brutal attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar, the first step of our reinvigorated counter-terrorism plan was to round up all the Afghan babas selling sand-roasted corn on the roadside, and chuck them and their families out of the country. Or as we euphemistically call it, “repatriation”. The UN itself stood stunned at the rapidity with which we dealt with our refugee problem, quite possibly putting their lives in jeopardy.

Thereby proving that xenophobia and racism trumps the romanticism of ‘Muslim unity’, and that we’d shake mountains for the welfare of our brothers around the world from Palestine to Kashmir, as long as it costs us nothing more than the price of a functioning microphone, and allows us the opportunity to rail against our political nemeses like India and Israel.

Any examination of our own don’t-ask-don’t-tell bromance with the religious extremists, whopreach fanatical ideas and terrorism apologia with complete impunity, shall forever remain at the bottom of our list of priorities.

Steve Seidman, a professor at Carlton University studying ethnic conflict, expressed his concern about the study’s reduction of a complex phenomenon to a single metric, presented neatly as a color-coded world map.

He expertly observed that the manifestation of racism depends on the racial diversity and polarity in the region. In other words, if you’ve had little to no interaction with Dominicans and don’t know much about them, you might be ambivalent about them moving in next door.

In a country where the racial divide among Pakhtuns and non-Pakhtuns isn’t as black and white as, well, ‘black’ and ‘white’, the word ‘race’ is rarely brought up. That is not to say that “we” tolerate “them”. The language of the survey matters tremendously, and prejudice against an ethnicity is still generally covered under ‘racism’.

The researchers also caution the readers that the study – with questions so straightforward, they may as well ask, “You racist? Yes or no?” – does not take dishonesty into account. For instance, Finns may not be more racist than the Swedish; they might just be more honest.

Overt racism against the Pakhtuns has melded so seamlessly into the Pakistani culture, it hardly elicits a glare. Pashto words are often thrown sarcastically at one another to insult one’s intelligence, implying that it’s the language of people with poor comprehension skills. Pathans are insouciantly stereotyped as unhygienic brutes; heck, even I stereotyped them earlier in this very blog as corn venders, which although satirical, bears real risk of being taken seriously.

So let’s save the celebratory fireworks for another day. Racism is not a bygone menace by any measure, and it lies shimmering on top of a giant mound of sectarianism, cemented by numerous other forms of bigotry.

Why do I have to tell anyone if I am Shia or not?

The natural course of policies made in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always had a negative tilt towards the Shia Muslims of the world. Having the privilege of hosting Islam’s most sacred place of worship, they have monopolised the Islamic faith and exploited the concept of pilgrimage as much as possible. After years of exporting its ideology to Pakistan, and many other countries across the Middle-East, and creating fissures in society, the kingdom took it up an ante – since proxy wars may not always be feasible – they have created divisions even in the unifying act of Hajj pilgrimage; it is mandatory for Shias to declare their sect when applying for a Hajj visa.

While this may not be new, the purpose of this blog is to examine why such a condition exists in the first place.

As we already know the Shia community has been under siege for decades but the general inclusion of such a term not only makes their intention to divide more transparent, it is unethical and to a large extent, immoral. Some people will say this was done to facilitate the Shia women who wish to do Hajj without being accompanied by a mehram or related male. If so and there is a huge ‘if’, why not simply ask if the woman wishes to travel without a mehram?

Adding a few words to the form will not make it any heavier.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see this as a way of registering Shia travellers and creating hurdles for their visa. Riyadh has made it mandatory for all Hajj pilgrims to declare their sect as it fears that sectarian tensions could rise in the kingdom owing to the conflict in Yemen.

In a state where Shias are killed simply for being Shias, forcing them to declare their sect on an official document is only putting them further at risk. The reported timeline of events is such: Pakistan refuses to send ground troops to Yemen to participate in Saudi Arabia’s war, there is a flurry of activity from the kingdom to put pressure on Pakistan, the Imam-e-Kaaba visits the country and just a few days later, people start putting up pictures of the 2015 Hajj forms which has this clause to further exemplify their blatant bigotry. While the addition in the form took place a few years back, with heightened tensions in Yemen, it is no surprise that this issue resurfaced. The discrimination and fear is apparent, and the pressure on Shias is only increasing. Saudi Arabia is supposedly worried about a repeat of the 1987 protest that ended with 400 people dead but conveniently forgets that those protests were not done by Pakistanis.

This discriminatory clause is but one among many in our official applications but first one to be put in at the behest of a foreign power. Petro-dollars can buy you much, even the power to divide people along sectarian lines when they are applying for an act that reduces the divisions between them. Instead of protesting against it, there is a tacit acceptance.

When there is an actual or perceived act of discrimination against Muslims by non-Muslims nations, we rise up in arms, with possible exception of China which can get away with pretty much anything including banning fasting in Ramazan because a few billions get you that impunity in Pakistan.

The latest cause of outrage is the expulsion of a 15-year-old Muslim girl in France who was suspended from class for wearing a long black skirt which is seen as a sign of Islamic influence or belief. But when discrimination is being done by a Muslim country, we stay quiet and quiescent.

What’s next for next year’s Hajj forms for marking out Shias?

Black stars? Facial marks?

I always thought Germany in 1933 was an aberration in the course of human history but are we really heading there?

Pilgrimage is supposed to be a unifying force, getting Muslims around the world in one glorious act of submission to the Almighty. It is deeply disturbing that those that claim to be the Keepers of the Kaaba are bent on creating divisions even there – deeply disturbing, yes, but not surprising given their politics and past history.