Those who are arrested under allegations of blasphemy cannot find a lawyer to defend them in a court of law but, on the other hand, recently a procession led by a team of 90 lawyers volunteered to defend a convicted murderer, Mumtaz Qadri
Dr Haider Shah
The terrorists are back in business in dead earnest. From Shikarpur to Peshawar and then to Islamabad they have come hard on the state, which is confused and directionless. The ‘look busy, do nothing’ official fanfare may delude many naïve followers of national media but such spineless rhetoric fails to impress a determined foe. While Operation Zarb-e-Azb is being projected as a grand success, we find that the terrorists are still on the loose all over the country. We are still struggling to find clarity of purpose and sincerity of intent in the overall aim and objectives of the counterterrorism plan. The very nomenclature itself diminishes the plan’s strategic importance as counterterrorism is an operational level activity.
I have, time and again, emphasised the need for a comprehensive anti-extremism plan where counterterrorism can become its operational level plan. We must know that the crop of extremism is cultivated and fertilised over a long period of time before farmers are able to take the harvest of terrorism to the market. The role of the anti-terrorism plan is to stop the harvest finding its way to the market. However, a more comprehensive anti-extremism strategic plan would focus more on stopping the cultivation of the crop that yields terrorism.
Extremism manifests itself in many ways. Our emotional attachment with the issue of blasphemy is a very potent form of extremism in Pakistani society. The essence of blasphemy is in the fact that opinions are silenced by threats of violence. In Pakistan we can identify three forms of blasphemy that are often associated with actual physical violence. First, the most commonly known is religious blasphemy where anyone can be accused of disrespecting a holy personality of the Muslims. Second is if the military establishment feels offended by any statement or accusation. Third is if family honour, often closely linked with females, is thought to be attacked.
Blasphemy laws, introduced by an army dictator decades ago, and which discriminate between holy personalities of different faith communities in the country, and hence are ultra vires of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, are still a no-go area for the so-called sovereign parliament of the country. Those who are arrested under allegations of blasphemy cannot find a lawyer to defend them in a court of law but, on the other hand, recently a procession led by a team of 90 lawyers, which included former judges of superior courts, volunteered to defend a convicted murderer, Mumtaz Qadri. Interestingly, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) heard the appeal case after a delay of three years as no judge was reportedly interested in hearing the case.
When it comes to blasphemy against holy personalities in the military, the situation is not much different. Saleem Shahzad had to lose his life for disclosing that cells within the navy had facilitated the Mehran Base attack. Hamid Mir nearly lost his life and is now tight-lipped for committing the same offence. No wonder no one has dared to ask the question: what accountability has taken place of those uniformed officers who failed in their duty of providing security to a commercially run school in Peshawar even though the attack on the school had been officially made imminent? The king can do no wrong is the basis of the sovereign’s immunity in English law. In Pakistan, its equivalent maxim is the general can do no wrong.
I have argued many times that development means expansion of freedoms and enjoyment of fundamental human rights, and should not be seen merely as launching mega projects. We expected that the new government would also give attention to the dilapidated intellectual infrastructure in the country. However, after about two years in power, we have not seen the senseless ban on YouTube lifted. Is it not ironic to the point of comedy that YouTube is free in Mecca and Medina but banned in Islamabad and Karachi? By retaining such regressive bans on the one hand and declaring a war on jihadi outfits on the other, the government is sending confused signals. The hate preacher in the terrorism-infested Lal Masjid of Islamabad is still a state paid official. Such indicators do not reflect well upon the seriousness of the government in pursuing a well-intentioned strategic plan with a clear vision. Critics are not entirely wrong in asserting that there is a complete lack of coherence in the strategic thinking of policy makers at the highest level.
Anti-terrorism seems to be hopelessly confused with anti-extremism. The former amounts to curing symptoms and not addressing the causes as terrorism is the outcome of the choices we made in the past in various fields of public policy. In one of my previous writings I have argued that faith is used by different sections of society differently depending on their particular social needs. While the haves enjoy religion for contentment and rituals purposes, the have-nots use communal faith for organising and motivational purposes. If the ruling classes are using religion to maximise their social control, it is very naïve to expect that the deprived classes will not use it for their own empowerment by raising motivational slogans of jihad and sharia. Using a comprehensive anti-extremism strategy the state has to take full control of religion and root out all symbols of extremism and intolerance from law, syllabi and other strata of society if we are keen about restoring peace and harmony.