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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > Pakistan: Sialkot no surprise - Fiddling while Rome burns

Pakistan: Sialkot no surprise - Fiddling while Rome burns

Sialkot tragedy cannot be defended, Pakistani Americans say

Monday 6 December 2021, by siawi3


Sialkot no surprise

Zarrar Khuhro

Published December 6, 2021 - Updated about 10 hours ago

IT’S a hallmark of the times we live in that we must document everything we do; from vacations to functions and events — down to our breakfasts, lunches and dinners — everything must be videotaped and photographed and then tweeted, Facebooked or Instagrammed for the approval of others. The same apparently applies to murder by mob.

Last week, Priyantha Kumara, a Sri Lankan manager at a local factory in Sialkot was murdered by a mob that had accused him of blasphemy. Kumara had been living and working in Pakistan for over a decade, a living embodiment of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s dream of a Pakistan where foreign nationals flock to find work (his arrival predates the onset of the glorious tabdeeli revolution, but the point stands).

First, he was stripped naked and beaten to death, with a crowd of hundreds gathering around and raining blows on his dying body. His mutilated corpse was then set on fire and, afterwards, the killers cheerfully admitted their crime in front of TV cameras, proudly claiming to have sent a blasphemer to hell.

Editorial: It is indeed a day of shame for Pakistan

After that, it was selfie time, and one of these pictures stands out in particular. A young man, his face a picture of concentration, stands in front of Kumara’s burning corpse. His eyes are narrowed and serious, possibly due to the solemnity of the occasion, or maybe as a reaction to the thick smoke — made oily by melting fat — of this righteous human bonfire. And on the back cover of his mobile phone are written the lyrics of a song from the Bollywood film Gully Boy: ‘Apna Time Ayega’ (my time will come). Nothing rings truer than that: this is indeed his time and the time of all those like him — people who will commit atrocity on the merest rumour, who will eagerly join a murderous mob for the fleeting feeling of solidarity and the sense of being a soldier for righteousness in a greater, cosmic war.

We do not have the right to be shocked.

And while we get to be angered by what happened and are allowed to feel a sick nausea in the pit of our stomach and a despair that crushes whatever semblance of a soul we still have left … we do not have the right to be shocked because even the most blissfully benighted of us could see this coming. There is no point repeating the long and well-documented tale of surrenders, co-opting and cruel cynicism that led us here.

Read more: No one is responsible for lynching the Sri Lankan national in Sialkot. Absolutely no one

The official reaction was intense: the highest functionaries of the state all chimed in to condemn the murder, even if their choice of words was revealing. The terms ‘vigilante’ and ‘extrajudicial’ were used, along with calls for people to not ‘take the law into their hands’ which, interestingly enough, seem to imply that some form of crime was actually committed and that the real problem was that the mob passed sentence before the state could.

I understand the compulsion and the need for guarded language — something which of course doesn’t apply when heaping calumny on political opponents — because God forbid they themselves should be seen as (gasp) defending a blasphemer and thus be labelled blasphemers themselves. Once that label sticks, no amount of performative state-sponsored religiosity and faux piety will peel it off.

Nevertheless, the powers that be can now breathe a sigh of relief as it has — no surprise — emerged that Kumara’s sin was that he removed a TLP sticker from factory machinery prior to a visit from international clients. There’s also speculation that, like the case in Khushab where a bank guard killed his manager over a work dispute and belatedly claimed that the manager was a blasphemer, Kumara was killed because of a dispute he had with factory workers.

With that out of the way, I’m sure the official condemnation will be even more vociferous now, due also in no small part to the fact that this time the blasphemy brigade has claimed the life of a foreign national from a friendly country. After all there’s this geo-economic reset to think about.

We’ll see the truth of this soon enough when the next Pakistani — be he or she Muslim, Hindu, Christian or otherwise — is lynched in the name of blasphemy. Because that’s going to keep happening no matter what becomes of those arrested in the Sialkot lynching. You know it, and I know it too. And if you believe otherwise, you may as well try to cure cancer with dispirin. Make no mistake; there will be several thousand more Kumaras and Mashals before this runs its course, if it ever will. And let’s face another fact. It won’t end. Why should it?

Read more: The Sialkot lynching is another reminder that sanity and our blighted land have parted ways

And in no time at all, we will revert to type. We will be treated to moralistic lectures on family values and the evils of khooni liberals (all 12 of them) who are working day and night to destroy this country. After all, we are experts in treating the symptoms while promoting the cause of the disease.

