Whereas the nation’s bitter division over Malala’s visit to her home country exemplifies our intolerance, our choice of remaining silent over state’s poor record of human rights speaks volumes about our moral bankruptcy. Whenever the state feels that the process of nation-building cannot be succeeded through a narrative, it starts reliance on force. Instead of addressing the concerns of the disenchanted ones –for whom the narrative of nation-building didn’t offer much– and giving them their due rights, the state gives them nothing but labels; anti-Pakistanis, pro-Indians, un-Islamic. Such words depict the growing fascist tendencies in the structure of state as well as society.
The state feels that its nuclear capabilities have secured it from any external aggression. However, the federation fails to comprehend the growing resentment among people over its discriminatory practices. The deliberate lack of understanding that the state many a time shows makes the state blind that the increasing discontent can lead to the implosion of the country. Reliance on force to curtail dissenting voices has already weakened the foundations of the already tenuous society.
Instead of realising the damage that unnecessary force has done to this country, the ghost of Musharraf’s era is still haunting us. In the form of continued forceful disappearances and dumping of mutilated bodies on highways in the western parts of the country, the ghost, it seems is going nowhere soon. Nowadays, thinking contrary to the mainstream narrative on national issues is enough to put one to the gallows.
Those of us who thought that the ghost unleashed by the last dictator would not attack them in their homes were living in a fool’s paradise. Raza Khan, a peace activist, was picked up from his abode and till this day no one has any clue what place he is taken to. Nevertheless, Raza is lucky in one sense; civil society has come out to protest against his disappearance. The civil society is concerned over violation of his fundamental rights that the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan gives to Raza. But the same civil society conveniently ignores the abuses of the same rights that the constitution grants to citizens of the other provinces. Such display of selective outcry is the point where disconnect among the people becomes discernable and highlights our moral bankruptcy.
The selective outrage of the civil society against the forceful disappearances compels one to ask some hard-hitting questions that the civil society, at least, needs to ponder upon if unwilling to answer. Is the phenomenon of forceful disappearances limited only to Raza Khan or there is more to this despicable practice? Whether civil society and activists feel the same for all the disappeared ones as they feel for someone abducted whom they know? Isn’t our selectivity to protest evidence of our moral hypocrisy as well as bankruptcy and lack of courage? The selective pangs of conscience, apathetic attitude toward people, who are mistreated and their rights being violated on a routine basis, are a harbinger of the profound spiritual crisis that the nation suffers from and divide among the people.
When the discriminatory outcry over violations of fundamental rights is compared to the activism for saving some concrete structures, most notable is Mughal era monument, Chauburji, an ugly truth reveals itself: Demolishment of buildings is more problematic than state perpetrated abuses. Such behaviour of our elite class magnifies the moral emptiness of its activism and its inherent fears of inability to resist the state or forcing it to act according to the law. Illogical fears and lack of courage to speak truth to power have allowed the federation and its institutions to act with impunity in FATA and Baluchistan.
Analysing the resentment of people against the injustices done to them in the hands of state from an objective lens, the blame for increased militancy lies on the shoulder of the federation. Our choice of not criticizing the state for its human rights abuses has resulted in the erosion of many fundamental rights that the constitution of Pakistan provides to the citizens. The lack of public rage against the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ in the part of the constitution that guarantees us fundamental rights has encouraged the state and its institutions to tweak the most important document to provide a smokescreen for terrorising its population. The lack of debate on state conduct, whenever it goes to war against its people, has contributed to the ever-deteriorating situation of human rights in the country.
Our history is full of ironies. While the late Asma Jahangir was often labelled as anti-Pakistan and promoter of western agenda, people like Khadim Hussain and Hafiz Saeed are invited to become part of the mainstream. Why? Because Asma would challenge the state on every measure that was contrary to the law of the land, on the other hand, Khadim Rizvi does not care an iota if state deprives anyone of his or her rights. And those who need to be mainstreamed, if ever, raise a voice for getting such an option, are called traitors, anti-Pakistanis. Any criticism of state policies is highly unwelcomed in this country. The costs of lack of dialogue are high that we are unable to calculate but Wole Soyinka, Nigerian Nobel Laureate, warns us of attached pitfalls when he says, “The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism.”
Any state can remain a state if it can protect every single citizen’s rights. Failure to do so shakes the very foundations of any country. It’s not needless to remind the reader that Pakistan has already gone through such an experience. Pakistan cannot bear any further disintegration. However, to avoid such a catastrophe the prerequisite is to hold a genuine dialogue with all those who feel alienated because of the state practices. This means to accept the criticism that the state will receive from the disenchanted ones. The disenchanted ones will only succeed if those who have never experienced state suppression join them. It is the demand of the love for one’s country. The affection for one’s country demands to criticise the actions and policies of the government and its institutions that are unjust and illegal. James Baldwin while slamming the U.S for its racial divides once famously said, “I love America more than any other country in the world, and precisely for this reason, I have the right to criticise it for perpetuity.” Therefore, if the wrongs of the state are ignored, we are not fulfilling the task that patriotism demands from us: criticism of country’s wrong actions.
The need of the hour is to overthrow our fears. It is about time to raise our voice against all forceful disappearances irrespective of time and space in which such violations take place. Only a joint effort can bar the state from depriving an individual of his or her freedoms arbitrarily. Words of Martin Niemoller’s pseudo-poem will help in clarifying why Punjab is facing forceful disappearances and clamp down on dissent:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
The writer holds a degree in legal studies.