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The dangerous drift

Afrasiab Khan Khattak

Afrasiab Khan Khattak

A virulent debate has been going on in Pakistan about the implementation of the 20 points National Action Plan (NAP)  against religious extremism and terrorism since its inception on December 24, 2014.
The opposition political parties have been blaming the government of lacking the required political will and commitment for taking the short term and long term measures for eradicating the menace.
Civil and military institutions of the state have been accusing one another of not doing enough for full implementation of NAP.
Pakistanis who believe in democracy and peaceful socio-economic development were hoping against hope that somehow the mentors of extremism and militancy will realise the gravity of the situation and mend their ways.
But all these hopes were dashed to dust by what appears to be the reverse implementation of NAP over the last few weeks.
It is pertinent to note that progressive political parties (in comparative terms) had to face coercion of the state on one pretext or the other during the last few years apart from bearing the brunt of terrorist attacks.
The latest blatant onslaught against the critics of misguided state policies represents a new fascist drift that creates serious questions about the peaceful future of Pakistan and the region.
Social media has been the particular target of the most recent fascist attacks.

Five social media activists Salman Haidar of Islamabad, Ahmad Raza Naseer of Nankana, Ahmad Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed of Lahore and Samar Abbas of Karachi have been released after their abduction three weeks back.
They were kidnapped between January 4 and 7 from different cities.
Apparently they were neither formally charged of any offense nor produced in any court of law.
No government department or institution accepted responsibility for their abduction, although from circumstantial evidence it is pretty obvious that some state security institution might have been involved.
Their release came as mysteriously as their kidnapping, but during their absence a vicious campaign was launched against them on social media and on some TV channels accusing them of having committed blasphemy.
A similarly vicious campaign targeted even those journalists, civil society activists and political cadres who raised their voices against kidnapping of the bloggers.
Most of the protesters explained that their protest was against abductions and if the government proceeds against any one charged under law of the land they would have no problem with that.
But such explanations fell on deaf ears as the fascist mindset behind the campaign was least interested in equity, fairness and rule of law.
Their purpose is to bulldoze and bury the dissent at every cost and that includes taking of human lives.
This is too serious a situation to be ignored.
Therefore the kidnapping saga cannot be left to get lost into oblivion as it can make the fascist onslaught on dissent a new normal.

What is extremely disturbing is the abject failure of the state to provide protection to its citizens.
During the three weeks all the three main organs of state, legislature, executive and judiciary remained clueless about the abductions of citizens in plain sight.
They either remained passive or were confined to making appeals to the abductors on compassionate grounds.
So where is the social contract that provides legitimacy to state authority on the ground that it will fulfill its basic duty by providing security to the citizens? Again one must accept the fact that enforced disappearances is a wide spread phenomena in Pakistan for quite some time and these were definitely not the first cases.
Baloch nationalists have been facing large scale enforced disappearances and unfortunately the courts, mainstream media and most of the political parties have been ignoring the issue.
The so called war on terror has also been used to justify abductions by state security agencies in almost every part of the country with total impunity.
But the only difference in the previous cases of enforced disappearances and the latest one is the large scale hue and cry that was raised against the kidnapping of social media activists in the capital and urban centers.
This protest was again met by typical fascist tactics of intimidation and terror.
Accusations of blasphemy were recklessly hurled against all and sundry with the full knowledge that it can be a death warrant for the persons being targeted by the vicious campaign.
But that exactly seems to be the violence inciting hate campaign.
Most diabolical was the brazen nexus between the abductors of the bloggers and the extremist/terrorist circles in building the aforementioned campaign.
They weren’t shy at all to publicly support and reinforce each other in suffocating citizen’s voices that were criticising the state policy for appeasement of the extremist militants.
Hate speech was full supposed to be curbed by the state under NAP but it was used with impunity against all those who dared to raise voice against it.
PEMRA had  totally lost control.
Even the Supreme Court of Pakistan found it difficult to implement its restraining orders against hate speech by a TV channel that became a mouthpiece of bloodshed seeking fanaticism.
Question, is are these “rogue elements” more powerful than the state institutions including the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, and can they keep the state and society hostage? Unfortunately based on ground realities the answer is in the affirmative, even if we decide to live in denial.
Making a mockery of the NAP, banned extremist/militant organisations are thriving.
No shift in the policy of mentoring “good Taliban” is in sight.
In fact this project enjoys as strong a support as the CPEC if not more.

But if historical experience is anything to go by, the aforementioned dangerous drift can be ultimately suicidal.
Those who are gloating at the latest Russian interest in Afghan Taliban should not forget that US had also once supported Saddam Hussain’s adventure against Kuwait and Iran.
But that adventurism only brought Iraq on the wrong side of international norms and led to its ultimate undoing.
It won’t be different for Pakistan.

Writer: Afrasiab Khan Khattak

 The writer is a regular contributor to THE PASHTUN TIMES. He is a retired senator and a leader of Awami National Party (ANP). He tweets    @a_siab 


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