miss your ‘groove’
Bloodshed is part
of Karachi’s politics and everyday life now, no matter what the political
parties say to tone down or make the worsening situation seem better.
Violence has been so consistent that it is usually overshadowed by other
events in the city, becoming a talking point only if the death toll rises.
Otherwise, the bloodshed continues, unabated and unquestioned.
So far this year, around
2,000 people have been killed as a result of political, sectarian and ethnic
strife in the metropolis. It has already exceeded the death toll of last year
(Human Rights Commission of Pakistan maintained 1,724 people were killed in
Recently, 36 people were
killed in targeted attacks within a span of three days. But all it elicited
was a standard response from law enforcement agencies and political parties:
That is, the involvement of a ‘third hand’. For instance, the buck has
recently been put on the infamous, ever-present and increasingly widening
presence of Taliban, for causing all the mayhem in the city. They are
responsible equally, but not completely.
SSP Special Investigation
Unit (SIU) Khurram Waris recently said that there are three elements involved
in the killings and violence in the city at large: Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan
(TTP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Shiite groups involved in retaliatory
violence. But for obvious reasons, he did not name any local political party
involved in the mayhem.
“No one will name them
because of fear — as people and police officers are scared of being
attacked,” Consultant Home Department, Sharfuddin Memon said.
At the same time,
politicisation of police and a lax judicial system are not helping much to
ease violence in the city. If anything, it made the violence more consistent.
A few days ago, the last
eye witness in Geo Television reporter Wali Khan Babar’s murder, was killed
a day before he was to testify in the court. Last year, two head constables
also lost their lives, along with the brother and a cousin of the case
investigator, inspector Shafiq Tanoli. Similarly, whoever came close to
testify against the suspects was ultimately killed in a targeted attack.
In connection with the Wali
Babar case, since last year, senior police officials have been planning to
raid areas and arrest workers of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), but they
have not been given a green signal as yet, according to sources within the
police department. And they probably won’t, as previously, a team headed by
SSP CID Chaudhry Aslam Khan, was demoted and transferred to Jacobabad and
Sukkur, after they attempted to raid Orangi Town, Pak Colony and Shah Faisal
Colony to arrest alleged target killers.
Another instance of
political interference was visible during the operation in Lyari against
wanted criminals of defunct, but very much active, Aman Committee in May. The
committee is supposedly connected to the PPP as a criminal wing to counter
influence of the MQM in Lyari, though it has always denied the alliance.
After scores of people were
killed during the operation, including police officials, a go-between patched
things up between Aman Committee leader, Uzair Jan Baloch and the local
administration of the People’s Party. Within hours, the weeklong operation
instantly came to a halt.
Interior Minister Rehman
Malik flew down to Karachi to announce that the operation has been called
off, which he added was not an operation to begin with, but a ‘raid’. The
announcement left many senior police officials red in the face.
Zahid Hussain, analyst and
journalist, said that de-politicising the police is the first step in making
sure that justice is done. “It is a major problem. It can be dealt by
allowing strict administrative reforms, making the police an independent
body, and giving more power to district councils.”
Memon said that issues
related to target killings and violence in the city need to be taken up on
“war-footing” by the sitting members of the provincial assembly so those
responsible are arrested. Otherwise, he added, the issues will keep haunting
the city, claiming lives of innocents as a result.
But even when suspects are
arrested, they are either shot, as in the case of Wali Khan Babar, or the
trial takes forever to come to a conclusion, or witnesses do not show up.
In a recent incident, where
Rangers and Police arrested around 150 target killers, during the targeted
operations in multiple areas, the killers were freed because of lack of
evidence, Memon said. Similarly, suspects arrested in an extortion case of
2010, in which multiple shopkeepers were killed after a stand-off in Kabbari
Market, were released as eye witnesses did not show up.
