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How a nation can fail its citizens?


The term `minorities` has an altogether different connotation in Pakistan. It is not only the religious minorities like Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Shias and Ahmadis who are minorities but there are also ethnic minorities. The Baloch, the Baltis, the Hazaras, some of the Pashtuns and Sindhis, they too are minorities….writes Rifan Ahmed Khan

Baloch and Sindhi activists protest in London against Paksitan army’s human rights violations in Balochistan (File)

The state of Pakistan has given unbridled freedom to anyone who can spew venom on others, especially minorities. The freedom to exercise the right make hate speech is so encouraging that it is now easy to walk to Islamabad, hold the city to ransom and make life miserable law-abiding citizens as long as the hate mongers make loud and boorish statements against all minorities.

The term `minorities` has an altogether different connotation in Pakistan. It is not only the religious minorities like Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Shias and Ahmadis who are minorities but there are also ethnic minorities. The Baloch, the Baltis, the Hazaras, some of the Pashtuns and Sindhis, they too are minorities. Then there are those who may be Sunni but are liberal and outspoken against the rabid mullahs and their shouting brigade. Journalists, bloggers, human rights activists, writers and even former military officers who decided to speak out, they too fall in the category of minorities in Pakistan.

Columnist Faiza Habib, writing in the Express Tribune in December 2017, pointed the government’s apathy in curbing the freedom of hate speech. “ Unsteady stance shown by the government on various occasions, including the Faizabad sit-in, has emboldened the instigators of hate speech. The rise in such events has also introduced us to the new level of power that mob vigilantes can exercise while acting on unverified information.“

He went on to argue, rightly so, that the hate speech was being used to create social, political and religious divides. Although he wrote “the absence of will to act on the government’s part have exposed Pakistani citizens to a serious threat that can engulf them any time anywhere without any reason“, he did not say who is to be blamed. Is it the military or the civilian government, or both?

The civilian government—both at the federal as well as provincial level—is to be blamed on two counts. First, the law against hate speech has so many loopholes that even terrorist leaders like Hafiz Saeed manage to demonise minorities and others who speak or work against hatred and go scot free. In every speech or statement of his, Saeed incites violence and calls for jihad. These are not secret, behind-the-cover fulminations but are openly stated and widely circulated on social and broadcast media. But the state remains deaf.

Muharaam procession, one of the most prominent relgiious events in the Shia calendar, in Karachi

Here comes the role of the military. The world knows that Saeed has the patronage of Pakistan Army. Saeed and his terrorist group, and even his charity front, are all instruments used by the army to target adversaries at home and outside. So even if a civilian government took up the cudgels against Saeed, there is nothing much it can do if the army was not on board. Not that any civilian government ever seriously considered prosecuting Saeed. In fact, the Shahbaz Sharif government in Punjab had been generous in giving grants to Saeed’s terrorist organisation. Needless to say, without the protection from the provincial government as well as the federal government, it would have been difficult for Saeed to expand his terrorist empire.

But the state of Pakistan has gone several steps ahead in promoting hate speech and hatemongers. It is targeting the victims of hate speech or finding scapegoats to hang them. Taimoor Raza was sentenced to death last June where, according to newspaper reports, “ the accused may actually be the victim of hate speech itself. “ He was given the death sentence by the Anti-Terrorism Court in Bahawalpur for expressing blasphemous views online. Bahawalpur is the place of residence and operations of another rabble rouser, Masood Azhar, head of terrorist group, Jaish-e-Mohammad. Azhar, like Saeed, enjoys protection from the army as well as the government.

The draconian blasphemy law is another instrument of state repression of minorities. Now the cases are emerging where the accused have been innocent of any charges. Citing a recent case, The Daily Times, on December 31, 2017, carried a strong edit on the miscarriage of justice in the case of a man accused of blasphemy in 2008. He was charged with allegedly desecrating the pages of Quran. After nine years in jail, the Supreme Court found that the case against him was wrong. The editorial pointed out that it was not the first time that an innocent had been framed for blasphemy. In 2012, a 14-year old Christian girl, RimshaMasih was accused by an imam of desecration but it was later found that the imam himself had burnt the pages of the holy book. “Minority communities have long been on the receiving end of the misuse of blasphemy law and mob justice over blasphemy allegations, but the government has done little to address the issue. “

The UN Human Rights Committee in August last year accused Pakistan for not ensuring the safety and security of minorities from hate mongers and bigots. The observers at the committee hearing said “ atheists, Ahmadi Muslims and Christians have been targeted for blasphemy in Pakistan. Some have been killed or forced to convert. “

The committee also pointed out that mobs and non-state actors had attacked those accused of blasphemy and their defenders. Even the judges dealing with such cases were often harassed, intimidated and threatened and “there was a low rate of prosecution and conviction of perpetrators“.

Pakistani police officers patrol on road during flag march on the 7th day of Muharram in eastern Lahore, Pakistan, on Nov. 1, 2014. Muharram, the first month of Islamic calendar, is usually observed for ten days.

Recent incidents have shown that hate speech is the not the prerogative of Saeeds and other rabid extremists. Even law-makers have been spewing venom on own citizens. Recently, in the National Assembly, Captain Muhammad Safdar, son-in-law of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, openly threatened the Ahmadi citizens of his own country. He said: “Ahmadis should not be allowed in the military or other key institutions” and his statement was widely applauded by his party members. Reacting to this statement, Dawn, in a scathing editorial wrote: “Until all Pakistani citizens are deemed equal before the law, until patriotism or the right to security of life and property is not contingent upon faith, aspirations for a more peaceful polity will remain a pipe dream.”

Going by these incidents, the state, in particular the army, is increasingly using hate as an instrument to subjugate and terrorise its own citizens.