For quite some time now, Pakistan has been a victim of attacks on its soil carried out by local and foreign-funded terrorist outfits. Some thought we hit a new low as a society when Mumtaz Qadri, previously security guard to the former Governor of Punjab, was garlanded and celebrated for committing murder. We’ve since seen attacks on journalists and media personalities increase. Whether it was Raza Rumi or Hamid Mir, it is now crystal clear that no one is safe in Pakistan.
What’s even more worrying is that it has become acceptable to condone attacks against people we have ideological/political differences with. Simultaneously, we label the TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan) and its splinter groups terrorist organizations not only because of their violence but also due to the ideology they represent. This barbaric ideology was frequently cited as the line between “us” and “them”; the “citizens of Pakistan” and the “terrorists threatening the stability of Pakistan”. Maybe that’s why I was shocked and horrified on seeing the consequences of the attack on Hamid Mir last week. Fast began a war between a state institution, the military, and another non-state actor, the media (particularly Geo News). Non-state actors in Pakistan, such as the media and extremist groups, are known to exploit the situation in the country for their own means, whatever they may be.
GEO News, frequently criticized for being funded by Indian Intelligence Agency, RAW, hurled a number of accusations against its Pakistani counterpart, ISI. Demands began surfacing on social media to ban GEO News (which has a history of being taken off air). Instead of praying for the victim (Hamid Mir) and his family, all and sundry felt it appropriate to participate in a war of words between the establishment and Geo News. While it is condemnable that the media has such excess freedom in Pakistan that Geo News thought it acceptable to accuse Pakistani military intelligence of the attack against one of their own, some went too far in saying that the failure of the attack against the senior journalist was a disappointment.
The importance of national security and sacrifices made by the Pakistan Army flooded my Twitter feed, followed by pressure to try Geo News under Article 6 for treason (the same article under which former President and Chief of Army Staff, Pervez Musharraf, was indicted). And while it is unacceptable that any non-state institution or organization hurl unsubstantiated claims against a state institution, we quickly forgot that no branch of the state is above the law (at least on paper). The ISI has consistently avoided the courts and the accountability that flows from appearing before those courts. There is a distinction between exercising our democratic right to hold state institutions accountable (in questioning whether the ISI was behind this attack or not) and bashing the intelligence services. GEO news crossed that boundary and in doing so, put itself in the line of fire. However, Hamid Mir’s wife and children did not make any such accusations. And for people to act in the insensitive manner they did (calling the failed attack a disappointment, wishing him ill) has demonstrated the demonic face of our society. It has re-raised the question we forgot to answer in the aftermath of previous incidents such as this:
Does anyone deserve to die for their beliefs?
Anyone applauding the attack on Hamid Mir is no different than the justifications by the TTP (or its splinter groups). There’s a red line between disagreeing with someone and wanting them dead.
What is the difference between us and the TTP when we can’t even distinguish between disagreement and murder? To think we can ever use the former to justify the latter is illustrative of an alarming state of affairs. In fact, we’ve become such an insensitive society in thinking our opinion, on what should follow the Hamid Mir attack, is more important than the sentiments of a family who just nearly lost one of their own. Our self-righteous attitude is increasingly similar to that of the TTP. We condemn the United States’ drone strikes (and rightfully so) but don’t wait a second before applauding attacks against other human beings (who are also Pakistani citizens). From the attack against Taseer to the Malala incident, certain segments in our society have deemed it appropriate to selectively condemn violence and extra-judicial killings. Some people seem to have the right to live, while others do not. In drawing this distinction between who should have the right to live and who that right should be taken away from, we’re so far from the rule of law, it seems like it never existed in our country.
Admittedly, GEO’s anti-state reaction is condemnable but us selling our souls isn’t any better. We need to learn to disagree in a more civilised manner and stand for the rule of law rather than encourage savagery and barbarism, otherwise we’re already halfway towards TTP ideology. The difference between us and them essentially lies in the means through which they fight for their cause. And considering the polarisation of our society, if we start justifying attacks based on differing opinions, it won’t be long before everyone abides by the code of the jungle. Not everything is fair game, and we should never forget that.
Read more from Imaan on her personal blog at imaanmazari.wordpress.com