The writer is a journalist.



Sialkot tragedy cannot be defended, Pakistani Americans say

Anwar Iqbal

Published December 5, 2021 - Updated a day ago

A man along with others carries a sign, condemning the lynching of the Sri Lankan manager of a garment factory after an attack on the factory in Sialkot, during a protest in Lahore, on Dec 4. — Reuters

WASHINGTON: “The Sialkot tragedy will have a horrible impact on our efforts to promote Pakistan in the US Congress,” says Dr Rao Kamran Ali, who heads the Pakistani American Political Action Committee.

Wajid Hassan of the Pakistani American Congress fears that this incident will have a long-lasting effect. “Every time we go and talk about Pakistan, they will ask about the Sialkot incident.”

Agha Hasnain, a Pakistani runner who has run 135 marathons in each of the 50 US states, says that whenever he gets a chance, he talks about Pakistan after an event. “But now, it will be very difficult to do so. This is unbelievably bad news for Pakistan.”

Read: No one is responsible for lynching the Sri Lankan national in Sialkot. Absolutely no one

President PTI Washington, DC Junaid (Johnny) Bashir says he is ‘devastated.’ “We need to act now, arrest all those responsible and ensure that all of them are punished.”

Khawar Shamsul Hassan, a Pakistani American entrepreneur, agrees. “It is the perceived and real absence of law and order and accountability that emboldens the extremists to do such things,” he says.

The incident has jolted the Pakistani American community like the Peshawar school tragedy did in 2014. From Los Angeles, California, to Baltimore, Maryland, Pakistani Americans have posted hundreds of thousands of messages on social media, expressing their grief, anger and fear.

“They have turned the country into a madhouse,” says Bushra Ahmed of Baltimore. “Who will bell this insane cat?” asks Ras Siddiqui of Sacramento, California.

Mr Hassan of the Pakistani American Congress, who is from Seattle, Washington, says his group has been lobbying for Pakistan for the last eight years. “Every now and then, something happens that tarnishes the country’s image,” he says.

“This indicates that we have no tolerance for religious minorities in Pakistan. It will have a negative impact on everything, from tourism to investment,” he adds. “American lawmakers will be asking about it every time we go to discuss Pakistan with them.”

He thinks that it will also impede Pakistan’s effort to come off the FATF gray list and will be mentioned in international reports on religious intolerance as well.

Dr Khalid Abdullah of the Physicians for Social Responsibility NGO suggests “reconsidering policies and laws that encourage such violence. “Burning someone alive! No, people are not going to forget it anytime soon. We have crossed the limits of narrow-mindedness.”

Dr Ali of Pak Pac, who lives in Dallas, regrets the failure of the Pakistani state in curbing such activities. “When something so horrible happens, something that is also evidence-based, it is difficult to deal with,” he says. “TLP committed such atrocities before too. Then it made a truce. It went back to violence and made another pact with the authorities! How long will this continue?” he asks. This must stop.”

“We are so ashamed! No word can describe our feeling,” says Mr Bashir of PTI, who lives in Virginia. “Americans already have a bad image of Pakistan, and this makes it worse. The only way to deal with it is to give exemplary punishment to the perpetrators.”

Mr Hasnain, the runner from Virginia, says his daughter “showed me the news and asked: ‘What’s happening in Pakistan?’ I said those are foolish people. But she, ‘that’s not an answer. Tell me how they let this happen?’”

“Our state has backed down many times in the face of street power and that sends the wrong message. This must stop now,” says Mr. Hassan, the entrepreneur from Maryland.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2021



Fiddling while Rome burns

Abbas Nasir

Published December 5, 2021 - Updated a day ago

IF you are filled with desolate despair and feel totally stripped of hope, rest assured you are not alone. Even the most optimistic among us are now being forced to acknowledge the utterly bleak reality because it has slapped them across the face.

Sialkot was just another reminder, albeit a brutally harsh one, that sanity and our blighted land have parted ways. The fuse lit decades back when religion was deployed to fight foreign powers’ wars, and later manipulate public opinion to thwart the democratic process, has now raced to its explosive-laden home.

If ever there was ever hope it has now receded out of sight that a popularly elected dispensation will provide clean governance and deliver at least some dignity to the most deprived sections of society and push back the madness that is rampant today. An election that may have delivered that is nowhere on the horizon.

