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Tuesday, June 01, 2010
It took the Punjab Police a full two hours and 45 minutes after the first “1-5” emergency call went out for the police to reach the scene of the attacks on the Ahmedi prayer centres. It’s not as if the buildings were on another planet. From where the Lahore Police are stationed (in strength) it should have taken at best 15 minutes to get there, sirens blaring. The prayer centres were known to be prime targets and, what is more, warnings of such an attack were aplenty. Astonishingly, a single policeman was assigned to guard each prayer centre.
When the police did finally arrive, some policemen had pistols in hand; and when asked how pistols could be of any use in such a situation, replied that only pistols were available as their G3 rifles were faulty. No wonder the Taliban appear fearless. One of them actually pranced about on the minaret, giving cockeyed police marksmen the opportunity to bring him down, which, of course, they failed to do. The single uninjured captured terrorist was overpowered by the public, which handed him over to the police.
If the police could not prevent the attack, or end it, or capture the sole terrorist arrested, or prevent the reported escape of two terrorists, then what precisely did they do?
The deputy commissioner of Lahore informed the nation, moments after the attack had ended, that India was responsible. And the reason? Because the attacks coincided with Nawaz Sharif’s decision, exactly 11 years ago, to test Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Imagination and fiction make up three-quarters of the average Pakistani’s life. However, in the case of the DC of Lahore, they clearly make up all of his. With such bright sparks around him, it is no wonder that Shahbaz Sharif’s administration is floundering.
Had the failure of the Lahore authorities to respond occurred in a country where self-respecting politicians were at the helm, there would have been hell to pay. In Japan a number of those responsible would have committed suicide. In South Korea, a former president jumped over a cliff on account of the shame that his wife’s corruption had earned the family. There would have been resignations galore.
In Punjab, however, the law minister dismissed the criticism levelled by the governor as the barking of a rabid dog. As for the chief minister, all that he appears likely to fall on is not the proverbial sword but the sack full of letters of protest that his brother’s tax-return forms have generated. At moments of stress Shahbaz Sharif looks and speaks as if he has warded off a nervous breakdown by the skin of his teeth. But he should not lose heart. There is nothing wrong with him that a miracle cannot cure.
After the carnage of Lahore and the threat of the Taliban to visit similar destruction on the other minorities in Pakistan, including the 25 per cent of the population who are Shias, unease, nay fear, is rife. Rumours corroborated by foreign sources reveal that the population of Hindus in Pakistan has declined, not because they have stumbled upon some magic birth-control potion, but because they are fleeing the country. Similarly, Christians are terrified that some bigot or the other might report them for blasphemy, a charge which the police are reluctant to rebut and magistrates terrified to dismiss.
The nagging feeling that the government has already lost the battle against extremism has now acquired the force of conviction. Just as in India, according to Mrs Indira Ghandi, “there exists no politician daring enough to attempt to explain to the masses that cows can be eaten,” so too in Pakistan none are about who will declare the extremists and their fellow travellers–now visible in every sphere of human activity, and particularly so in Punjab–as enemies of God, because the Prophet (PBUH) demanded the protection of those who practiced other religions. What ZA Bhutto and Musharraf promised turned out to be false dawns.
With the government unable to protect them, the minorities have two options either to bow to the inevitable and accept their fate while power inexorably flows into the hands of overt or closet fundos; or to protect themselves by any means that they can. And this can have dangerous consequences.
There is still time for the federation not only to act and stop the rising tide of bigotry, but also to reverse it. The vast majority of the people are not extremists, but rather tolerant Muslims. Pakistanis, love their religion, however, they wear it lightly. But things are changing fast. In public and private life tolerance is finding refuge in hypocrisy. Attendances in mosques have grown, but corruption has risen much faster. Recourse to the burqa appears pervasive, but so too the extent of prostitution. The economic meltdown may account for some of the latter; however, the popularity of locally made pornography points in a different direction.
Extremists thrive because, increasingly, to the common man our political problems seem insoluble and economic problems incomprehensible. The inequalities are intolerable and the inherited justice system corrupt, iniquitous and unworkable. Our polity has contracted a killer ailment. This happens when one set of muscles (aka politicians) goes rigid pulling against another and the patient (the state) becomes paralysed. It’s known as tetanus, which if untreated, is fatal.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org