The year of fear

Published: December 31, 2011

The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore saroop.ijaz@tribune.com.pk

I have observed that writing at this time of the year, it is customary to critically reminisce over the year gone by and speculate about what lies before us. The last year, like all years, is too complicated to be summarised and I have not yet earned the right to be smug enough to make precise predictions for the future. Nevertheless, the last year was out of the ordinary. The year got off to a very bad start with Governor Salmaan Taseer being murdered and it never really recovered. The assassination of Taseer set the trajectory for the rest of the year and, I daresay, maybe of years to come.

Murder in the name of faith is hardly a novelty in Pakistan. We have acclimatised ourselves to the periodic suicide bombing, the attack on minorities etc. Yet, this particular murder concentrated into a microcosm the conflict at the core of our society. The governor of our largest province was murdered by one of his own security personnel because the governor opposed the current formulation of the blasphemy laws. The incident was indeed tragic, but what made it into a tragedy of catastrophic proportions was the response to it. The first and foremost casualty was the media; it was hard to find anyone who was willing to unequivocally condemn the daylight murder of a governor. It was an orgy of the most egregious usage of the words ‘sensitive’ and ‘provocative’ etc. As one saw the ordinarily hysterical, subdued and neutered in their quest for objective language, only one element was clearly and palpably present i.e. fear.

One of the most surreal and telling images of last year was that of the assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, being garlanded by lawyers. The vulgarity and the indecency of it are unmistakable. The leaders of the lawyers movement, who had the courage to stand up to the entire apparatus of a dictator, were nowhere to be found when confronted with one religious murderer. The Supreme Court by then had already displayed its propensity for taking suo motu cognisance of almost every conceivable news item, nevertheless, not one word from My Lords. Either the Supreme Court did not deem the matter to be of public importance or was afraid, both conclusions are disturbing. Perhaps, the most sinister betrayal was from the politicians, especially those from the governor’s own party. The response overall was pathetic, the façade of caution was very thin, displaying the cowardice which lay beneath.

In a year as eventful as the last, the exclusive focus on one murder, however tragic, might come across as unjustified to some. Still, I maintain that the singular most influential and depressing event was the fiasco. The condemnation of suicide bombing requires a minimum degree of moral clarity but not courage. The victims are distant, more significantly, the fanatical murderers unknown, it is a crime without a face. In the case of Mumtaz Qadri, it was the face that was and still is unavoidable. If one is permitted to resort to cliché, it was the litmus test, the gold standard. And we failed, chillingly without a fight. Once we had failed, Shahbaz Bhatti really had no chance. That is the thing about courage, once you pretend to be selective; you are going to be found out very quickly for the spinelessness which you seek to conceal. Blackmail is by definition regressive and vicious and we allowed Mumtaz Qadri and his murderous supporters to take us hostage. We as a people, and liberals in particular, did not just lose the argument but accepted complete moral defeat. Mumtaz Qadri has now, uninvited, drawn a chair to our table, and he is armed and knows us for what we really are. Keeping in view, our irrepressible desire to ascribe to our country one singular owner, it might not be completely inaccurate to say that we spent the last year in ‘Mumtaz Qadri’s Pakistan’.

When Saleem Shahzad was brutally murdered by mysterious forces, which probably will never be known, the resolve of fighting and not stopping short of obtaining justice sometimes came across as an attempt at cheap glamour, not convincing. The posturing of taking the ‘establishment’ on was betrayed by the silence on the journalists murdered and still being murdered in Balochistan. The primary reason for that was that we had been tested in the face of adversity and violence before and found out to be meek and wanting. Capitulation to one kind of thuggery makes it very easy, even natural to surrender to any other kind. Anyone who remained silent or tried to justify the killing of Taseer is exactly the person who would find that the very little talk of murders of the Baloch, Ahmadis and Shia are overblown or irresponsible.

The grip of fear and the influence of Mumtaz Qadri was nowhere more obvious than when Imran Khan addressed a historic crowd in Karachi on Christmas day. Whereas the American citizen, convicted of terrorism, daughter of the nation was eulogised, not a word on Aasia Bibi, the irony bears repetition, on Christmas day.

Yet, not everything has changed. The ‘analysts’ with shameless tenacity are still giving deadlines regarding when the government will be sent packing and specifics of the new set up, as they were at the turn of last year. Balochistan still burns, Kurram still bleeds. Hindus, Christians and Ahmadis are still hunted. The army and intelligence chiefs are still thriving on their jobs, even after OBL, PNS Mehran and Salala. The Chief Justice believes that ‘sipahsaalar’ (army chief) should always be believed and shown deference, oh wait, this might be new.

The arrival of a new year is often the time for optimism, for Tennyson’s “ring out the old, ring out the new” and “Auld Lang Syne”. Yet, the words that come to mind are of W H Auden from his best work, September 1st 1939, “The enlightenment driven away, The habit-forming pain, Mismanagement and grief, We must all suffer them again.” I wish you a happy new year; I only wished that I could say it with any conviction.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2012.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • Max
    Jan 1, 2012 - 12:17AM

    Saroop Sahib,
    We have made both human dignity and human values a commodity by following relogio-fascist route. Societies that respect human ingenuity, human values, or human dignity do not go that far.
    Let us hope our next generation may learn from our misdeeds and that all coming years may prove to be years of health, peace, and prosperity around the world.

