Bidding adieu to the dark shadows of 2011

2011 was a year that would be remembered as one of the darkest in Pakistan’s history. The year started on a gloomy note when a fanatic in the country’s capital city, Islamabad, assassinated Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer. On that day, January 4, 2011, Pakistan lost one of its finest. The right-wing forces were hounding Mr Taseer since the day he met a Christian woman charged with alleged blasphemy, Aasia Bibi, in jail. Mumtaz Qadri, who was supposed to guard the governor’s life as part of his security detail, shot the governor dead in cowardly fashion because he dared to raise his voice against the flawed blasphemy laws. Qadri, a self-confessed murderer, was given the death sentence several months later. What was shocking, though, was the support given to Qadri by right-wingers and the lawyers’ community. Federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated on March 2 in Islamabad. That Mr Bhatti’s murder took place less than two months after Mr Taseer’s assassination was a shocking reminder that intolerance and bigotry ruled the roost. Mr Taseer’s son, Shahbaz Taseer, was kidnapped in August. Apart from speculative reports, so far there is no news of his whereabouts.

US-Pak relations took a turn for the worst in 2011. It began with the Raymond Davis episode when a CIA operative shot dead two men in Lahore. Diplomatic immunity was denied and Davis was charged with murder. He was finally released in March when the families of the two victims pardoned him by accepting blood money. Then on May 2, all hell broke loose. A team of US Navy SEALs, in the dead of night, violated Pakistani airspace and took out Osama bin Laden (OBL). The world’s most wanted terrorist was living in a compound in Abbottabad, close to the Pakistan Military Academy. Questions were raised about the Pakistani military’s complicity, which they denied. The only other answer could be ‘incompetence’, which the military accepted reluctantly and indirectly as the lesser of the two charges and which could preserve what was left of their tarnished image of being Pakistan’s ‘protectors’. The world at large celebrated OBL’s death but the ghairat (honour) brigade was up in arms in Pakistan about the violation of our sovereignty. The army’s morale was its lowest post-Abbottabad raid but the government bailed them out by standing by the military top brass. As a consequence of this event, military aid to Pakistan has been cut besides other, perhaps more threatening postures to come. Due to our double game in Afghanistan, the frustration in the Obama administration and the western forces is quite evident. In November, 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in a NATO air strike. The US refused to offer an apology, instead attempting to hide behind a NATO investigation report into the unfortunate incident, which tried to cover up the mistakes committed by their military by alleging there were lapses on both sides.

A terrorist attack on the Pakistan Naval Station (PNS) Mehran in Karachi in May shocked the entire nation. At least 10 soldiers lost their lives during the 15-hour siege of this heavily guarded base. When a journalist, Saleem Shahzad, investigated the affair, he found that the PNS Mehran attack was linked to failed talks “between the Navy and al Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of al Qaeda links”. Mr Shahzad’s explosive revelations resulted in his abduction on May 29. His body was found two days later. A commission is now probing his death. Pakistan’s premier spy agency, the ISI, is accused of being linked to his murder since he had been receiving threats. Pakistani journalists are under threat from all quarters, be they state or non-state actors, religious fanatics, militants, jihadis, etc. It is not surprising therefore that Pakistan has been termed as the deadliest country for journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, seven journalists lost their lives in Pakistan while the International Federation of Journalists puts the death toll of Pakistani journalists during 2011 at 11.

Apart from terrorist attacks, sectarian violence reared its ugly head again. The Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and its offshoot Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) are on a killing spree in Balochistan and FATA. The two banned militant outfits are systematically killing Hazara Shias and Shias in Parachinar while the law enforcement agencies have turned a blind eye to their massacre. The same law enforcement agencies, i.e. the military and its affiliates, are pursing a ‘kill and dump’ policy in Balochistan and shielding the Afghan Taliban in FATA. As a result of the former phenomenon, separatist sentiment in Balochistan is increasing by the day.

The political situation is as charged as ever. The ethnic violence in Karachi was one of the worst this metropolitan city has seen in decades. Former Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza took it upon himself to expose the MQM. His revelations were startling but it marginalised his political career in the PPP, at least for the time being. The MQM tried to exert pressure on the PPP and the latter did its best to appease it. We saw Imran Khan’s rise this year owing to the disillusionment and disappointment of the masses, especially the youth, with the current political setup. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is now being considered a ‘third force’ in political circles. This rise is largely in reaction to what others have failed to deliver rather than an objective understanding of what Mr Khan stands for.

The year ended on another troubling note with the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Memogate issue. Leading lawyer and human rights activist, Asma Jahangir, dubbed it as the darkest day in the judiciary’s history when ‘national security’ was put before civilian authority and fundamental rights. Let’s hope that the year 2012 turns out to be a better one for Pakistan and its suffering people.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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