Friday June 09, 2023

Unchecked hate

By our correspondents
March 29, 2016

Everything you need to know about the hate that inspired the protestors in Islamabad can be gleaned from the fact that they boasted about observing Mumtaz Qadri’s chehlum only 28 days after he was executed because he used 28 bullets to kill Salmaan Taseer. This mob, numbering as much as 20,000 at its peak and led by the Sunni Tehreek and Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool, was allowed to bring its message of hate and violence to the capital city and then occupy it for an entire day and night. The protestors took over D-Chowk, torched a metro bus, breached the Red Zone and surrounded parliament before the army was called in. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and the law-enforcement agencies he commands were notable only by their absence. More than 60 people were injured in the inevitable violence and not a peep was heard from the government. The first official word came on Twitter after 9pm when the ISPR director general’s account tweeted that the army had been called in to secure the Red Zone. The civilian government still remained silent. Even worse, the media was forced to observe a complete blackout of events in Islamabad. The thinking behind this may be that it gives further coverage to militant extremists but the truth is that it shows only our weakness to confront the threat, and fosters an environment where rumour-mongering thrives.

In his address to the nation on Monday evening, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif obliquely referenced the standoff in Islamabad and said religion cannot be used to justify lawlessness and the destruction of property but those words were not accompanied by corresponding action. The government may believe that leaving the protestors alone to do what they want is the best policy since it prevents an escalation in violence. If it does hold that view, it shows only that it is ignorant of history. During the Lal Masjid standoff, the government showed restraint for over a month and yet that only emboldened the militants; and eventually it culminated in violence anyway. Even during the Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri protests, government restraint led to the trashing of PTV headquarters and attacks on journalists. Allowing such space to the likes of the Sunni Tehreek is even more dangerous. They have now been emboldened to believe that they can take over the capital at a moment’s notice. Even after Sunday’s mayhem, nearly 2000 of its people are surrounding parliament and demanding their list of demands be accepted. Those demands include executing Aasiya Bibi, releasing Sunni militants and getting rid of all Ahmadis. Chaudhry Nisar should have immediately said no such demands will be heard and, if the government had any courage, even pardoned and released Aasiya Bibi. But fear has always been the dominant emotion of our weak state. That is why militant groups were appeased in the past and continue to be appeased to this day.