Tuesday, January 6, 2015

TERRORISM A LA MODE

Terrorism has many faces. The sooner we recognise this, the sooner all the recent hoopla about crushing terrorism in the wake of the Peshawar barbarity will assume concrete, comprehensive and effective shape. The attack by baton-wielding fanatics on a peaceful candle-lit vigil to commemorate the fourth death anniversary of murdered Governor Salmaan Taseer at Liberty Chowk, Lahore, must surely be counted amongst the long chain of terrorist or terrorist-inspired attacks ov
er the years. The attackers did not even spare the media covering the vigil, subjecting them, as the video footage shows, to pushing, shoving, kicking over their equipment, letting the media personnel feel the sharp lash of their batons, etc. The police on duty remained bystanders, allowing these fanatics to take the law into their own hands. When after the attack, the SP police in charge of the area was asked on television why this was so, he lied through his teeth that no police were deployed at the site of the incident and that the police had only responded to a distress call after the event. Anyone familiar with any manifestation at Liberty Chowk over the years knows that no matter how big or small the protest, police are always deployed there. Eyewitnesses confirm police were on the spot but did nothing to stop the violent attack on peaceful demonstrators. Although the protestors have registered a report at the local police station, the chances of action being taken against the offending maulvis, all of whose faces were caught by the cameras, are slim, to say the least. Nor is it likely that the police who did not perform their duty to uphold the law, protect the right of the protestors to peacefully express themselves, and prevent such an untoward incident will even be punished. For one, the police deployed there probably share the mindset of Salmaan Taseer’s cowardly coldblooded killer Mumtaz Qadri, who too was a policeman of the special security detail of the late Governor when he riddled him with bullets from behind as he left an Islamabad restaurant. Second, who does not know the penchant and tricks of the police when one of their own has broken or fallen foul of the law they are supposed to defend? No, we are not hopeful of an outcome that upholds the law, the rights of the protestors to peaceful assembly, or the fundamental principles of a democratic society. We now look to the Punjab government of Shahbaz Sharif to see what if any action it takes on the matter. If it does nothing, or muddies the water to get the attackers and the police guilty of dereliction of duty off the hook, not only will it blacken its face, it will encourage the revival of the accusations against it of being soft on terrorism and terrorists.
 
Salmaan Taseer did not do anything to deserve the fate he suffered. He bravely stood up for a poor illiterate Christian woman falsely accused of blasphemy and, in one more miscarriage of justice under these controversial laws, Aasia bibi was sentenced to death, a verdict shamefully upheld by the Lahore High Court. The inherent problem in blasphemy cases is the tendency of the courts to rely on hearsay and less than credible witnesses’ word against that of the accused. In a trailer of what many fear will happen when the military courts being touted as the panacea to terrorism start operating, blasphemy accused are subconsciously or even explicitly presumed guilty even before they come to trial, that is if they have not been killed first by vigilante mobs, as happened to the Christian couple in Kot Radha Kishan who were tortured and then thrown into a brick kiln. The fact that the woman was five months pregnant did not sway the beasts who carried out this murder. There too the police did nothing to prevent the crime. Clearly, Aasia bibi and the Christian couple in question were considered children of a lesser God.

The tragedy of Salmaan Taseer’s assassination was compounded by his abandonment by his own party, the PPP, and all other forces in our insane society. Had that not been so, had the courage to confront obscurantist maulvis who exploit religion for their vested interests, including defending the blasphemy laws as if they had descended straight from heaven, been on display four years ago, perhaps Pakistan would not have suffered many other tragedies since. Even now, after the Peshawar massacre of schoolchildren, it may not be too late to salvage this bruised and wounded society. But for that, terrorism in any shape or form, including the intolerance, violence and violation of the law and democratic right of peaceful assembly and protest on display in Liberty Chowk must be dealt with severely and crushed. Courtesy DT

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