When I heard that the authorities had knocked on the door of Tariq Malik, Chairman of NADRA, past midnight, I was appalled but not surprised. In order to traumatise people and so punish them even before the trial begins, the authorities in police states always do that. But Pakistan is supposed to be a democratic state and yet, I remember that I had written a column a long time back with the very same title. I searched and found that it had been written when Najam Sethi had been locked up. It was not a very bold column since I must have been afraid of the powers that be but it was there all right. I also found that I had written a column without this title in which I had mentioned Mushahid Hussain Syed’s incarceration after Pervez Musharraf’s takeover. This was an even more pusillanimous column with only an oblique reference to Mushahid. You can blame me as much as you like for being a monkish scholar, who should not be writing columns in the first place if I cannot be bold enough to call a spade a spade and holler from the rooftops that the authorities are tyrannical. I would agree with you but what would you call authorities who pretend to be democratic, who are voted in by the people, and then intimidate columnists so much that they do not dare to speak up as one should speak up when such outrageous things occur? While you are searching your conscience for the right answer, let me remind you that Najam Sethi was arrested during Mian Nawaz Sharif’s tenure. Need one say more?
Apparently, Tariq Malik had to face the wrath of the mighty of this land because he refused to be cowed down by the instruction that NADRA should stop the process of thumb verification in NA-118 in Lahore. The government did not have a problem when Tariq Malik had revealed that only 6,805 votes out of 84,448 cast in the May elections from NA-256 could be verified. That was the problem of the MQM. Now that this was Lahore and the PML-N is affected, the government has a problem. This is just the sort of moral courage and resolution we require in our public officials. After all, he has nothing personal to gain from this. His job and security are at stake and the media has a short memory, so if anything goes wrong, there will be only his family to remember the mishap. If he is doing it in public interest, then the pubic must support him just as it supported Justice (retd) Iftikhar Chaudhary when he stood up to Musharraf. Before and after that, Justice (retd) Chaudhary did much that is not correct but that one action is iconic and will stay in Pakistan’s collective memory as a history-changing action. Similarly, Tariq Malik’s action is a history-creating action and one which should not go unnoticed by the public.
The PML-N is making blunder after blunder, which is not in the interest of the country. After the NADRA head’s sacking came the sacking of the Pemra head. I do not know the facts of this so I will refrain from going into details but the arbitrariness, the high-handedness and the sheer hubris is a constant in such decisions. And then comes the decision to actually pass a resolution in the National Assembly condemning the hanging of Abdul Quader Molla (1948-2013), a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, who is accused of murder of 344 civilians in 1971. I once visited Dhaka for research on my book Language and Politics in Pakistan (1996). One of my purposes was to interview people associated with the Bengali Language movement of 1952. And I was taken to a room from which Munier Chowdhary (1925-1971), a Harvard-educated university professor of English, had been hauled away and killed on December 14, 1971, two nights before the city had fallen. An old lady wept silently in a corner. I was told that he had been betrayed by the likes of Molla. And he was not the only one taken a night before and shot dead. It is an insult to ordinary Pakistanis that they should be represented as being unfeeling, unrepentant brutes by their leaders. The fact is that if ordinary people only knew about the atrocities perpetrated by people like Molla, they would accuse them and say ‘Not in our name!’. Ordinary people did not make the decision to use the military in 1971 nor did they know that people like Molla had created vigilante militias to attack Bengalis. So, if people in Bangladesh want justice, even if it is belated, what is wrong with it? This ought not to be seen as a nationalistic matter in Pakistan. It is a humanitarian one. Yes, I personally do not agree with death punishment in principle, but that does not mean that there should be no trial, nor any other punishment. It is an insult to another country if one interferes in its internal matters as Mr Sartaj Aziz, always a wise man, had to say despite voices in his party to the contrary. In this context, let us raise three cheers for the parties which did not join hands with the ruling party to pass this motion in the assembly. Let us cheer them for doing some symbolic goodness.
I am told that countries are not run by orders of the conscience. Well, that is why they are run so badly. That is why, there is so much wanton cruelty and war and trampling of human rights. But if countries are not run with decency, can we run societies on the basis of humanitarianism? If so, we should protest against midnight knocks; against the glorification of criminals in the name of nationalism; against the exaltation of indecency to state policy.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2013.