Many missing people never return home. In this sense, Salman Haider is lucky. The blogger and activist who was ‘kidnapped’ in Rawalpindi earlier this month is reported to be back with his family. What happened to him and who made him vanish we do not know. What we do know is that he and his family have gone through an unimaginable ordeal.
When it comes to the question of who abducted Mr. Haider and his fellow bloggers, the usual suspects are mentioned in hushed tones. They make people vanish like Houdinis, it is said, and no one dare question them in a place like Pakistan.
In a place like Pakistan?
What does this even mean? Is it a resignation to the fact that in this land some will always be more equal than others? That in this land some will always hover above the law in the name of enforcing the same law? That in this land the security of life and liberty will always remain compromised despite the trappings of law under the canopy of constitutional democracy?
If there is a genuine success of the State in this land, it is to convince the people that life in Pakistan is permanently painted in colours of inequality and selective application of law. This success has spawned an ingrained belief that it is better to accept the harsh State-carved reality and learn to live with it than to engage in a struggle aimed at making Pakistan a truly democratic and pluralistic society.
The vanishing and subsequent re-surfacing of Salman Haider is symptomatic of this deep malaise that afflicts our land. It is a malaise that is not limited to the unchecked power of the intelligence agencies or their ilk but is in fact an amalgam of the unrestrained exercise of authority by minions of the State. The abduction of Salman Haider was as abhorrent as the extra-judicial killings by ‘encounter-specialist’ cops, or the torture of citizens in thanas, or the rape of women by policemen or the thousands of other examples of State musketeers trampling weaker sections of society — and the law itself — under their feet.
Such indignities are heaped upon citizens on a daily basis. The State, it seems, is an equal opportunity harasser across the four provinces. The rule of power here is inversely proportional to the rule of law. While the case of Salman Haider and his fellow bloggers got reported and highlighted, countless other instances of State-sanctioned brutality and violations of law go unnoticed across this fair land. A majority of us apparently have become immune to it and shrug it off as an unfortunate incident that occurred somewhere deep within the bowels of our society. If it didn’t happen to us or people like us, it really does not matter.
But it so does. For herein lies the core of the problem. While we lurch from crises to crises — a Panamagate here and a Memogate there — and while we grapple with the episodic dramatics on the floor of parliament and on the steps of the courts all in the name of the people, the people themselves remain chained to a medieval system in which rule of law is a bird best caged. In the political Colosseum, we can do no more than cheer the partisan gladiators as they battle for the spoils of power.
The abduction of Salman Haider is a vicious blow against our body politic. It has shattered all our pretensions about rights and privileges and the so-called power bestowed upon ‘We the People’. If those who kidnapped him are not brought to justice, the message from the State is loud and clear: You can have your parliaments and courts; you can have your Constitution and free speech and all that comes along with it, but if you think you are safe from us, think again.”
But wait. Isn’t that the message we are sent every day of every month except that we are too numb to digest it? Isn’t that the message to ‘We the People’ every time a false FIR is registered in a police station and a genuine one is not? Isn’t this the message every time a genuine patient is denied care in a government hospital and a political patient is allotted a VIP room to save him from jail? Isn’t this the message every time family members of the accused are arrested at their homes as official hostages while genuine criminals roam around the corridors of power laden with a sense of entitlement and privilege? The message hasn’t changed, the method hasn’t changed, so where is the promised change?
In the selection of the members of the Election Commission? In the appointment of chairman NAB? In the appointment of judges and generals? Do please notice the contours of this promised change and who it embraces. Are we hapless spectators watching and applauding a theatre of the absurd while being condemned to live within the confines of a system that will not be reformed by those who benefit from this shameless lack of reform?
Hear the howling laughter of those who abducted Salman Haider. They live to abduct another day. Hear the triumphant chuckle of those who control the executive and bend it to their interests. They live to bend another day. And hear the roaring guffaw of those for whom escape from the claws of law is one phone call away. They live to live above the law for days on end.
The tragic saga of life in Pakistan is not that Salman Haider got abducted and miraculously released, but that nothing suggests that we are any safer from the State and the tyranny of its legislative, executive and judicial branches than we were prior to the dawn of the glorious democratic era. The power elite fight it out in the sacred halls of power while the core of the problem continues to fester like wound. If there is a way out of this maze, it is surely very well disguised.
We the People have never been lonelier.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2017.