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The weapon of fear

Opinion

March 18, 2016

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Following 9/11, the United States changed its priorities. It convinced its population that ‘national security’ considerations had to prevail over all else – if not, there would be another 9/11.

Nothing makes us lose all rationality like the weapon of fear. This weapon is used against us, all around the world, to submit to the state; to allow the state to control everything around us so we may be ‘safe’. Whether the use of this weapon has been successful or not depends on how one measures success. If the state has effectively been able to institutionalise and carry out massive human rights violations on the pretext of ‘national security’, it has made the best use of this weapon.

The APS tragedy scarred this nation. It rendered us completely helpless, thereby granting the state the golden opportunity to take away from us the right to lead a life of dignity, the right not to have your liberty arbitrarily taken away from you, the right not to be tortured, the right to due process and countless other principles we have compromised for ‘national security’.

We welcomed the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty for cases of terrorism, which then extended to all death row cases. Need of the hour, we chimed. Cloaking gross miscarriages of justice under the façade of ‘speedy justice’ dispensed by military courts became necessary – how else could we justify to the international community that we were hanging paraplegic prisoners and persons convicted as juveniles?

At this point of course, no dissent would be tolerated. Criticising the state is a big no-no, unless of course you want to be labelled ‘anti-state’ and then tried under 124-A of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) 1860. So we waited and hoped. But for how long can we wait?

The sunset clause contained in the 21st Amendment is about to set in and zero effort has been made to reform the criminal justice system. In light of this, it won’t come as a surprise if the military courts are given another few years to prosecute and punish. But we won’t be talking about gross miscarriages of justice or human rights violations because the state has succeeded in indoctrinating us.

The state has been successful in distracting us from its incompetence by citing the following as instances of success: three provinces legislating women’s protection laws, the establishment of the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) and the GSP+ Status.

While all the aforementioned are very commendable, let us not get ahead of ourselves. It remains to be seen how the women’s protection laws will be implemented. Similarly, the NCHR has yet to be operationalised despite tall claims by the state that it has already begun to function. And our non-compliance with international legal obligations may have gone unnoticed by the European Union but we are certainly not doing enough to retain the GSP+ Status.

Thus, it is clear that what we want, as a society, is vastly distinct from what we are doing to achieve it. We want an end to terrorism but we don’t see that the death penalty is not a solution. We want to root out radicalised elements, but we don’t realise that we create several more through heavy-handed military operations. We haven’t developed a counter-narrative though we proudly penned the National Action Plan. As part of NAP, the state was to initiate reforms in Fata and revamp the criminal justice system.

We may criticise the civilian government, but to concede civilian space to the military is not the solution we’re looking for either. The civilian government, with its heavy mandate, has the ability to initiate and follow-through on all the reforms it had promised. That, however, would be a challenge considering the prime minister has consistently demonstrated his preference for individuals over institutions. And of course, the establishment has utilised this to their advantage, highlighting the inability of civilian mechanisms to protect us from militants and terrorists.

We have been manipulated from all sides and our basic human rights have been taken away from us on the pretext of providing ‘security’ but who is truly safe in this country? We know there is no security yet we continue to acquiesce in the curtailment of our rights and freedoms, arguing that these Western notions cannot apply to us in these extraordinary circumstances.

The weapon of fear will continue to be used against us, and quite successfully too, till we realise that we have nothing to fear but the cycle of violence benefitting those who profit from conflict. Who benefits from conflict in Pakistan? That’s up to you to determine in light of the human rights-national security trade-off.

The writer is a lawyer.

Email: [email protected]

 

 

 

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