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  • Cautious
    Jan 1, 2012 - 12:38AM

    Nice article It’s unfortunate that their doesn’t appear to be any light at the end of the tunnel and when that light comes it’s likely going to be a train.

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  • Nangdharangg Pakistani
    Jan 1, 2012 - 1:21AM

    Hats off brother !!!

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  • Ayesha
    Jan 1, 2012 - 1:55AM

    Brilliant

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  • Tahir Saleem
    Jan 1, 2012 - 2:58AM

    We thump and beat our chests that we will fight to last man against India but we are spineless to stand up against fanatics like Qadri.

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  • Jan 1, 2012 - 5:26AM

    “And we failed, chillingly without a fight.”

    Yes. But do liberal Pakistanis even know how to fight? Even if you had courage do you have a plan?

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  • Feroz
    Jan 1, 2012 - 11:20AM

    Brilliant !
    Can feel the pain you and many citizens with a rational mind and conscience are having to endure. When people lose courage and their voice it is natural that those holding guns and wanting to impose their views on all others, will prevail. Those wallowing in silence and pity now stand to be robbed of their most valuable possession, Human Dignity.

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  • R S JOHAR
    Jan 1, 2012 - 12:21PM

    How can a country make any progress and maintain peace where there are totally corrupt rulers, military dictating foreign policy and supporting some militant groups and banned militant organisations are given free run to hold meetings, receive funds from state, spread hatred and challenge the state and other countries openly.

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  • faheem khuhro
    Jan 1, 2012 - 12:59PM

    saroop, you are my favourite ,,,, keep it up nice nice work.

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  • Parvez
    Jan 1, 2012 - 2:39PM

    Superb stuff. I urge many of my friends to read you because you never fail to impress.
    On Salman Taseer’s murder, the response from all and the implications, you are so very correct in your views.

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  • D Das
    Jan 1, 2012 - 3:55PM

    Wait a amenute Saroop,
    In the land of Pure,In the land of Macho Gujjars,I found following to be brave and not afraid of the crowd that cowers Judges to anchors to army to politicians,Imran Khan included who says you shouldn’t pick up unneccessary fight – a new language of capitulation.

    ASMA JEHANGIR
    SHERRY REHMAN
    MARVI SIRMEND
    FARZANA BARI
    MUKHTARAN MAI
    VEENA MALIK.

    Hang on a second.Not a single man in whole of pakistan?

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  • Shayan
    Jan 1, 2012 - 4:52PM

    Dear Saroop so you want to be the new champion of liberalism.Recommend

  • Max
    Jan 1, 2012 - 5:50PM

    @D Das:
    What is your problem and what is the point of mentioning the name of these ladies?
    Also learn to write in English. On this side of the border we do not understand Hindish(Hindi-English).

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  • Imran Mohammad
    Jan 1, 2012 - 6:41PM

    *

    The grip of fear and the influence of
    Mumtaz Qadri was nowhere more obvious
    than when Imran Khan addressed a
    historic crowd in Karachi on Christmas
    day. Whereas the American citizen,
    convicted of terrorism, daughter of
    the nation was eulogised, not a word
    on Aasia Bibi, the irony bears
    repetition, on Christmas day.

    No matter what ,you have to bash Imran Khan for something. Ok, for the sake of argument, lets say Imran Khan is ‘Taliban-sympathizer’ but what about your DEMOCRAT President Zardari ( whom you support in your articles), he did not mention Aasia Bibi or for that matter even Salman Taseer in his speech on 27th as well. Where is the criticism on that?

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  • Anonymous
    Jan 1, 2012 - 7:45PM

    @faheem khuhro:
    Same here

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  • Anonymous
    Jan 1, 2012 - 7:59PM

    Saroop you are right we live in Zia’s and Qadri’s Pakistan. Can one imagine that former chief justice had such strong supporter of that idealogy! Saroop I am saying this with heavy heart that probably you are living in the capital of that Pakistan. In my interaction with people from there yet I have to see a person face to face who does not believe in that idealogy.
    I hope that one day we get back Pakistan where we can live without fear and bigotry.

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  • john
    Jan 1, 2012 - 8:58PM

    @Max..

    Why are you running away from Das’ question?? He has a point mate…

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  • Zalim singh
    Jan 1, 2012 - 9:12PM

    what happened to Salman Taseer’s son? Anybody has idea?

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  • forgive and forget
    Jan 1, 2012 - 9:28PM

    @Saroop Ijaz

    Yes, it is true that 2011 found liberals,politicians, the state and judiciary all wanting in the face of Qadriyat.

    However, let us also not forget, that 2011 is also the year in which the final arbiters of power in Pakistan had to come out and clarify that they are not contemplating what they have been doing as a matter of right- overthrowing the civilians.

    And the votaries of the ‘doctrine of necessity’ also had to stay their hand.

    And the challenger to the regime is also relying more on the ballot than the bullet.

    From now on the civilians can not but gain ground and Qadriyat can only but retreat.

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