Honouring Bhatti’s memory - Mosharraf Zaidi - Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=34866&Cat=9

For anyone with even the slightest interest in Pakistan’s future, Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination should spur some serious problem-solving. The first question any good problem-solver asks is: “What is the most urgent and immediate problem that needs solving?”

For some Pakistanis, it is that people aren’t outraged enough by these killings. Not enough Pakistanis condemn terrorism, and not enough reject extremist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba. This failure to reject extremism, the thinking goes, creates the space for acts of violence, like the suicide bombing in Nowshera, and the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti. Indeed, the lack of moral clarity about violence in the name of ideas is a huge problem. But is it the most urgent and immediate problem?

For other Pakistanis, it is that the CIA and other intelligence outfits are operating with impunity in Pakistan, and conducting false flag operations. These operations, the thinking goes, are designed as a psychological operation to de-legitimise Islam, and pave the way for the “secularisation” and “de-nuclearisation” of Pakistan. Though the evidence for these claims is scant, and the linearity of the arguments is questionable, if foreign intelligence operations do enjoy impunity in Pakistan, then this is a failure of the Pakistani intelligence community, a huge problem, if there ever was one. But is this the most urgent and immediate problem?

It seems that if the discussion is about dead people – people killed by suicide bombs, fedayeen attacks, targeted killings and assassinations – then the most urgent and immediate problem is that people are dying. It is shocking how controversial and unpopular this simple truth really is.

The problem is not whether or not those dead people are mourned appropriately, and how much moral outrage their funerals generate. For example, (thankfully) the funeral for Shahbaz Bhatti, a Pakistani hero, was attended by thousands in Islamabad, and over 30,000 thousand in Faisalabad, at his home village – but Salmaan Taseer’s was not. Muslim clerics were more vocal in condemning Bhatti’s assassination than they were in condemning Taseer’s. Does this mean that there is something more morally wrong with Bhatti’s assassination, than Taseer’s? Of course not. Because when a politician campaigning for justice is killed, the primary, most urgent and immediate problem is not how many mourners he leaves behind. The most urgent and immediate problem is that he is dead.

The problem is also not whether or not those dead people are victims of false flag operations by the CIA, RAW or Mossad. Indeed, even if the JSOC is operating in Pakistan with impunity (and the approval of both civilian and military leaders), these operations would represent a problem that is altogether and entirely different in nature than the problem of people dying.

The problem of foreign conspiracies against Pakistan – even if it is accepted, at face value that they exist – is a problem of a weak intelligence, poor counter-intelligence and ineffective foreign policy. Pakistanis, including Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, may be getting killed within a context of these weaknesses, but they are being killed with bullets coming out of guns, and bombs strapped to young men.

Weak intelligence, poor counter-intelligence and ineffective foreign policy are certainly important problems worth attending to, but the most urgent and immediate problem they are not. The most urgent and immediate concern is that Pakistanis are getting killed.

These distinctions are uncomfortable, because in Pakistan, we have spent the entire post 9/11 era on opposite sides of each other, flinging names, accusations and ideological claptrap. Innocent Pakistanis keep dying, and different kinds of narratives keep attempting to frame the problem in accordance with the cultural and ideological principles that they hold dear.

Thus far, the argument between the minority so-called “liberals” and the vast majority in the so-called “mainstream” seems to be about whodunit and why. “Liberals” insist the violence is Islamist terror and is committed in order to destroy an orderly society, and take over power. Mainstream opinion seems to insist that the violence is externally funded and arranged, in order to destroy an orderly society, and take over Pakistan’s nukes. These are the caricatures of the two poles that define the debate in the aftermath of this violence.

Save for a vocal minority that celebrated the Taseer assassination however, it is almost unheard of that either side disagrees on the fact that violence that kills innocent people is bad. This tremendous resource, the consensus that people dying is a bad thing, is being wasted at the altar of our specific ideological passions. We are wasting the opportunity to come together and defeat this menace, and reclaim both the Pakistani state and society.

In trying to solve the problem of Pakistanis being killed due to violence, the Pakistani state (civilian and military) is on the wrong side of the equation, no matter whether you are liberal or conservative, outlier, or mainstream. Impunity for violent killers exists because the state is either incapable of dealing with them, or is unwilling to deal with them. There is no third explanation for it.

If the state is incapable, either out of fear, or genuine incapacity, or a lack of resources, then it needs to ask for real help – not just the financial support it keeps getting, but actual material assistance. This could mean Turkish and Malaysian boots on the ground, Saudi intelligence, Israeli technology and Indian and Afghan support.

If the state is unwilling, either because it is in league with killers, or because it fears taking them on could mean the end of the prevailing “order” of things, then serious thought needs to be invested in just how long Pakistanis and the rest of the world can wait till international intervention is something we begin to seriously discuss.

The problem however is not in the state alone. Pakistani society is bitterly divided. It is time to attempt the bridging of this divide.

If a majority of Pakistanis believe in conspiracy theories about violence in the country it is time to begin investing effort in understanding what is causing such a failure of reason and logic, above and beyond standard explanations of the manipulative nature of the establishment. It is time to begin to inspect the anger and sense of indignity that serves as an engine for this lack of reason. No country in the world can have an irrational and unreasonable majority – without some context. It is time to start exploring what that context is, why it exists and what can be done to deal with it. Notwithstanding the manipulation of the mainstream by the establishment, calling people names may be a poor way to begin this process of engagement.

If we want fellow Pakistanis to share the pain and despondency of the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the least we can do is to empathise with fellow Pakistanis’ politics and positions – no matter how unreasonable they may seem. Such compromises are a part and parcel of the very civility that is so lacking in the public discourse. They represent small but vital investments in a better, more coherent Pakistan. There can be no better way to honour Shahbaz Bhatti’s memory.

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. www.mosharrafzaidi.com

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