How long would it take a wounded woman’s scream to circle this world when it is transmitted digitally? Well, it took forty-eight hours for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to, as they put it, ‘take notice’ of a murder committed outside the hallowed edifice of the Lahore High Court.
But he did compensate for this delay by demanding “immediate action” over the crime and directed the chief minister of Punjab that a “report must be submitted by this evening to my office”. This statement was issued on Thursday and it did say that “this crime is totally unacceptable and must be dealt in accordance with law promptly”.
Farzana Parveen, a pregnant woman, was brutally killed with bricks thrown by her own father and other relatives in the forenoon of Tuesday. Imagine what it is like in the vicinity of the Lahore High Court in the morning of a working day. Honour killings – and this is what it was – generally take place in a rural setting, far from the madding crowds.
It is a city of culture, with its cherished traditions of joie de vivre, that staged a modern re-enactment of a medieval ritual – stoning to death of a woman who had supposedly committed a sin. And, in a vicarious sense, the entire nation watched the spectacle while some of us had some thoughts about what it means in the context of the direction in which Pakistan is moving.
It breaks my heart to think that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is not likely to be one of them. Otherwise, of course, he comes out as a very kind and sensitive human being. Unlike some leaders who have had similar encounters with power, he is quite likeable. So why am I making this assumption that he may not have been overly disturbed by the murder of a woman of no substance by her own family?
There is, alas, considerable circumstantial evidence to show that our rulers just do not care when, say, a Rashid Rehman is murdered in Multan or an Ahmadi surgeon is shot dead in Chenabnagar or a Shia educationist is killed in Karachi. Honour killings seem more digestible. Yes, the circumstances in which Farzana was murdered were exceptional. Still, it was just an honour killing.
Ah, you would say that Nawaz Sharif did finally take notice of Farzana’s murder. But the point I am stressing is that he did it forty-eight hours after the incident. My guess is that this was prompted by the outrage that the murder has created globally. I have been watching some foreign channels like the BBC and the CNN and have read the reports in major international newspapers.
It is a story that has touched the conscience of the world. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has described the murder as barbaric and called for full investigation. I do not know if this statement was made before the statement that was issued on Thursday by the Prime Minister’s House in Islamabad. What I know is that the news of the murder spread in the social media like wild fire just after it happened.
Details of the case, with whatever spin that the police are capable of providing, are not important. Most of our people, who exist in the lower depths of society, live sordid lives. For all practical purposes, they have been left to fend for themselves. In many ways, they live in primitive times, surrounded by ignorance, cruelty, religious fanaticism and injustice. They are like past and live in another country.
The big question, for me, is: when will Nawaz Sharif reach the end of his tether? What specific event, atrocity or an act of ignominy will finally hurt him into action? What crisis will make him sit up, in the middle of the night, and call a meeting of his close advisers to devise a strategy to, simply, save Pakistan?
We have seen that the threshold of our rulers’ tolerance is high. Actually, it is a reflection of their capacity for denial. They seem to be under some mysterious spell, cast by unseen, supernatural powers. Otherwise, we have had not one or two but numerous – or innumerable – incidents that sent shivers down the nation’s spine. Yet the rulers, effectively, were unmoved.
My own engagements with high functionaries have been rare. What I have noticed is that there is little inclination to seriously discuss the causes and consequences of the growth of radical Islam in Pakistan. It is the same when it comes to primitive practices in our traditional society. So much so that they do not even see the logic of lifting the ban on YouTube. It is possible that they feel that the challenge is beyond their power.
Nawaz Sharif, we know, has a good understanding of economic and physical development. He realises that the nation must have capital to build motorways and airports. He needs to learn what social capital is all about. In an environment of fear and intolerance, Pakistan’s intellectual and creative resources are constantly being depleted. We lag woefully behind other countries of the world in almost all social indicators.
Did Nawaz Sharif have time to think about these things when he celebrated Youm-e-Takbeer on Wednesday, a day after Farzana had been murdered? Incidentally, the ceremony to mark the day also took place in Lahore. Naturally, with the media that we have, irrespective of its present crisis, Nawaz Sharif’s political speech was given immensely more space and time than the murder that shocked the rest of the world.
There is something here also for the other Sharif to think about. How can a nuclear power that has one of the largest standing armies in the world defend a country that is slowly dying in spirit? Yes, there has been some talk about the ‘enemy within’. But strategies to deal with this enemy would demand sufficient intellectual resources and deep reflection about what the defence of a country really requires. Again, there is little evidence that this exercise has seriously been undertaken.
Obviously, I cannot be very candid about these matters. Still, there is something that has worried me for a long time. It relates to the sectarian terrorism that has continued and the passions that underpin this violence. All our institutions can be affected by this deadly virus. So, what are those who are in power doing about it?
With all this confusion about where the real power resides in Pakistan – and I am also thinking of the power that is wielded by the likes of Mumtaz Qadri – the buck technically stops at the desk of the Sharif who lives in the Prime Minister’s House in Islamabad.
The writer is a staff member. Email: [email protected]