Pakistan Has Been Silencing Liberal And Secular Voices By Kidnapping Them

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Updated on 26 May, 2017 at 2:20 pm

Voices against the government are common in every country. They can be found in the alleys, the boarding houses, the hostels, the universities, the forums and even at tea stalls. In some countries, government criticism is tolerated. Sometimes, the criticisms turn into huge protests leading to the ouster of a dictator (Hosni Mubarak of Egypt) or place in docks a corrupt president (Park Geun-hye of South Korea).

While criticism of government policies or elected representatives is common in almost every country, sane people living in Islamic republics face an additional problem – defending their nation from rabid Islamists. And this is, perhaps, the most difficult battle fought by the right-thinking and truly secular people in these countries – a battle they often lose because the State, too, behaves like an adversary.

A losing battle is being fought by seculars and liberals of Pakistan within the country. Through their writings and speeches an intellectual group of people are fighting the Islamists of Pakistan to preserve the country’s secularism and prevent it from falling completely in the hands of radicals.

In the last few weeks, as many as five prominent secular activists have gone missing in Pakistan. One of those missing is renowned poet Salman Haider, who went missing on January 6.

Those missing include Samar Abbas, who is the chief of the Civil Progressive Alliance of Pakistan (CPAP), an anti-extremism activist group. He went missing on January 14.

The other three are social media bloggers Aasim Saeed, Ahmed Raza Naseer, and Ahmad Waqas Goraya. Naseer suffers from polio.

All five of those missing are from the Punjab province of the country. They simply vanished without a trace.

The government claims that it is trying to find them, but those in Pakistan, who have their heads in the right place, know very well the State’s hand in the disappearances. They know that Pakistan is not India – in India free thinkers do not disappear, in Pakistan they do; in India any crime against a free thinker does not go unpunished, in Pakistan the radical assailant can remain untraced forever.

The radicals do not operate without support because, obviously, no Islamist can remain untraced after kidnapping or shooting human rights activists, poets or free-thinkers without State backing. That ‘State backing’, as other activists in Pakistan point at, comes from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

 


In his article in Dawn, Physics professor and rational thinker Pervez Hoodbhoy tears into the extremist-state nexus and slams the government for their inaction. He, in fact, links the kidnapping to the intelligence agencies by pointing to the fact that some of those kidnapped were using pseudonyms on social media to air their views. Identifying them from those accounts needs skills and equipment that only the authorities have.

He also writes that the kidnapping of Goraya further proves that the intelligence had a hand. He had just returned from the Netherlands when he was abducted proving that he was certainly being watched from afar – something the “deep state” is a master at.

The civil society in Pakistan is blaming the government for the kidnappings. Though kidnappings and subsequent killing of Balochistan activists is very common in the country, this is the first time that orchestrated attacks on seculars and free thinkers are being conducted in Punjab.

 


Killing of activists is very common in Pakistan – most of them done by Islamists. Prominent names who fell to the guns of the fundamentalists in the country include the 2015 killing of Sabeen Mahmud in Karachi and the 2011 killing of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer.

 

Sabeen Mahmud was shot dead just after she spoke against Pakistani government’s atrocities in Balochistan. Alia Chughtai / Al Jazeera

Because the Pakistan government ignores attacks on minorities and the ISI harbours anti-India and anti-Afghanistan terrorist groups such as JeM, LeT and Taliban in Pakistan, the country is practically being run by radical Islamists.

Even the United States and the UN expressed concern over the rising numbers of disappearances of activists and bloggers in Pakistan. But when the State is itself involved in silencing voices that oppose extremists, no hope can be expected. The Interior Ministry of the country assured to look into the disappearance of Salman Haider but did not comment on the fate of the rest. To those who suspect the government, the Interior Ministry’s decision was further proof.

A human rights lawyer Jibran Nasir has requested Pakistan’s Supreme Court to intervene but the court has not yet responded.

Protests of minor intensity are being held across Pakistan but to no effect as of now.

 

The reason why this article mentioned very early that the liberals in Pakistan are fighting a losing battle is because of the manner in which a large number of hoi polloi is reacting to the killers and kidnappers of the liberals.

Mumtaz Qadri, the man who killed Salmaan Taseer, was executed by the authorities – because killing a Governor should attract such a penalty. But his funeral in March 2016 was attended by over 30,000.

 

The grave of Mumtaz Qadri. Islamists hailed him as a hero for killing Salmaan Taseer, who opposed the blasphemy law. Adil Pasha/The Dawn

In Pakistan, Qadri is a hero because he killed Taseer, who was against the notorious blasphemy law of Pakistan. By December 2016, the lovers of Islamists in Pakistan – who number in hundreds of thousands – were working on turning Qadri’s burial site into a shrine.

In that light, Salman Haider’s poem, ‘Main Bhi Kafir’, aptly describes the State of a failing Pakistan.