Just a day after I wrote my last piece “The Blasphemy of Tolerance”, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani made a public announcement that his government has no plans to amend the blasphemy law. This announcement by the number two in the Pakistan People’s Party government, especially after such hue and cry over its senior member Salman Taseer’s murder, was shocking. It proved to be tsunami of sorts that jolted the very foundation of the fragile toddler of a liberal bustle in Pakistan. While the champions of this liberalizing movement were still overcoming from this jolt, another pillar of the anti-blasphemy law movement Shahbaz Bhatti was shot dead. Bhatti was the Federal Minister for Minorities, a practicing Roman Catholic, founding member of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), a prominent voice calling for scrapping of anti blasphemy law, and thus logically the next target of the bigots.
Slain minister Bhatti’s car was intercepted by “unidentified gunmen” who opened a burst of Kalashnikov fire over him, left his Muslim driver unhurt, ensured Bhatti’s breathing has stopped, and fled comfortably leaving a number of Tehrik-e-Taliban pamphlets behind. Interestingly Bhatti had informed the authorities about dozens of threats he received every day and had requested to beef up his security, but when Bhatti was killed there was not even one security guard with him. Authorities blamed it on his own insistence to leave the security cover back at his office. I am not implying that the ruling PPP government is hands-in-glove with the perpetrators of Taseer’s and Bhatti’s murders, but I blame it for failing to rein in the holier-than-thou bigots and protect liberals in Pakistan.
Failing to rein in bigots is not new to the sub-continental governments, especially for the Pakistani governments – civilian and military governments alike. However, this time it was not a common man or an opposition party member who bore the brunt of religious extremism; this time ministers of the ruling PPP government were murdered in broad daylight. This fact makes ruling PPP government’s failure more conspicuous than its predecessors. More so when leaders in this PPP government, including President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime-Minister Yusuf Raza Geelani, had blamed Parvez Musharruf’s government of being scared of hardliners over its inaction following the assassination of their erstwhile leader Benazir Bhutto.
Yet again PPP leaders are being assassinated, but this time PPP is in power, and still there has been no conclusive action taken against the perpetrators. How PPP’s inaction against hardliners different than that of Musharruf? Is this inaction a part of the legacy that has been passed by one Pakistani government to other? Why this inaction on part of PPP government?
We will explore most of these questions in the coming articles, but to arrive at the root of this inaction by PPP, let us first explore how extremism spread in Pakistan. A much influential Pakistani army, ever since Zia-ul-Haq’s time, has been overtly and covertly supporting religious extremism as a fuel for cross-border-terrorism. This cross-border-terrorism in real terms has been another name for Pakistan’s India (read Kashmir) policy. Even though army initiated the spread of a jingoistic vehemence amongst Pakistani youth, it was the civilian political leadership (including that of Benazir Bhutto) that propagated it. Now this plague created by civilian and military leadership has returned to haunt both of them. Even Pakistani edition of the big brother, military, has been attacked by the extremists in recent times; not many have forgotten the attack carried by the extremists on the army headquarters at Rawalpindi in 2009. So, it is highly unlikely that the army would not want any action to be taken against the hardliners. Having arrived at this, let us avoid the trap of believing that civilian governments can’t take conclusive action against extremists because army won’t approve of it. So what is the reason behind the inaction on PPP government’s part?
From where I look at it, the situation presents itself as a modern day Pakistani adaptation of Mary Shelly’s Dr. Frankenstein; only difference being that there are more than 170 million monsters that Victor Frankenstein thinks he is at peril of. Victor Frankenstein in the said equation is Pakistani leadership who thinks that it has created a monster out of the Pakistani masses by allowing a continuous promulgation of religious extremism and jingoistic filth in their minds. Believing that it has created an inexorable monster, Pakistani leadership at a subconscious level harbors a fear of religious extremism being now fixated in the Pakistani consciousness; it fears that fanaticism has now ingrained itself in the DNA of Pakistani identity. As in the original classic Frankenstein got increasingly engaged in the fear of the monster and finally died in its pursuit, Pakistani leadership is being asphyxiated by its own fear of Pakistani masses being intoxicated with extremism to the point of no return.
This fear in the minds of leaders of current PPP government is being reinforced by events like rose petals being showered at Salman Taseer’s killer Mumtaz Qadri in appreciation by lawyers of Lahore high court, a thousand member strong Facebook fan page popping up overnight singing Qadri’s glory, protests breaking out in support of Qadri across the major cities of Pakistan. Having said this, all these events at best can reflect only the sentiments of a selected few of the urban Pakistani society. They do not reflect on the majority of Pakistani population that resides in villages; not a single protest was reported from the rural parts of Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and North West Frontier Province in support of Qadri. In this Pakistani adaptation of Frankenstein, monster is not made up of the extremist masses but it embodies Pakistani leadership’s fear of Pakistani masses being ultimate extremists.
This situation demands Pakistani leaders identify the real monster that is reinforcing its roots in their own minds, and then slay it. Pakistan needs its Frankensteinian leadership to start its journey for slaying the monster by actually relating with any common Pakistani living in a small village of Punjab or Baluchistan to discover that he does not care more about blasphemy than he cares for security of his children. Following which it needs its leaders to challenge the ideology of fanaticism not out of selfish reasons rooted in its feudal lifestyle but for the sake of the idea of a forward looking developed Pakistan high on happiness quotient. Could Pakistan fare better with its own adaptation of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk?