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Pakistani Liberals and Progressives Wake up, Before the Fundamentalists Run Riot

by Zulfiqar Ali Khalid, 18 February 2009

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Business Recorder Weekend Magazine (February 14 2009)

A terrorised society

Although our sixty years history is full of various types of crises yet the latest one, ie religious terrorism, is quite weird. The menace of terrorism, in the shape of suicide bombings, has engulfed the entire country right from cities like Karachi and Quetta to far flung tribal areas in NWFP. Almost all types of public places are within the reach of terrorists.

Due to this culture of terror, Pakistan has become the nether world for international travellers as various countries keep warning their citizens, through travel advisories issued from time to time, not to visit this country.

All these scary conditions and sense of insecurity have engendered psychopathic anxiety at individual as well as national level. This national anxiety is very much evident in our social and political affairs. What to talk of the ordinary citizens even the public figures and vocal media institutions like TV channels and newspapers are very careful and reserve to openly discuss and analyse issues related to religious terrorism in the country.

Notwithstanding some sane pieces of advice for adopting pragmatic and realistic approach in resolving this crucial issue, majority of news, views and statements are so ambiguous that they create much more confusion among the minds of general public. Actually, all these statements, comments, views and discussions are reflections of our national trauma of terror.

To some people, the callous and indifferent attitude of our religious lot, on the issue of terrorism in the name of Islam, may sound surprising but those having historical background knowledge of these elements describe it in consonance with their past traditions. A rationale or positive attitude on this issue cannot be expected from these religious leaders, including religious political leadership, as from the day one their declared sympathies have remained with the fundamentalist elements.

Some of them openly support religious terrorism under one plea or another whereas others indirectly encourage such activities by floating various conspiracy theories. Actually, religious elements in Pakistan are still living in the utopia of the rule of General Zia when, in the name of Islam, Mullahs, hand in hand with the establishment, were de facto rulers of this country.

Our politicians, particularly those who always boast of being pragmatic, moderate, and progressive, have also failed to face the challenge of terrorism courageously. Their timid and wavering approach to terrorism is reflected in their dubious statements after each suicide bombing or act of terror. In these statements they criticise every one, the federal and provincial governments, Pervez Musharraf, America, Israel, India, but the known terrorist organisations, like al Qaida, Taliban, and others, who take pride in claiming the responsibility of such acts.

Despite their inherent dislike of the fundamentalist ideology, the conduct of genuine liberal leaders and old left wing intellectuals is very disappointing too. They have also proved themselves to be a misfit lot to lead the nation at this critical moment of our history.

They perhaps had a wishful feeling that General Pervez Musharraf, with his slogans of liberalism and enlightened moderation, would play the role of a benefactor of liberal elements just like dictator Zia’s shameful role as godfather of Islamic fundamentalists. But, General Musharraf disappointed these liberals as every dictator has his own personal agenda and he uses religion or liberalism for perpetuation of his personal dictatorship.

Another big mistake committed by the Pakistani liberals, including the present ruling party, is that they failed to perceive today’s religious terrorism from the perspective of incessant gulf between the mindsets of moderate and fundamentalist Muslims.

Due to this blunder on part of the progressive or liberal elements, of not conceiving the religious terrorism in its historical perspective, the fundamentalists succeeded in portraying the international War on Terror as an American war against Muslims or Islam.

As a matter of fact, this perception is totally wrong and the targets of terrorists, particularly in Islamic countries, themselves indicate that all those Muslims who do not fit in the religious criteria of these fundamentalists, whether they are CD shop owners, teachers of modern education, worshipers in imambargahs, or employees of security forces, are considered as kafirs or enemies against whom their so-called Jihad is permissible.

Nevertheless, despite their edge in propaganda campaign and terrorisation of entire society, the fundamentalists are still a minority in this country. The results of February elections indicate that the moderate and liberal forces enjoy popular support in the country.

There is need to utilise this popular mandate for the good of general public. This is what these leaders owe Pakistani nation in return for their overwhelming support during elections. The liberal political parties should utilise their party platforms to boost the low morale of ordinary people who are confused with the divergent interpretation of simple issues of terrorism in the country.

It is surprising that while the media is tough in criticising government corruption, scandals in judiciary and establishment and other juicy issues, it suddenly becomes impartial and objective vis-a-vis religious terrorism. Rather, according to some analysts, under the excuse of projecting "the other view point" it is tilted in favour of religious elements. Here let’s acknowledge the fact that this is not something new as on Karachi unrest our media has been following almost the same policy, due to some obvious reasons.

A race is going on among the private TV channels to break the news of bomb blasts, live telecasting from the venues or crime scenes, showing the mutilated bodies, without advising viewers’ discretion. Then this exercise is followed by holding discussion with important personalities or experts.

All these discussions normally end up with criticism against the government policies. No in-depth analysis of the trend of the suicide bombings, no naming of groups or terrorist leaders behind such incidents, and no investigative journalism as is seen in reports against ministers and senior judges. If participants express some critical views against the terrorists and their organisations, the administration of TV channels telecast it with the disclaimer that "the views expressed in this programme are those of the participants and not of the TV channel."

No doubt self-protection is very important, but should it be done at the cost of national interests. If not too much, our media can at least provide basic information to the general public on matters like: shape and design of jackets used for suicide bombing, precautionary measures to go in public places, emergency contact numbers of bomb disposal squad, crisis management departments, police etc, and crisis management issues to counter any tragic situation.

Finally, the entire nation, including political parties and their leaders, the government, oppositions and media, need to take the issue of terrorism seriously. The general perception that the War on Terror is a Western War against Muslims is totally wrong and facts and figures negate it.

It is quite deplorable that whereas the fundamentalists are taking this war very seriously, the Pakistani liberal or progressive elements have not realised the gravity of the situation. They should keep one thing in mind that if the international War on Terror is stopped the liberal majority of this country is the next in line to face the terrorists.

Not only because they are some easy targets but also for the reasons that they have been labelled as American agents and above all they do not fit in the definition of true Muslims of fundamentalist elements. It has happened with Attaturk, Soekarno, ZAB and Benazir and now it is happening with the innocent tribal Muslims of FATA. Blood hounds are always thirsty and keep looking for fresh prays.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2009

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