Wednesday January 19, 2022


And from beyond the grave, Mumtaz Qadri and Khadim Hussain Rizvi – born, lived and buried on the wrong side of the few – smile and wink down upon us, and ask: kaisa?

December 07, 2021

Do you remember Mughees and Muneeb Butt? The brothers, seventeen and fifteen at the time, were set upon by a lynch mob in Sialkot on August 15, 2010. They were beaten to death.

On August 23, 2010, commentator, and critic Fasi Zaka wrote an op-ed about the incident, with the title: ‘Pakistan’s human cockroaches’. I found the headline to be too strong. I told him this, privately. I did not want Fasi to give up, because I believed giving up on Pakistan is a sin from which there is no coming back. One can try to fix a friendship, but how do you go about fixing a country? Luckily, Fasi isn’t as rigid and linear as I was, and we became much closer in later years. Unluckily, Fasi’s language, strong as I found it, may not have been strong enough.

Seven death penalties and five life sentences were awarded in the case against the 2010 mob in Sialkot. On September 18, 2019, the Supreme Court reduced their sentences to ten years rigorous imprisonment. There was no religious angle to the lynching of Mughees and Muneeb Butt – they were accused, wrongly, as the court found, of robbery.

On January 4, 2011, Mumtaz Qadri purportedly scored a victory for Muslims and Islam by slaying the sitting governor of a province of then over 100 million, and now in excess of 110 million people. He was hanged on February 29, 2016. They may have chosen the extra February day that leap year deliberately, because this kind of clever is what the Pakistani elite is really good at. A wink, a chuckle and the question, “kaisa?”. We’ll get to ‘kaisa’ in a bit. First, some more walking down memory lane.

“Unable to win elections, or compel social transformation on its own,” I wrote for CNN a few days after Taseer’s assasination that, “the Pakistani right has always required the patronage of (redacted)…”.

On November 4, 2014, Shama and Shahzad Masih were burnt alive at the brick kiln they worked at. The deceased were survived by four Pakistani children; the youngest then was 18 months old. Hundreds of people converged to lynch the couple over alleged blasphemy. The police rounded up over 660 suspects in the first round of arrests. An Anti Terrorism Court awarded five individuals the death penalty just two years later. In May 2019, the Lahore High Court upheld the convictions of three and acquitted two.

As the received wisdom and patriotism of a few good men continued to chip away at Nawaz Sharif’s political empire in 2017, a siege of the Faizabad intersection was enacted. The damage that the first siege or dharna in that series, Imran Khan’s 2014 ‘Azadi March’ did, was huge. But it was temporary. The second siege of Faizabad did less damage at the time – but its impact has been permanent.

In response to the eventual surrender of the Pakistani state to the protestors at Faizabad, I wrote on November 17, 2017: “The source of new ideas can never be a bureaucracy; no matter how many guns we give them. The eroded writ of the state and the abject surrender that the Faizabad agreement represents cannot be repaired by lamenting our civil-military divide or the irrationality of an unhinged religiosity in our national discourse. Jinnah’s Pakistan is dead because Jinnah is dead. Nations don’t find renewal in newspaper op-eds or WhatsApp groups. They find them in leaders. Pakistan does not have any. What it does have is plenty more of where the Faizabad crisis came from. Buckle up.”

On January 13, 2018, a 28-year-old Karachiite named Naqeebullah Mehsud was killed in a staged encounter with the police. Famed law-enforcement superstar Rao Anwar was the architect of Mehsud’s murder. Left to rot in the cold and heartless Pakistani periphery, orphaned by Perween Rahman, and left to dead by a system of justice that harbours no pretence of working, Mehsud’s dead body was claimed by the young activists of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement or PTM. If it wasn’t for the unpatriotic PTM, Rao Anwar would still be out there murdering helpless young Pakhtuns and Mohajirs, and probably Sindhis, Bengalis, Afghans and Punjabis too. Does the Islamic Republic of Pakistani protect and sustain one Rao Anwar, or hordes?

So many of the answers to hard questions these days is ‘TLP’. It’s the new ‘Zia’. But the TLP was not behind the Mashal Khan lynching, nor the lynching of Mughees and Muneeb Butt, nor the Kot Radha Krishan immolation of Shama and Shahzad Masih. And the TLP is certainly not responsible for Rao Anwar. The TLP is the center of gravity now, of a mainstreamed and normalised laying of sieges, and a deepening tsunami of righteousness that validates cold-blooded killers under the cover of religious discourse.

The horrific murder of Priyantha Kumara in Sialkot is another instance of Pakistani injustice. But beware the noise in how you process this horror show. Don’t confuse symptoms with the disease. The disease is three dimensional: lawlessness, injustice and the bestial rage of the young and restless. Just like religion is used to validate the denial of property rights and inheritance to women, so too is it deployed to sustain lawlessness, to validate injustice, and to fuel and take advantage of the demographic noose that adorns the necks of all 220 million of us, and especially those among us that are ‘them’. Lawlessness, injustice and the bestial rage of the young and restless. Everything we lament, and some of what we celebrate, is a symptom of this 3D disease.

Both the TLP phenomenon and flash mob that set upon Priyantha Kumara represent symptoms of this disease. Now the bad news: these two symptoms, disconsonant and discomforting as they may be, are not nearly the worst or scariest examples of symptoms of the disease.

The worst symptom is the familiarity of the response. An outpouring of sincere agony across English-medium Pakistan. Official condemnation. Hashtags. #JusticeForTheLatestVictim. WhatsApp forwards. This column. Like a dozen before it. 2010, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2021.

Through the layers of our vaccinated and perfumed existence, there is the smell of burning flesh – from Kot Radha Krishan to Sialkot. For decades, the civilian and military bureaucracy have run this place with the playbook of the British Raj, and ‘Rules of Business’ and ‘doctrines’ that all end in more for the few and less for everyone else. Those rules and doctrines are what manufacture and sustain the Rao Anwars of Pakistan. As he enjoys his post-retirement life, one can see the smiling face of Rao Anwar, asking every survivor of the allegedly hundreds of victims of his terror: “kaisa?”.

We foolishly mock governments now for failing to identify and retain a finance secretary, or an inspector general of police, or a chief secretary. With every new posting, a dinosaur on the wrong side of the political equation today, winks and asks: “kaisa?” For every dinosaur lamenting the lost Shangri La of the pre-2018 era, the hybrid system has half a dozen trolls-in-residence (or SAPMs) that lay into them, each time forwarding their trolling conquests to PM Khan (or, worse, to senior unelected officials) with a smile and a wink, asking: “kaisa?”.

And from beyond the grave, Mumtaz Qadri and Khadim Hussain Rizvi – born, lived and buried on the wrong side of the few – smile and wink down upon us, and ask: kaisa?

The writer is an analyst and commentator.