What puzzles more is not the consistent targeting of ordinary people in Pakistan but the fact that the government does not do anything about it. We are seeing a surge in killings, the victims usually being innocent people killed because of their faith, ethnic background, nationality, ideas or even their employment. These are not high-profile cases. In most instances, these are people only trying to live an honest life within their limited means. These are the ordinary people of Pakistan.
Ideally by now we should have tracked down those who initiate such attacks and brought them to justice. Instead, in the silence that follows, these attackers are given opportunities to kill again. And they do so with impunity. The government issues statements and sets up committees, which end up doing nothing. Rehman Malik comes on TV. That’s about it.
It is not just members of the minority communities or different sects that are attacked. Settlers in Balochistan, many of them teachers, lawyers and doctors, are targeted. Soldiers and members of aman (peace) lashkars, working women, NGO staffers, foreigners, even children are not spared. Almost all are innocent. Despite the massive funding that our law enforcement agencies, including what our multiple intelligence agencies receive under one guise or another, we are unable to nab those responsible. Ideally, we should be taking action to prevent such killings. Instead, we are left to lick our wounds.
We can’t even blame the law enforcers entirely. When our military bases are attacked with such precision and consistency, the conclusion that a layman can draw quite satisfactorily is that the state is helpless and, possibly, clueless. In response to the systematic attacks and harassment, many are now making the move out of Pakistan. Many who can afford to migrate or are eligible to do so are happy to make the move legally. Others who do not have the credentials do this illegally. And yet, most of them remain in the country, fearful of what will happen next. In many instances, it is the talented young men and women of the middle class who are leaving our shores.
Amongst the less privileged, there are tragic tales of members of the Shia Hazara community dying in a bid to make it to the shores of Australia as their rickety boats capsize. Hundreds more end up at detention centres there. Many of these will be sent back despite their protests.
We find Ahmadis detained at centres in Thailand as they escape death threats back home. Hindus try and migrate to India while the Christians look towards some Western countries for help. But for how long can we continue in this state of affairs? How long can people be attacked and killed at will by a handful of extremists while the silent majority looks the other way? Many in the silent majority say it’s all a big conspiracy. One remembers the words of President General (retd) Pervez Musharraf who famously stated that women get raped so they can migrate to Canada.
Pakistan is a country of contradictions. On the one hand, it has hosted and continues to host one of the largest refugee populations in the world: the Afghans who entered the country in droves after the 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Many have gone back, others have not. At the same time, that traditional hospitality does not extend to our own people.
How do we move ahead? First of all, there should be a change in mindsets. Our silent majority needs to be woken from its slumber. If these killings continue, very soon they will be next in line. They have to understand that the talented middle class is the country’s real asset. Second, we need a unified strategy on dealing with extremism. This means that all parts of the government should be in agreement on not supporting such outfits and not protecting them. Also, it is only the local police that can track down these killers. But they need the backing and the push of the state to do so. Groups that kill our own citizens cannot be our strategic assets.
Finally, we need to punish those we catch. That means due legal process that is not delayed or distorted and that there is quick and effective dispensation of justice. We cannot let them off. They will only go and cause more mayhem. In this, all pillars of the state have to be in agreement. Till then, we will continue to be held hostage by these few people who have taken it upon themselves to make our lives hell so that they can go to heaven in the hereafter.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2012.