As a possible solution,
Memon drafted a Witness Protection Plan last year, which has been approved by
the Sindh cabinet but not discussed as yet. He said that Witness Protection
Plan is comprehensive as apart from protecting the witnesses, it will also
protect police officers and judges involved in the case. But so far nothing
has been heard about the plan, apart from a mention in the recent speech of
President Asif Ali Zardari, in which he stressed the need of a proper Witness
However, a witness
protection cell exists at present, as a “temporary arrangement” for the
people. But, he added, “It will take a long time for people to trust the
As for the possible
solution to the ongoing violence, a senator of Awami National Party (ANP)
suggested, during a session of the National Assembly, that a military
operation is the only way to restore peace in Karachi. But later, the ANP
boycotted the session altogether, along with the MQM, protesting against
“lack of interest in ending the violence.”
Zahid Hussain believes that
military operation did not help before and it definitely won’t help the
present situation either. “If anything, it’ll make the matters worse.
What is needed is for political leaders to come to an understanding that it
can’t go on like that.”
A strong and independent
police, along with a strong and active judicial system is the only solution
to the ongoing problems in the city, Memon thinks.
Karachi: Rangers man a
blast site, (below) Mourning as usual.
You are among the very few Pakistanis — less than one per cent of the
population — who read newspapers. And if you are a woman, you are among the
0.001 per cent.
You read newspapers for the
same reason the newspapers are published for. The age-old objective of
journalism is defined as: to inform, to educate, to entertain, and to keep
record. So, having devoured the morning paper for years and years, are you
informed, educated and entertained? Or do you feel more confused, angry and
Perhaps both. There are
days when a piece of writing fills you with positive energy and inspires you
to see failures all around you as juicy challenges. And there are days when
you toss away the paper in disgust at all the negative emotions and feelings
it triggers within you and makes you start your day with pessimism and an
overbearing sense of resignation towards everything around you. I’ll
venture a guess here: the latter happens more often than the former. And more
often than the two extremes, the newspaper reading experience does nothing to
you, except leaving a stale and sour taste in your mouth, that you wash down
with a sugar-laden mug of tea and get on with your day.
It’s all your fault.
Journalism is like
politics, in that both claim to speak for, and thrive on the trust of, common
people like you. If you are actively involved, your concerns and aspirations
are reflected in politics and journalism of your land. When you become
passive or indifferent, the politicians and journalists become directionless
and lazy. They start pushing their own agenda which gives you more reasons to
distance yourself from them. This disconnect keeps growing in direct
proportion to the mistrust between people and those representing them, until
the point where all politicians are thieves and all journalists are
blackmailers in the common perception. That is where we stand today.
Let’s try to understand
how we got here. Officially, half of Pakistan’s population is literate.
Since we don’t believe anything official, let’s say a quarter of the
population can read and write Urdu, English or their mother tongue. That
leaves us with five crore or 50 million potential readers. And the thousands
of newspapers published in the length and breadth of this country, put
together, can’t even sell one million copies. We must conclude that a vast
majority does not care what the newspapers (and for that matter, magazines,
books … printed words in any form) say or don’t say.
Those few who do read —
that’s you — are largely passive readers. You don’t make any demands,
you don’t assess and challenge the material dished out to you, you are not
offended if there are grave errors in facts and figures or glaring
contradictions on the same page. The newspaper carries a story titled: ‘We
believe in politics of consensus’ for the thousandth time, and you read it
dutifully. Ditto with the stories: ‘The government has failed’, ‘ABC
should quit politics’, ‘My party will win next elections’ …
Meaningless statements, mindlessly repeated ad nauseam make up the bulk of
every newspaper, and it does not bother you.
Newspapers claim to speak
for you, and to you. Do they? How many stories do you find on any day that
have relevance to your life? How many analyses are written with you in the
writer’s mind? How many of ‘your’ concerns are addressed? And if your
paper does not speak to and for you, do you make an effort to reach the
editors and give them a piece of your mind? You don’t. You passively take
what’s given to you, and if you don’t like it, you complain about it in
private. You do nothing to change it.
You do make a choice in
terms of which paper to buy, but that choice is based on considerations other
than quality of reporting and writing. You patronise a paper because of the
‘ideology’ it stands for, or because of its political bias, or its
‘liberal voice’ or whatever hocus pocus they sell you.
