Religious groups in Pakistan had announced a strike against self-confessed murderer Mumtaz Qadri's death sentence last Friday (October 7). The same day, a group of masked men bearing batons and sticks entered the premises of the Municipal Corporation (MC) Girls Model High School, Rawalpindi.
These young Qadri supporters demanded that the school be shut down due to the strike. Reportedly, these men also attacked female faculty members and students for not wearing hijabs (headscarves). The bigots warned them to dress modestly, or else. The Women's Action Forum (WAF) condemned the attack and said that "such attempts by malicious and obscurantist elements to dissuade girls from seeking education point to a calculated move of denying women right to be educated".
The Taliban have blown up numerous girls' schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and the tribal areas over the years. The attack on a girls' school in Rawalpindi by Qadri's supporters also goes on to show that there is hardly any difference between the Taliban and other religious zealots; only their modus operandi varies.
Present tense: Sectarian terrorism is on the rise in Pakistan, with militant
outfits like the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi flourishing inspite of a ban.
Remember the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) moral brigade? The way they terrorised the citizens of Islamabad for months is something we can hardly forget. Threats, harassment, intimidation, physical violence are tactics used by the right wing fanatics to frighten others into 'submission'.
The attack on MC Girls Model High School is not the only incident that points to increasing intolerance and religious bigotry in Pakistan. Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, was allegedly tortured in jail by a warden. Aasia Bibi is the same woman whose case was highlighted by slain Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer. Not only has Aasia's family gone into hiding but it has become almost impossible to have any sort of debate on blasphemy laws after Governor Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti's subsequent assassinations.
Sectarian terrorism has also reared up its head again in Pakistan. General Zia-ul-Haq was instrumental in creating sectarian outfits back in the 80s. Shias were killed mercilessly by sectarian monsters. Though sectarian violence did not end in entirety, the madness of the 80s and 90s subsided to some extent. The massacre of Hazara Shias in Balochistan by banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in recent months is horrific.
Balochistan is a province where the Pakistan Army is carrying out a military operation, yet the impunity with which the LeJ is able to carry out frequent attacks against the Hazara Shias shows that either the security forces are complicit or they have turned a blind eye to LeJ's terrorist activities. The LeJ, like many other sectarian outfits in the country, enjoy the overt and covert support of Pakistan's military establishment. Such disastrous policies pursued by our military top brass in the last few decades are responsible for the mess we are in today, which is but a dark abyss.
All this reminds me of a poem written in the early years of the world peace movement, quoted by Faiz Ahmed Faiz in 'The Role of the Artist' (The Ravi, 1982). It says:
"What do you want,
Life or death,
Existence or extinction.
Speak, proclaim your decision,
Life or death,
Existence or extinction.
The universe today hangs,
By one word on your lips,
Life or death."
If we replace 'the universe' in the poem with 'Pakistan', we would not be far off the mark. The dreams that a lot of Pakistanis once had for our country are not there any more. Many have become disillusioned due to one such event after the other. But if we all give up on our dreams, what will we leave our future generations with? That is something we Pakistanis must seriously contemplate. We have to decide. We have to speak up. By standing up against fanaticism it all its shades, we have to reclaim Pakistan. It is now or never.
The writer is Op-Ed editor, Daily Times, Pakistan.
Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org