Mar 9, 2011

On the brink

We need to believe in our own self to defeat the menace of extremism

By Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri

Pakistan is going through one of the worst phases of its history. Financial crisis, political instability, energy crisis, growing poverty, increasing American influence, and on top of it menace of extremism and violence all of these are destroying the basic fabric of our society. It is difficult to determine which crisis is leading to which one. However, one thing is certain that all of the above mentioned problems reinforce each other and cumulative damage caused by them is gradually turning irreparable.

The state institutions in general and PPP government in particular, seem helpless on all fronts. In order to face the challenges, it requires the support of domestic stakeholders as well as support of international community. Unfortunately, both are lacking.

In the absence of fiscal cushion, the government is relying heavily on budgetary support. Public sector development component of budget during current fiscal year was linked to receipt money through Kerry Lugar Bill. During 2009-10, it was linked to the receipt of “Tokyo Pledges” made in Friends of Democratic Pakistan forum meeting in Tokyo. Unfortunately, external assistance did not come through; rather, the last two tranches of IMF loan could not be received due to government’s inaction on RGST, power sector reforms, and state owned corporation’s reforms.

The image of Pakistan in the West is that of a “failed state” and the image of Pakistanis is that of a nation comprised of religious extremists. It is in this context that Pakistan’s nuclear capacity is perceived as a threat to regional and global stability. No wonder, operatives and agents of CIA and other spy agencies are active in Pakistan.

It is in this backdrop that people like me, who have to travel abroad frequently, end up in a situation where they have to justify and debate that Pakistan is not a failed state. We also have to justify that a majority of Pakistanis, barring few extremist elements, are peace-loving and believe in the principle of “live and let live”.

I remember, in December 2010, four of us were invited by Green Party of Germany to address selected group of German Parliamentarians on how well Germany can help the flood survivors in Pakistan. One of the member of foreign relations committee, while informing that German people were the largest private donors for flood victims in Pakistan, pointed out that he receives volumes of emails on daily basis where German people challenge the rationale of public and private support of Germans to flood victims in Pakistan where an illiterate Christian lady has been put on a trial. “Well, you might have seen that a significant majority in Pakistan, including the Governor of Punjab, opposes misuse of any law, including the blasphemy law. Moreover, we have a dedicated ministry at the federal level whose task is to protect the rights of non-Muslims (Ministry of minorities’ affairs)” was my response.

However, my arguments are getting weaker and weaker due to insane things happening in Pakistan. As if mob-lynching of two brothers in Sialkot and suicide attacks on shrines, school children, and other innocent people were not enough, horrific incidents such as assassination of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti took place.

I feel sorry for Pakistan Peoples Party and Awami National Party (the two ‘progressive’ parties in power) that are being accused of failing the progressive and liberal sections of society in Pakistan by retreating from their secular ideology. However, despite their cautious and compromised stance, these parties are losing popularity among their supporters.

In my opinion, they are not only failing the progressive elements, they are miserably failing in protecting their own cadres too. Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani retreated from PPP’s stance of bringing an amendment in Zia-ul-Haq’s blasphemy law. The proposed amendment was meant to stop misuse of the law. However, this retreat did not help him. Only a couple of days later, Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated. Two moths later, his cabinet minister was also murdered.

So, who is safe here? I being a Pakistani Muslim may not be rising to protest against the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti out of fear or simply due to the reason that he was a non-Muslim in Pakistan. But will this act of mine guarantee that I will not be killed in a suicide attack in a mosque, in a shrine, even in my own house? Will my silence guarantee that the school of my children will not be attacked by these militants whose only aim is to create panic and terrorize the society?

Extremists are our national enemy and we need to stand up against them. The solution of many of the problems facing Pakistan today may lie in relying on external support, aid and loans. However, to face the menace of extremism we need to rely on our own self. We need to break the silence and support the rule of the law. We should not give this authority to any individual to be act as complainant, prosecutor, court of law, and executor on his/her own will. Do you find any difference between the mob that killed two brothers in Sailkot, Mumtaz Qadri, Raymond Davis, and assassinators of Shahbaz Bhatti? All of them acted as both complainants and executors.

Finally, it is not that progressive parties failed us. The opposition parties (perhaps the next government in waiting) also failed us badly. The opposition parties in Pakistan are more than willing to call for a rally and long march to get their demands met. Why are they not giving a call for “peace march” to tell the rest of the world that Pakistanis are a peace-loving nation? But are we a peace loving nation?

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