A fatal intolerance

Regardless of who murdered Shahbaz Bhatti, we as a nation must accept collective responsibility.

Shireen M Mazari March 04, 2011

Regardless of who murdered Shahbaz Bhatti, we as a nation must accept collective responsibility. In my last interaction with him, he spoke of the leadership being told of his security problems and the lack of response in terms of getting a bullet-proof car — many of which have been commandeered by the more powerful and less needy — or a house in the ministers’ enclave. What was so noticeable, even then, was his resigned tone rather than anger at this criminal neglect — a determined soul, he exuded a decency and calmness missing from so many of his cabinet colleagues. His murder is our collective national shame. We have watched ineffectively as our minorities have been subject to increasing persecution and insecurity as a culture of bigotry and intolerance has spread, marginalising the minorities and trampling on the diversity that was the soul of the Pakistani nation. The militarisation of our society — where recourse to violence in daily life is always the preferred option, be it two students arguing or political parties confronting each other — has continued unhindered.

Exclusivity is all around too. The so-called ‘westernised elite’ comes out to protest and hold vigils for those murdered by alleged religious extremists but fails to act in a similar fashion to protest the killing of innocent people by drones in Fata, or the regular kidnappings and abuse of Hindus in Sindh. The religious protestors come out in thousands in defence of the faith, but then become party to a murderous spree of sectarian and targeted killings, despite the fact that the Holy Quran clearly condemns the murder of even a single human being.

Militarisation has been accompanied by growing ignorance all around. We have lost all sense of logic and rationality when confronting ‘the other’ and this loss is not reflected only in militant extremists but in all segments of our society. Intolerance fed on ignorance is all-pervasive, from the common man to the elite. We do not counter arguments with logical responses and facts with counter-facts to undermine the stance of those we disagree with. So accusatory labels are bandied about — “liberals, fundos, ghairat brigade,” and other such names have all become terms of abuse for the opponent, with each group equally unable to accept an inclusivist approach.

I was highly amused to find on these pages my being subject to such name-calling instead of facts to disprove my arguments. Unfortunately, Lilliputian minds like Khurram Husain’s lack the intellectual acumen or skills to present logic, so they conveniently resort to cheap shots while revealing their ignorance, including on the North Korean nuclear issue. For instance, it needs to be remembered that in 1994, the US had signed a bilateral agreement, known as the ‘Agreed Framework’, with North Korea to provide heavy fuel oil and help complete a 100 MW light water reactor in return for North Korea to remain in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to freeze its clandestine nuclear programme. Unfortunately, the US failed to live up to its end of the bargain and the agreement finally collapsed totally in 2002. So the course the North Koreans have adopted since then has a US footprint in it!

As for the US-Pakistan relationship, in my mind there is no ‘maybe’ in terms of the US destabilising Pakistan every time it has come into an alliance with it — beginning from the fifties to the present. I have published a cost-benefit analysis many times on different aspects of this relationship with the conclusion that the benefits have been short-term and limited, while the costs have been extensive and long-term. Whether it was the distortion of our external policy regional demands in the fifties and sixties, when we went into absurd pacts like Cento and Seato; or the US’s propping up of dictators or distortions in our economy including in the agricultural sector; or the eventual fatal boost to militancy and extremism, there has been an intrinsic destabilisation factor in this relationship for the Pakistani state and nation. Of course, the actual killing of Pakistanis, with tacit support from the Pakistani leadership (both political and military), through drones or CIA covert and overt operations, is the most acute form of destabilisation the US-Pakistan alliance has wrought on the Pakistanis. Where are the facts to prove otherwise?

Additionally, the US-India nuclear deal has also upped the nuclear ante in the region by allowing India to increase its weapons fissile material from the unsafeguarded fuel, now ‘liberated’ from its civilian reactors. So, when Pakistan is accused of producing more weapons and the anti-nuclear lobbies willy-nilly target us, and Ms Clinton holds forth at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva that the world has “more than 20,000 nuclear weapons” and bemoans the continuing production of fissile material across the globe, who are the real culprits? Of these 20,000 nuclear weapons, the US has 9,400 and the Russians 10,000 warheads! Out of the US stock, only 4,000 await elimination while the Russians are going to eliminate a larger fraction of their warheads. So who are the real culprits in terms of lack of movement towards nuclear disarmament?

In the context of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty also, the US is destabilising the nuclear disarmament process by not accepting the rational position that existing stockpiles are first reduced and then a cut-off date is implemented. Presently, in terms of plutonium stockpiles (including civilian and military), Russia holds an estimated 181.7 metric tons; the US 91.8 metric tons; India 3.74 metric tons; Japan 36.1 metric tons; Pakistan 0 metric tons. For Highly Enriched Uranium stocks, the US holds 745 metric tons; Russia 1,282 metric tons; Pakistan 2.6 metric tons; India 1.3 metric tons. But how many of our anti-nuclear lobbyists understand where the US and Pakistan are coming from on these crucial issues?

Whichever front we examine, our ignorance is aggravating our intolerance and it is destroying our soul as a nation. We simply have to move out of this fatal trap by embracing inclusiveness and knowledge.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2011.


Al!Khan | 10 years ago | Reply Dr Shireen it's always a pleasure to read your articles. Wish we had more educated and patriotic people like you. It's a shame that our media is suffocating your sane voice for the sake of dollars. But we know they can't hide the truth for long. Keep it up!
Imran Khan | 10 years ago | Reply I think this was a brilliant analysis! Mazari you can be PTI President after I'm done with it :)
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