And that’s where
journalism is different from politics. Both are accountable before you but
unlike politics, the product of journalism comes out in black and white, and
you pay money to buy it. Also, unlike politicians, journalists and editors
are easier to access and influence. As a paying consumer of news, you are the
boss. And, therefore, if the news business is a mess, it’s of your making
Take responsibility for it
if you want to see it fixed.
outside Karachi Press Club will be all the poorer without Senator Syed Iqbal
Haider’s energising presence. Activists promoting any good cause could
count on him to be there — whether it was justice for Mukhtaran Mai,
protest against Shia killings, or a call for peace between India and
Essentially, he was always
there to support any assertion of human rights. And he could be relied upon
to inject energy into a gathering if asked to address it. If not, he would
stand in silent support, with none of the airs and graces one might expect
from someone who had held such exalted positions in government — Senator,
Federal Law Minister, Attorney General of Pakistan.
The TV cameras would
inevitably find him and focus on him as he made a passionate speech, the
pitch and temp rising as he blasted extremists, terrorists, mischief makers,
incompetent bureaucrats, corrupt politicians and army generals. He boldly and
openly spoke out against anyone contributing to make life hell for ordinary
A graduate of the Punjab
University Law College, he had been closely associated with the late Benazir
Bhutto, and was active in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD)
against the military dictator Ziaul Haq, a cause for which he was arrested
several times. He had also borne his share of police baton charges and tear
He was a founding member of
the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP, which he later served as
co-Chairperson) and of the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and
Democracy (PIPFPD). In 2005, he resigned from the PPP to concentrate on human
“We mourn the loss of Mr
Iqbal Haider, our dear friend from Pakistan. His contribution to the cause of
Indo/ Pak peace process was enormous!” tweeted the film producer Mahesh
Bhatt on hearing the news.
In November 2007, Iqbal
Haider was among those present at the HRCP office in Lahore where activists
gathered to formulate a response to Gen Musharraf’s ‘Emergency’. When
the police raided the building and started rounding up activists, Iqbal
Haider put up a spirited resistance, spryly skipping around the security
walas trying to grab him and confiscate his cell phone, which he loudly
refused to give up. The memory remains in many minds as a moment of high
drama and also a source of much mirth.
The cell phone was
eventually wrested from him and the arrested activists were carted off
(literally, in the case of Salima Hashmi who calmly continued writing her
notes, forcing the police to heave up the chair she was sitting on and carry
it to the police mobile, at which point she got off and hopped into the van
of her own accord). At the sub-jail, a house in Model Town, Iqbal Haider
gleefully produced another cell phone to keep up his channel of communication
with the outside world.
The detained activists made
light of the situation, and much of the home-cooked feasts that were
delivered to them, for the two days they were there. Still, it must have been
difficult for those like Iqbal Haider who were on medication.
His commitment to peace
between India and Pakistan was absolute and he spoke out boldly for it. At a
demonstration outside the Karachi Press Club to condemn the Mumbai attacks of
Nov 26, 2008, he pointed out the timing of these attacks, following President
Asif Ali Zardari’s address to the Hindustan Times Conclave, at which he had
stated that Pakistan would follow a no-first use nuclear policy. The attack
four days later was no coincidence, suggested Iqbal Haider, as those involved
had moved earlier than originally planned in order to teach the elected
civilian government a lesson.
In fact, he was due to
visit Mumbai for the fourth anniversary of the terror attacks, and as well as
to attend a function in honour of Kuldip Nayar on November 28.
The Constitutional Petition
(No.48/2010) he filed and pursued pro bono in July 2010 before the Supreme
Court on behalf of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum and PILER led to the Court
ordering all cases of imprisoned fishermen to be heard expeditiously,
preferably within a period of six weeks. The Court also ruled that all
prisoners held under the Foreigners Act should be released and repatriated
forthwith, if they had completed their sentences.
As a result, some 442
Indian fishermen were released and repatriated in one go, starting the
process of a large number of Indian prisoners being released from Pakistan
and vice versa.
Iqbal Haider was among the
joint India-Pakistan delegation including Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid
and Karamat Ali, as well as Kuldip Nayar, Mahesh Bhatt and Jatin Desai, who
met with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and then home minister P. Chidambaram
in New Delhi, in September. The meeting led to India releasing some 50
Pakistani fishermen as a reciprocal gesture.
In September 2011, despite
his ill health, Jatin Desai recalls how Iqbal Haider travelled a gruelling
700 km by road to meet the fisherfolk of Gujarat, Daman and Diu in India,
along with Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and trade unionist Karamat Ali.
It was their consistent efforts that led to the release of another large
batch of Indian fishermen (179) from Malir Jail, Karachi, in January 2012.
“In his passing away, the
fishing community of Gujarat and Diu (India) has lost a true friend and a
saviour,” said the Porbandar Boat Owners’ Association and fishermen of
Gujarat and Diu in a statement shared by Jatin Desai.
His friends worried for his
safety and his health. Just six months ago, he had accepted the position of
President, the Forum for Secular Pakistan (FSP), formed in response to the
growing religion extremism in the country.
Iqbal Haider was a firm
believer in secular values, a secular state and secular education, and the
right of each person to profess their own religious beliefs, a fundamental
right which is also enshrined as Article 20 in the Constitution.
For all the seriousness of
the causes he supported, Iqbal Haider was a fun-loving person and a gentleman
who went by the unlikely nickname ‘Groovy’. He was hospitalised just last
month after feeling unwell and seemed to have recovered but was re-admitted
last week with breathing difficulties and heart problems. When he sent an SMS
out to friends telling them he was in the CCU in a Karachi hospital, no one
expected that he would breathe his last there just two days later, on the
morning of Nov 11.
As Lahore-based lawyer and
environmentalist Rafay Alam’s tweeted: “RIP Senator Iqbal Haider. Your
Groove will be missed.”
Yes, we will miss you Iqbal
Haider, in all the struggles you were engaged with. I imagine you smiling
upon us as these struggles continue, given impetus not only by your memory
but your decades of consistent hard work and passion.
Iqbal Haider: A firm
believer in secular values.
In the run-up to
the presidential election in the United States, most Pakistanis wondered if
the next US president would stop the drone attacks on terrorists based in the
Pakistani tribal areas.
In conversations with this
writer since last summer, many Pakistanis asked if the Republicans would be
less hostile towards Pakistan and scale down the drone attacks if not
completely stop them.
The drone attacks have also
been a major subject in the Pakistani media since President Barack Obama
started using them as a major weapon against the terrorists. It is
unfortunate that in Pakistan or among Pakistanis, the discussion of
Pakistan-US relations and war on terror is often reduced to the drone
attacks. There was a widespread impression, if not belief, that the
Republican candidate would be more sensitive to the Pakistani demand, given
Republicans’ closeness to the military regimes in the past.
It came as a rude shock to
many Pakistanis when, in one of the presidential debates in October,
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced that he supported
President Obama’s policy of using drones in the Pakistani tribal areas and
would continue it if he were elected. Pakistanis fail to realise that the US
presidents are elected to promote the US interests in the world like the
leaders of all other nations, including Pakistan. Nations’ interests change
with the passage of time. Currently, the only major US interest in Pakistan
is to stop global terrorists from using Pakistani territory for launching a
terrorist attack on the US territory or US interests in the world. No US
president would ignore this interest and do whatever is possible to achieve
The tension in the
US-Pakistan relations is the direct result of the difference between
Pakistan’s stated policy and actual policy. Pakistan’s declared policy is
that it is part of the international coalition against extremism. However,
the international community has come to distrust Pakistan with the passage of
time. The situation for Pakistan becomes complex and difficult because of the
international support for the US point of view.
Most of the countries, if
not all of them, feel threatened by the radical Islamist groups and support
the US policy on Islamic terrorism. Most of the countries, including China,
are wary of Pakistan’s use of jihad as an instrument of its defence policy.
Like the United States, China also says the Chinese Muslim terrorists have
sanctuaries in the Pakistani tribal areas. The United States may be the only
country carrying out drone strikes inside Pakistani territory, but it enjoys
support from the rest of the world. The bad news for Pakistan is that there
are voices even in China in support of pressing Pakistan harder to do more to
eliminate terrorist sanctuaries. Some of them even support bombing Pakistan.
Pakistanis and Pakistani
leaders have an over-blown image of their geographical location which is far
from reality. Pakistan stopped the Nato supply routes through Pakistan under
the media and military pressure in the wake of the US attack on Pakistan’s
Salala post in November 2011. Most analysts and commentators, many of them
former military officers, in the Pakistani media predicted that the American
and ISAF soldiers would now have to leave Afghanistan or face death.
Former ISI chief General (retd)
Hameed Gul predicted the US soldiers would be dying of starvation in six
months. Many of these so-called experts told us the US soldiers would not be
able to fight without the nappies they were importing in the Nato trucks.
Some of them even recommended, sarcastically though, that the US should be
allowed to import nappies through Pakistan on humanitarian grounds. When even
after the passage of six months, the American soldiers not only survived but
also kept fighting, Pakistan blinked and decided to work on the same
This was not new. In 2006,
General Musharraf warned the West, “You will be brought down to your knees
if Pakistan does not cooperate with you… Pakistan is the main ally. If we
were not with you, you would not manage anything. Let that be clear. Remember
my words, if ISI is not with you and Pakistan is not with you, you will lose
However, the truth is that
the ISI was never with them. The bitter truth is the Americans have not lost
the war even if they have not won it in Afghanistan. But, the bitterest truth
is that Pakistan is facing an existential challenge. Pakistan’s policy of
using jihad as an instrument of defence policy, first in Kashmir and then in
Afghanistan, started hurting in the 1980s when deadly sectarian groups
started rising. The jihadis spun out of the state control as a result of
Pakistan’s decision to join the US-led coalition against terrorism.
Consequently, more than 40,000 Pakistanis and more than 3,000 Pakistani
soldiers have died in terrorist violence since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Pakistan still refuses to own a war which is its own.
Drones are definitely not
the best weapons against terrorism. However, if Pakistan army’s figures are
to be believed, it is the best weapon used so far. The Pakistan army’s
research shows that the drones have been effective in eliminating hardcore
terrorists. In December 2011, Major General Ghayur Mehmood revealed that a
sizeable number of those killed in the drone attacks were foreigners. He
said, “Yes there are a few civilian casualties in such precision strikes,
but a majority of those eliminated are terrorists, including foreign
According to the Pakistan
army’s research paper, in about 164 drone strikes between 2007 and 2011,
more than 964 terrorists had been killed. 793 of them were Pakistanis and 171
foreigners, including Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens, Filipinos and
Moroccans. In 2010, the attacks killed more than 423 terrorists. In 2007, the
drone strikes killed only one terrorist, in 2008, 23 drone strikes killed 152
militants, 12 of them were foreigners. In 2009, 20 drone strikes killed 179
militants, including 20 foreigners, and in 2010, 423 militants, including 133
foreigners, died in 103 drone strikes. 39 militants, including five
foreigners, were killed in drone attacks till March 7, 2011.
Hence the question is not
whether President Obama would continue his policy of using drones as a major
weapon, but whether Pakistan is ready to end the use of jihad as an
instrument of its defence policy. Pakistan is becoming more and more isolated
in the world. If it still refuses to change its policy, it will become even
more isolated in the world which is running out of patience.
The writer is a US-based
journalist and author of ‘Shadow War — The Untold Story of Jihad in
As the general
elections 2013 approach, both the government and the opposition have started
playing their cards smartly to get a person of their choice as the interim
prime minister. Both the government and the opposition have equally important
role in appointing an interim setup under the 20th Amendment.
