OVER A COFFEE: While you were sleeping! —Dr Haider Shah
Intolerance breeds rapidly and soon a society is factionalised into warring groups where each faction imposes its own worldview upon others. Intellectual terrorism and physical violence go hand in hand
It was not an inaccessible rugged ridge of FATA where they staged their strike. The place of occurrence of this vicious assault was not a remote war-torn village situated along the Pak-Afghan border either. Armed with rods and sticks the 70 zealots who attacked a girls’ school a few days ago were operating in the garrison area of Rawalpindi. The scene of their exuberant blitz was just a few miles away from the army headquarters and at a short distance from the capital of the country. Such is the respect for the writ of the state that these holy warriors had no qualms about trespassing on private property in broad daylight, entering a girls’ school without permission, carrying out wilful assault and battery on defenceless students, subjecting female teachers to threats and terror and then making good their escape with no inkling of any fear or remorse.
This attack can be crowned as the mother of all deadliest incidents in the entire history of Pakistan. True that in the recent past many gory incidents have been taking place on a regular basis. Just a few weeks ago, blood-tainted notebooks of primary school kids were seen scattered inside a school bus that was callously fired upon by the Taliban in Peshawar. Also recently in Balochistan, passengers were twice lined up and killed by sectarian fanatics. Not a long time ago a large number of girls’ schools were bombed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa when the militants reigned supreme. In the Rawalpindi girls’ school incident, reportedly no blood was spilled nor did any major destruction of property take place. Still the said incident tops the list of imminent and real dangers, as with such incidents the tolling of the funeral bell for the state can be clearly heard.
When property is destroyed, it can be rebuilt. We have seen mega structures getting reconstructed when they were destroyed by earthquakes. Similarly, loss of millions of lives in the two World Wars could not demolish western countries. However, people suffer irrevocably when the state wobbles and starts collapsing. Drone attacks cannot bring the state down even if collateral damage results in loss of innocent lives. Society can however be rent asunder by attacks on places like Rehman Baba’s mausoleum and Data Darbar shrine. Popular culture evolves over thousands of years and provides cohesiveness, national consciousness and a sense of shared identity to a group of people living together. No doubt culture also needs adjusting to the demands of changing times. But the masked zealots of a religious seminary who attacked a local girls’ school had no such humanist ideals in mind. They only wanted to impose their worldview with threats of violence. Such attacks have a great symbolic importance and serve as message transmitters. Freedom of expression gives way to self-censorship and servility. Intolerance breeds rapidly and soon a society is factionalised into warring groups where each faction imposes its own worldview upon others. Intellectual terrorism and physical violence go hand in hand. In the long run, we leave anarchy and disorder for our future generations.
The constitution of Pakistan guarantees that every citizen shall enjoy the protection of law and that no action detrimental to the life, liberty, body, reputation or property of any person shall be taken except in accordance with the law. The same Article of the constitution guarantees that no person shall be prevented from or be hindered in doing that which is not prohibited by law. A failed state is one that is unable to enforce basic provisions of its constitution as the writ of the state is too weak. Recently, a court, established and working under the law of the land, awarded the death penalty to a murderer who had confessed his crime. Soon we saw some self-styled religious leaders openly challenging the due process of law and demanding that the murderer be released. This was not happening in any militancy-infested tribal area but on the main roads of major urban centres of Pakistan.
About 28 percent of our total internal resources (IR) go towards the military budget and three percent of IR is earmarked for public order and safety affairs. If about one-third of all that we earn as a nation is spent on the security establishment then we have a legitimate right to ask how come the writ of the state is challenged so brazenly by a rising number of urban extremists. What is the use of nukes if at home the state is taken for a ride by a lawless section of society?
When the US choppers landed under the cover of darkness in Abbottabad, you were sleeping. When the Navy SEAL commandos completed their mission of eliminating Osama, you were still sleeping. But if the state sleeps when foreign commandos get rid of undesirable elements, be those Somalian pirates or our religious fanatics, it renders an area cleaner. However, when militant groups roam our streets threatening music shops to burn their CDs or storm a school to tell females how to dress or bomb places of popular culture or denounce the due process of law, we are extremely shocked and rightly alarmed when you continue sleeping. Pastor Martin Niemöller had lamented the inactivity of German intellectuals by stating: “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
If you continue sleeping, tomorrow they will come for everyone living in Pakistan, including you. So you better wake up and act soon.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org