But why should we be shocked? The day before Sialkot happened the prime minister was asking universities to research the ‘harmful effects of the Western culture on our family system’. Yes, that is what he considered the top priority for social scientists/ researchers; not what fuels extremism, intolerance or why is blasphemy weaponised at will.

Many say that Pakistan has already gone over the edge of the precipice.

The man who called those opposing religious militancy and murderous extremism ‘liberal scum’ wants to talk to mass murderers and is trying to introduce religious studies in schools by force across the country. You need only read Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy’s piece in this paper yesterday to realise the manner of the Single National Curriculum’s rollout and its ramifications. Such emphasis on a study of history, math, science and literature would have delivered a much heartier dividend as would bringing some 25 million out-of-school children into education. But when a dogmatic interpretation of faith drives an agenda what else can one expect.

My friend and Naya Daur digital’s founder Raza Rumi made a poignant observation on the day of the Sialkot tragedy when he said how calm and ‘normal’ those young men sounded who had savaged a human being to death and burnt his body, while talking to reporters.

As if it was the most natural thing to have done. That is how normalised such behaviour is, he said. That is indeed the case and this was not an overnight occurrence; it is the result of years of indoctrination and conditioning. In Sialkot, young men were taking selfies against the backdrop of the burning corpse.

Read: No one is responsible for lynching the Sri Lankan national in Sialkot. Absolutely no one

Such conduct was ‘normalised’ a long time ago. I recall when Mumtaz Qadri, part of the Punjab governor’s security detail, decided not to protect but to kill the governor in January 2011 in Islamabad. He emptied an AK-47 clip, then reloaded and fired before putting his weapon on the ground and raising his hands.

Other members of the detail, with their weapons at the ready, did not intervene or fire a single shot at the policeman-turned-assassin. (One account of the killing suggested at the time that they may have been told by Qadri of his plans and somehow decided not to stop him.)

The result is that Pakistan is poised at the edge of the precipice. When I say so, many friends argue it has already gone over the edge. Despite my undiluted optimism, I too am losing hope, simply because there is no evidence of any organised attempt to stop the descent into self-harm of gargantuan proportions.

I can’t believe that those at the helm of the security state are unaware of this. But, I am sorry to say, their own institutional/ personal extended interests and their rather uninformed worldview of what is good for the country and what’s not holds supreme, taking precedence over all else.

Any resistance, even when it’s backed by popular mandate, is blunted, and beyond a point, adjudged against the national interest and snuffed out. The resultant mess is where we find ourselves today. Even on its own that would be scary. But it isn’t.

Many may disagree but I also believe that the power of the security state is grossly exaggerated. Undeniably, it works wonders with compromised politicians; it can also deliver when tougher elected officials have to be booted out for asserting their right to govern as per the Constitution and to muzzle dissent.

But come their own creation, ie the faith-driven monster, their helplessness reminds one of Dr Frankenstein’s. Their ‘roll them out, reel them in’ policy seems to have run its course and ‘reeling them in’ is proving difficult.

The result is official paralysis. The ‘same page’ hybrid regime handling of the TLP’s last round of protest was one glaring example. It seems one part of the page wanted to get tough, while the other was wary of the repercussions and decided to appease the extremists once again.

While the supporters of the appeasement policy can claim success inasmuch as the peaceful dispersal of protesters from the GT Road was concerned, they will also have to acknowledge that the demonstrators went home after each of their demands was met.

Pakistan’s security establishment has long advocated ‘mainstreaming’ militants but does not present a coherent and workable deradicalisation programme to accompany such a process as surely that has to be a prerequisite. There have been proposals that militants be drafted into security forces.

Without a deradicalisation programme who is to say that the ‘extremist’ view, attractive as it is to so many, does not become the mainstream ideology? That would be the reverse of the desired goal, the dilution of the extremists’ toxic ideology.

There is now talk of mainstreaming the TLP into the political process. Of course, there is not even a hint of how the entity will be deradicalised, if at all. I fear a rightwards move for all political parties as a reaction and more dogma, and isolation from the world.

With the leading lights of the hybrid regime marching us into that dark alley, the mainstream opposition seems content with waiting for a power-sharing deal to give them some ‘same page’ crumbs. All this while the economy is nose-diving and will fuel more extremism.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.