About two weeks back, the
Federal Information Minister and PPP Information Secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira
had said the caretaker setup would assume charge on March 18, 2013. As if not
heeding him, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif a few days back asked the government to
announce a date for fresh elections which means he is looking at the setting
up of an interim government sooner than expected.
Leader of the opposition in
the National Assembly, Ch Nisar Ali Khan, told media earlier this week that
his party, after consultation with all the opposition parties, has finalised
two names for the slot of interim prime minister. Earlier, the PML-N floated
seven names — Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Attaullah Khan Mengal, Justice (retd)
Nasir Aslam Zahid, Rasool Bukhsh Palejo, Asma Jahangir, Justice (retd)
Shakirullah Jan and Qazi Hussain Ahmad — for the slot.
The PML-N sources say that
names of Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid and Justice (retd) Shakirullah Jan
have been short-listed by the party. “The names are finalised in
consultation with all the opposition parties and our party will insist only
on these names. We will not even entertain the names floated by the
government,” says a central leader of the PML-N who does not want to be
named. “Opposition leader Ch Nisar will not enter into consultation with
leader of the house on the process to find a consensus candidate for the
slot. The PML-N instead will let the issue go to the eight-member
parliamentary committee to pick the name from the list of four candidates —
two nominated by the leader of the opposition and two by the prime
The framework laid out by
the 20th Amendment for the appointment of a caretaker prime minister and
chief ministers requires consultation with the opposition leader in the
assembly. If this consultation process fails to bring a consensus name for
the slot, the matter is referred to a parliamentary committee comprising four
members from the treasury and four from the opposition benches. If this
committee also fails to reach an agreement, the matter will be decided by the
Election Commission of Pakistan.
It seems that the PML-N is
once again trying to push the government in a situation like it did in the
selection of the Chief Election Commissioner where it rejected all the names
floated by then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and the government had no
choice but to pick one of the names proposed by the PML-N.
But, there are some issues
this time. If the matter is referred to the parliamentary committee which
will be formed by the National Assembly Speaker, other stakeholders in the
assembly — MQM, ANP and JUI-F (which is part of opposition in NA) — would
also be included in the committee. So, they will be in a position to
influence the formation of an interim setup which would hurt both the PPP and
Both the parties are
well-aware of the situation and that is why the backdoor talks are already
underway. Khursheed Shah of the PPP and Ishaq Dar of the PML-N have been
conducting these backdoor talks for months. The PPP leaders say they have
already reached a consensus on the caretaker prime minister.
“It is true that an
interim prime minister has been agreed upon, but the name would be revealed
at the time of formation of an interim government by January next year,”
says Ch. Fawad Hussain, Special Assistant to the PM on Political Affairs,
adding the consensus name is not from the two names being floated by the PML-N.
“They were also among the names proposed by the PML-N for the slot of Chief
Election Commissioner but the government rejected them. Everybody knows their
political inclinations. The PPP has already rejected the names of some
politicians from Balochistan because of their political affiliations and
“A hawkish group of the
PML-N is trying to sabotage the efforts made by Ishaq Dar and Khursheed Shah
to bring consensus on the issue,” says Hussain.
Though the PML-N claims it
has consulted all the political parties to finalise the two names, the PTI
Information Secretary Shafqat Mehmood denies his party was ever consulted
regarding an interim setup: “We have not been contacted by the PML-N. We
are closely watching both the parties and if they are not able to install a
just interim setup we would go to the court.”
“It is very important to
have free and fair elections in the country. Both the parties are trying to
bargain on the issue of the interim setup to get maximum benefits, but we
would not let this happen,” he says.
“I think they will soon
reach a consensus on the issue of interim government. If you look back, you
would find both the parties having differences over the 18th, 19th and 20th
Amendments and selection of the Chief Election Commissioner. But at the end
of the day, both the parties came to a consensus,” says political analyst
He thinks both the parties
now realise that lack of consensus would benefit the third force. “If the
matter is left for the Election Commission to decide, both the parties will
lose their moral authority. They will have to find a common ground like they
did in the case of selection of Chief Election Commissioner to avoid
political bickering,” he concludes.
Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam
Justice (retd) Shakirullah
Although a rose may
be called by any other name, the same cannot be said of a public square —
chowk. The relevant authorities for the city of Lahore have reportedly
decided to rename Shadman Chowk as Bhagat Singh Chowk — sparking a
fascinating debate as well as strongly worded posters.
Indigenising the names of
public monuments and public squares in post-colonial states has its
attractions as well as perils. In India, we have even seen indigenisation of
the way they spell the names of their cities. Calcutta became Kolkata. There
is no doubt that it is attractive, in populist terms, to do away old —
often farangi — names and come up with names that have greater resonance in
the local polity. However, if a consensus on essential features of identity
does not exist, things can get problematic and possibly violent.
Some organisations from the
far Right of the political spectrum have asserted that naming a public square
after Bhagat Singh amounts to a subversion of the constitution — in fact an
assault on it. Now there is nothing in the constitution that prohibits naming
a square after Bhagat Singh, but that is not how constitutions are
interpreted. It is often the interpreter who matters more. If she, while
reading the constitution, thinks that it mandates an Islamic state and in her
conception of an Islamic state there is no place for the likes of Bhagat
Singh then that interpretation will define her stance. This is not to suggest
that her stance is either right or wrong — merely to analyse why she argues
a particular viewpoint. Now you could make a strong argument that her reading
of the constitution is flawed — in multiple ways — but emotions have
their place when interpreting documents defining national aspirations.
The reason I think this
Bhagat Singh chowk controversy merits engaged debate is because there is the
danger that the far Right will rob us of the opportunity to celebrate the
diversity of heritage of this great city of Lahore. Now I am not a particular
fan of the late Mr. Singh. I think people who argue he was a terrorist as
well as those who see him as a hero have strong arguments to back their
claims. What does disturb me is that the far Right is suggesting that places
of public ownership should reflect the aspirations of those with a religious
centric viewpoint. Pakistan can and will remain an Islamic State without
having to discard everything that can’t be traced back to Islam.
History of Lahore’s
heritage is one of fascinating diversity. It is “Data ki nagri” for many
and even Data would be proud of a “nagri” where believers in different
gods built beautiful structures and left their imprints. People may have
believed in different faiths but they believed in Lahore and fought for its
greatness — albeit often on opposing sides. Places of public ownership in
Lahore should celebrate this great compliment to this city and the diversity
that results from it. This is our city and its places of public ownership
should be sensitive to the importance of instilling the city’s ownership in
all its denizens.
Being a realist, I do not
expect any government in Pakistan to completely separate itself from Islam.
The political costs would be too high and to even imagine that anyone can do
is in the near future is hopelessly naïve. However, the government needs to
engage with those with an Islam-centric viewpoint to convince them that a
city that celebrates heroes of different faiths represents nothing un-Islamic
but many Islamic values.
And while the far Right’s
position on this issue disturbs me I respect their right to put up posters
making their point. Free speech is their fundamental right and we must all
respect it — regardless of how much we disagree with it. There will be
people who will see the inflammatory language on some of these posters and be
shocked. Well, let them be shocked because that is the beauty of free speech.
What is also troubling, and
I accept this, is that the Far Right, quick to jump on the free speech
bandwagon, is extremely reluctant to condone let alone accept the free speech
rights of those who disagree with them. This is a contradiction that it must
resolve before it expects to be taken seriously by those who would defend
their right to free speech. The government and authorities also need to
emphasise this point that a belief in free speech essentially means
“freedom for the thought that we hate” to use Anthony Gideon’s phrase.
Lahore is beautiful at this
time of the year. The promise of the coming winter’s fog even in late
afternoon adds a dreamy hue to many of its localities. This is a city built
on dreams and it is a city that many still dream of. It is at the centre of
my dreams too. Some of its neighbourhoods have already seen an Islamisation
of their names — representing selective history. If Lahore doesn’t lie to
us about all that it holds, we shouldn’t lie about Lahore to the rest of
the world or to ourselves.
The writer is a practicing
lawyer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org