The brutal killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for minorities, barely two months after the assassination of governor Taseer compels our political parties to now take a united stand against the extra-judicial killings of their own leadership by groups who believe they are acting in the name of religion.
It begs us to do some introspection and to ask the question: what was his fault? As a minister for minorities, he was genuinely concerned about the misuse of the blasphemy laws against minorities. Initially, most of the accused under Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code belonged to religious minorities. He always maintained a regard for all religions but as a leader of minorities, he felt that in order to play an effective role, he needed to take a stand where his constituency felt threatened. In fact, the misuse of the blasphemy laws has even been conceded to by some religious parties –– but that has not been held against them.
In the case of Salmaan Taseer, it was not only the cold-blooded murder of the governor that was shocking, but also the reaction that followed. The media was full of images of lawyers and religious parties garlanding the killer as they rushed to defend him in court. That lawyers, whose professional basis lies in respect for the rule of law, were instead celebrating and condoning a cold-blooded murder, was harrowing. It compelled one to look to the political leadership for some sanity. However, they too failed to rise to the occasion. Rather than discourage bloodletting under the guise of religion, the senators refrained from reading the Fateha for the slain governor while the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz maintained a deadly silence. The Pakistan Peoples Party itself cowered away from taking any kind of firm stand against the unjustified violence that was leashed on its own leadership. And now, this unchecked spate of violence, motivated by power politics, has found another prey. Who may be next? How many more innocent lives, how much more destruction, how intense a torture will it take to quench the thirst of a fanatic few?
It is often asserted that we have an independent media and an independent judiciary. These are adequate forums to air our opinions and to redress grievances in a responsible manner. Instead, we have seen, that as of late, some sections of the media have been playing a very negative role in inciting people to violence and consciously blackening people by whipping up religious emotions even where the debate has no nexus to it. For example, recently in a discussion about appointing ad-hoc judges, a section of the media deliberately started to plant religious motives for opposing such appointments simply to add fuel to the deadly intolerance that has taken hold of our society. Lawyers are terrified to prosecute an accused of so-called blasphemy murder and judges hesitate to try such cases. Realities indicate that our institutions and civil society are only skin-deep independent. The real test of any society comes when it is faced with tough challenges, especially in the form of brazen violence. Sadly, despite all our outwardly bravado we have proved to be feeble and weak.
Each such murder carries a sinister message for the democratic process. It undermines it and makes it abundantly clear that stability in the country is hostage in the hands of fanatic elements. Fear has stifled saner voices and shrunk the space for any form of progress.
Pakistan’s image in the international community will be marred despite the fact that ordinary Pakistanis continue to remain tolerant and are the greatest sufferers of intolerant violence. The economy will remain stunted as tourism dries out and investment flees.
Eventually, it is the blood of Pakistanis that will be spilt ruthlessly and suffocate the future of our generations. Silence is no longer an option. Blaming each other is counterproductive. Instead, it is imperative for the political forces to make a collective strategic plan to steer the country out of violence and poverty.
Asma Jahangir is the president Supreme Court Bar Association and a human rights activist.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2011.
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