Pakistan’s predicament is a sad tale of domestic Islamist identity enmeshed with the regional dynamics.
The latest strike by the Pakistani branch of the Taliban movement has jolted the globe. It was not the first attack on civilians. Earlier, Pakistani markets, religious processions and Hazara settlements have been targeted, killings hundreds. But the barbarity of targeting children – killing 132 innocent students – has swung the public opinion in Pakistan. Pakistan’s military has been fighting the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for the past few years. Since June this year, it launched a major offensive in North Waziristan region, claiming to have killed more than 1,000 militants and reclaiming nearly 80 per cent of the territory that they were holding. For the TTP to strike at an army-run school, killing 132 children and nine school staff, indicates that the network is far from being eliminated. Military sources think that this was an act of desperation on the part of the Taliban. Others view this as the ability of TTP to regroup and find softer targets.
The prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, in the wake of these attacks, called an emergency all-party conference where he vowed to fight terrorism, once again. The moratorium on death penalty has been lifted; because of it hundreds of convicted militants had not been punished. Human rights’ campaigners doubt it will work but there is widespread public support for hanging the terrorists. The second important decision announced by the PM is that Pakistan no longer distinguishes between the “good” (those who don’t attack Pakistan and are focused on Afghanistan) and the “bad” (anti-Pakistan) Taliban.
This is a crucial announcement even if its translation into policy is unclear and perhaps unachievable. Pakistan’s strategic view of the region is based on the threat perception from India and an Afghanistan that may allow Indian influence to grow on its western border. This is well documented in the defence literature and also articulated by strategic thinkers all the time. Will this worldview be revised or adjusted is something that remains to be seen.
Essentially, the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban share the same ideology and tactics and they have supported each other in the past. In fact, the emergence of the TTP shows the “strategic depth” doctrine has backfired. […]
Another tragic day. A mob attacks a Christian couple after accusing them of desecration of the Holy Quran and then burn their bodies at a brick kiln where they worked. Religion, class, bigotry and exploitation all mixed up.
Reminds me of another piece that I wrote in 2012 on the burning of a blasphemy accused and the inability of law/state/police to salvage the situation.
The chilling news of a man burnt alive in Bahawalpur on alleged charges of blasphemy has escaped the national media as well as our collective conscience. Other than a token condemnation by President Asif Ali Zardari, no major political leader has bothered to talk about this ghastly incident.
After the brutal assassination of Salmaan Taseer in January 2011, we had given up the hope of even holding a debate on man-made colonial laws on blasphemy. The voices that were asking for a review of the legislation had to retreat as the majority Sunni-Barelvi interpretation captured public discourse. Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri was defended by the same lawyer who viewed ‘rule of law’ as an articulation of a personalised, anti-democracy and Sharia-compliant version of justice. The fact that a former chief justice of Lahore is Qadri’s lawyer reflects the inherent biases and indoctrination that have spread in our society. If a billionaire, liberal politician could be murdered on the streets of Islamabad, what hope does a supposedly deranged man in the deep south of Punjab have?
The rise of vigilantism is also indicative of state failure. Not long ago, we witnessed the inhuman lynching of two young men in the Sialkot district where the state machinery stood by and extended tacit support to ugly scenes of dead bodies being paraded around. A few months later, I was invited to a television talk show where, to my surprise, I was surrounded by a lawyer and a so-called aalim (religious scholar). During the show, the cheerful aalim continued to find obscure and irrelevant references to justify mob-lynching as a kosher form of justice. […]
Like so many others, I was recently targeted in a cold-blooded assassination for speaking out against extremism.
Pakistan has acquired a strong reputation of imprisoning a large number of men and women accused of “blasphemy.” Far from a fair trial, most of the accused are not even safe from mobs and vigilantes who assume the powers of both judge and jury. For a country that is ostensibly governed by a written constitution, this is extremely worrying. More so, when the state as an arbiter of human rights is silent, or even complicit in such human rights abuses.
The latest victim of the zealots’ ire is Mohammed Asghar, a 70-year-old man who also happens to be mentally ill. It is not surprising that there are some in Pakistan who want to see him dead. Asghar has been sentenced to death for blasphemy for various acts which, given his mental condition, he may not be aware of.
Asghar was formally sentenced to death in 2014. Despite his diagnosis in the U.K., of suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, the court chose to declare that he was competent to stand trial. However, late last month, a prison guard driven by self-styled zealotry burst into Asghar’s cell, and shot him in the back. The guard fired a second shot, narrowly missing. Restrained by others, the assailant nevertheless managed to get a good kick in as Asghar was taken to the hospital. Eyewitnesses have revealed that the guard chanted, “Death to the blasphemer!” as he swung his boot at the old man. […]