TO say that the entire nation hangs its head in shame over the flogging of young Chand Bibi in Swat would not only be a cliché. It would be a lie. There have been voices of denial. There have been voices of accusation. There have been voices of justification.
Whenever this barbaric episode happened, pre or post the peace deal with the Taliban, is irrelevant. If this occurred before the signing of the so-called peace treaty (as the ANP leadership claimed in an effort to defend the deal), the question arises: how could the government even contemplate negotiating with those who flout the law in the most contemptible way possible? If the incident of flogging took place after the peace pact, then it is a clear signal (apart from other disturbing signs) that the deal was dead even as it was being inked.
No, the Pakistani nation and the government that represents it are not innocent. The list of the guilty is fairly representative of today’s power-brokers. They include religious parties and sectarian groups, the army that has been propping the jihadi groups for its own vested interests, those that stubbornly stick to irrational anti-West positions and, consequently, tend to favour the extremists, and the media (the Urdu-language section) that glorify those fighting in the name of religion.
The military-mullah nexus has long been acknowledged and is the subject of many studies by various think tanks. Its historic context is also well established. Whether it was directed at putting down the freedom movement in Bangladesh or propping up the one in Kashmir, this has been a dangerous liaison for the people of Pakistan. As keepers of the ‘ideology’ of Pakistan, the military has for long displayed the fervour that comes with that ideology.Today, the Taliban’s creed is perhaps closer to the hearts and mind of a soldier than that of an average citizen’s. How else does one explain the failure of 20,000 professional security personnel ranged against approximately 5,000 Taliban fighters in Swat? Or the six years of uninterrupted FM broadcasts of Mullah Fazlullah when cable channels are blocked for far less serious offences?
It must be noted that condemnation of the flogging by religious leaders has been rare and muted. Most JUI-F (a coalition partner of the present government) members have, as expected, termed the incident a conspiracy of western NGOs.The JUI-F federal minister, Maulana Swati, has gone a step further in describing it as a ‘Jewish conspiracy’, questioning the authenticity of the video clip. Munawar Hasan, the newly elected amir of the Jamaat-i-Islami, wondered why the US drone attacks were not being condemned instead of the flogging of the young woman which to him appeared to be a non-issue. Religious groups have also had the gall to demonstrate in favour of the Swati Taliban to counter the protests voiced by members of civil society.
The tendency to go into denial in the face of culpability is now fairly widespread in Pakistan. The ANP information minister, Iftikhar Hussain, accused filmmaker Samar Minallah of trying to sabotage the Swat deal by bringing public attention to this barbaric act. The state of denial, however, was also exhibited by the interior adviser, Rehman Malik, who added to the chorus of voices claiming that the video was faked.
The inability to face reality is so deeply ingrained in the Pakistani psyche that the interior adviser, who was expected to make a statement only after examining evidence, chose to echo popular perceptions.Today, the average citizen is equally struck by this denial disease. The Daily Times (5 April) quoted a student of Shifa College of Medicine as opining “This (public lashing) is a US conspiracy to sabotage law and order in the country”, going on to describe it as “media bias” and suggesting that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry “first try former president Pervez Musharraf before taking action against those who lashed the girl in public”.
This kind of effort to deflect an argument, which has no basis in rationality, is increasingly becoming the norm in Pakistan. With ideology rammed down their throats both through the curriculum and the media, today’s youth has lost the power — and indeed the will — to reason. It’s easier to explain away the ills of the country by resorting to conspiracy theories, rather than through serious and objective analyses. The villains are the usual suspects: the US, India and the Jews. The young in Pakistan are growing up with hardened ideological values, rather than humanitarian ones.The media is responsible, to a considerable degree, for vast sections of the population clinging to this state of denial. For years the Urdu language press — and now the Urdu language channels which far outnumber the English language ones — has fed audiences on a steady diet of intolerance, misplaced chauvinism and conspiracy theories.
Conspiracy theories are peddled as verified truth and enemies are seen everywhere across our frontiers, as well as among the small liberal section of Pakistanis. Islam is glorified to the exclusion of other religions.
Today, many Pakistanis are not only intolerant of other cultures and religions but also increasingly xenophobic. To such minds, the condemnation of anything done in the name of Islam is reprehensible. Space is thus being created for the Taliban in the national psyche. The ANP’s transformation from an avowedly secular party to one defending deals with Islamic militants is an ominous sign of the times.
The only challenge to Talibanisation has come from civil society groups and from the MQM in Karachi. Though civil society has demonstrated tremendous anger and resolve, it is no match for well-armed militants, while the MQM’s influence is restricted to urban Sindh. It is only the army that can confront and overpower the Taliban. The question is: does it have the will to do so?It’s said that those who ride the tiger sometimes end up inside. The army must ensure that this does not become its fate.
Meanwhile, the prime minister has been quoted as claiming that Pakistan is “capable of defeating terrorism”. How many Pakistanis will be reassured by this statement?
Daily Dawn — 13th April, 09