Run if you can, and fast

We have reached a point where those who can, flee, those who can’t, pray, plead and then pray a bit more, hoping for the best. The flight started at inception, with Hindus and Sikhs running for their lives, having been declared “minorities” who would at best be second class citizens of a state that was carved out as a homeland for Muslims.

(Daily Times, 6 June 2014

If the protection of the life, liberty and property of its citizens is the primary duty of any state, then the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has totally failed to discharge its duties, its more than a million-strong armed forces (army, para-military and police), hundreds of tanks, squadrons of F-16s, many  “sensitive” and not-so-sensitive agencies notwithstanding.

As a consequence, citizens are speaking with their feet. They are fleeing in droves. No, it’s not the result of war, pestilence or famine. For some, it is the very high probability of deliberate murder, loss of limb or property. For most, it is the pervasive fear of violence. Life in Pakistan today is teetering on the brink. The country is fast becoming unfit for human habitation!

Muhammad Iqbal is distraught over the stoning death of his pregnant wife by her own father, brothers and other relatives in front of a high court in broad daylight, in full view of the public and police. And just when Iqbal was beginning to gather sympathy, we learn that his own two hands had snuffed the life out of his first wife, whom he had strangulated to death.

But Iqbal had walked free from her murder, pardoned by their son in exchange for money. More than likely, the killers of his second wife will also walk free.  Not by running away from the law but “bribing” their way out, under the law, if law it may be called. 

What law? The Sharia law under which the victim’s closest kin may pardon the killer in exchange for blood-money. What’s wrong with the law? Nothing, except that it was good at a time and a place where there were no courts, no police and no jails, where murders led to incessant blood-letting and interminable clan and tribal warfare.

Then, the option of compensation for blood ended revenge killings and allowed normal lives to be resumed. Now, a complete mockery of justice is made in the name of a perverted application of religious tenets or archaic traditions.

Laws have become meaningless anyway in a country where the writ of the state does not extend far and where hatred is preached from the pulpit. It is fast becoming a war of all against all. And we have nowhere to run for safety except foreign countries.

It has just been reported that, among the thousands of potential migrants waiting in the Libyan coastal city of Misrata to catch a boat to Europe, there are many Pakistanis. Many more of them are waiting in Indonesia to catch a boat to Australia. And having missed the boat to Australia, some have instead ended up in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.  Anywhere but home, please!

They are fleeing the motherland to escape persecution of various kinds and from a variety of sources, including some discriminatory and oppressive provisions of the constitution. Where the constitution fails them, the self-proclaimed agents of God take the law into their own hands, defying the state with guns and bombs.

So, we have reached a point where those who can, flee, those who can’t, pray, plead and then pray a bit more, hoping for the best. The flight started at inception, with Hindus and Sikhs running for their lives, having been declared “minorities” who would at best be second class citizens of a state that was carved out as a homeland for Muslims.

Lest they failed to read the fine print of the law, or did not read between the lines, mobs were let loose to drive home the point, killing, looting and raping Hindus and Sikhs who had lived on this land as long as anyone else, perhaps longer.

As the numbers of citizens belonging to these “minorities” dwindled, new ones were added to the list. Ahmadis were the first, unofficially in the beginning (1953), but codified later (1974 onwards). The anti-Ahmadi laws remind one of the darkest days of medieval European history. There is now an open season on Ahmadis.

In a remarkable arithmetical twist, the country’s ethno-linguistic majority, namely, East Bengalis who constituted 56% of the total population, was effectively treated as a minority from the very start.

General Ayub Khan, power broker from 1954 in his capacity as army commander-in-chief and defence minister, and head of state and government from 1958 to 1969, wrote thus about the people of East Bengal: they “have all the inhibitions of downtrodden races and have not yet found it possible to adjust psychologically to the requirement of the new-born freedom”.

So, when the “downtrodden” East Bengalis behaved differently, demanding the fruits of the “new-born freedom” and dropping hints of possible secession if denied their rights, it was the “superior races” of West Pakistan who found it impossible to “adjust psychologically”. Unlike the non-Muslim minorities, however, the Muslim majority of East Bengal could not be easily coerced into submission. A brutal war was unleashed against them to put them in their place.

Attention has since turned to Christians and Shi’as, who now live in Pakistan at their own peril. As for the treatment of women, statistics speak louder than words. There are nearly a thousand reported cases of “honour killing” of women in Pakistan every year. And about that number are rotting in jails, men, women and children, accused of blasphemy. Nearly half belong to the majority, dominant Sunni sect. 

Fear grips everyone; no one feels safe. If it is not one’s religion or sect, it could be just a slip of the tongue or the trashing of a few printed pages with Arabic words on them, which could provoke a mob into a murderous frenzy. And not even that. A mere accusation of blasphemy, even a patently false one, would have the same consequence.        

What better than to borrow the words of Thomas Hobbes (1651) to describe this madness: Pakistanis now live “in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man. … continual fear, and danger of violent death.”

by Razi Azmi

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8 Responses to Run if you can, and fast

  1. Javed Agha says:

    The picture you have depicted about Pakistan is true. Minorities are suffering in the name of religion. I do not know where it will all end. What do you predict? Perhaps next article of yours should shed some light on it.

  2. M. Anwar Hossain says:

    What better description of present-day Pakistan than a quotation from Thomas Hobbes! Many thanks for such a timely and thought-provoking article.

  3. Jacob Kipp says:

    Razi Azmi has written powerfully about the situation in Pakistan and invoked Hobbes’ Leviathan. His picture is disturbing to anyone who has a sense of compassion. And it say much about the failure of institutions and values. Our author uses words like lightning bolts. They touch our heart with the pain they invoke for those who suffer without redress or hope.

  4. Khalid Pathan says:

    Razi Azmi at his best. This article beautifully captures all the drama and tragedy in Pakistan in the name of religion. It is very sad that there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel which leads nowhere but to the BLACK HOLE this religiosity has created.

  5. Muhammad Noorul says:

    I had always thought Pakistan was “Paak Sthaan” until later when I realised it was Napaak Sthaan and now my good Pakistani friends tell me it is fast becoming Palidisthaan. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah must be rolling in his grave.

  6. PK says:

    It is so depressing , nowadays, to read news-any news, coming out of Pakistan. I wonder how an ordinary citizen feels when he/she opens the door in the morning and looks at the wide world and sees only danger lurking in every corner.

    Will there be any one in sight- short of divine intervention- to save the country from eventual disaster at this rate? Only the time will tell.

  7. dada says:

    It is probably similar feeling, natives of Afghanistan and present day Pakistan ie northwest area of India, had once Islamic marauders attacked and planted their barbaric seeds. Al Kida, Talibaan or Uzbek are same as Ghazanis, Babars, Nadir Shah and Abdali. Hope you start understanding how natives of Indian subcontinent view alien Bedouin and Vatican religions.

    • Razi Azmi says:

      Dada, I have read the article linked to your comment. I am amazed that someone who studies journalism at Columbia University should come up with such a silly piece, and even more surprised that the Tribune chose to publish it. I like this comment on the article: “I remember my parents recalling that they couldn’t afford to buy diapers for me. Just thinking you need it now as well.”
      As to your comment above, it would make more sense to call those marauders “Central Asian marauders” rather than “Islamic marauders”. If you read world history (including Indian history) you would see that, at the time, marauding was the norm rather than the exception. Besides, Muslims (for that matter Arabs or Central Asians) were not the only marauders. What do you think of the Hindu caste system, by the way?

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