Terrorization of the Majority
By Shireen M Mazari

At all levels of society in Pakistan, the silent majority of all shades is being terrorized in one way or another. The state may feel that negotiating with the Jamia Hafsa and Lal Masjid extremists and lawbreakers will result in a peaceful resolution of this challenge to the writ of the state with an avoidance of collateral damage. However, for the civil society of Islamabad, the terrorization is already in full swing so the collateral damage from the Jamia Hafsa terror and blackmail has already happened.
How has this happened? Through rumors that have been floated and circulated to terrorize civilians, primarily women and young girls into submitting to the demands of the Jamia Hafsa to abide by their social norms.
For instance, rumors have been allowed to run amok that young girls wearing half sleeve shalwar kameez suits have been attacked with acid in public places -- including in front of shops in Super Market and Jinnah Super Market. Other variations on this rumor are that hot coffee has been thrown on young girls in Aabpara and one variant even had it that this scribe was attacked in Jinnah Market with a needle thrust into my neck or back -- depending on the version one heard -- by a burqa-clad woman! Of course, in my case the incident definitely did not occur but the children are fearful and it took a lot of persuasion to make them visit the usual video shop. The visit was necessary because one does not want to submit to the tyranny of a crazed minority simply because the state has chosen to indulge their extremism.
Unfortunately, many members of civil society are succumbing to the climate of fear being generated not only by the Hafsa brigade itself accompanied by their baton-wielding Lal Masjid, but also by the state's decision not to assert its writ firmly against these lawbreakers. The fear is based on the premise that if the state is unable to protect the ordinary person from the diktat of the violent extremists then there is little choice but to either stay locked up indoors or fall in line with this extremist diktat. So, effectively the damage to civil society has already been done and the dye of extremism has been cast.
The situation has been further aggravated by emails from self-proclaimed "intellectuals" who are sending addresses of alleged "brothels" -- some of whom on quiet investigation turn out to be addresses of respectable citizens who belong to a different sect from that of the Jamia Hafsa-Lal Masjid brigade. Vigilantism is in full swing and is having the desired terrorization effect on civil society, especially when there is a receding expectation that the state will/can protect the innocent.
Enlightenment and moderation are perforce being cast aside in the wake of the tyranny of an extremist minority that has been unleashed on Islamabad. Young girls are being kept home and women also fear going out to the markets in the evenings. So an unnatural male-only environment is taking over in the public domain in the capital. And each day brings ever more groups of the extremist ilk strutting with the confidence of "the protected" in the streets of all the sectors of the capital. With the world watching all this for themselves, what soft image can we portray?
And this is our tragedy today. We really are, by and large a tolerant and moderate society but the state seems to have lost its will to assert its writ firmly when confronted with the armed zealots. Where are the law enforcers and the defenders of the nations? In the copters incident -- where all claims by the Hafsa lot regarding the emission of gas from the helicopters were false when checked into -- the fear that has spread into the public was reflected in the fact that the Lal Masjid extremists broke the car windshields and mirrors of some passing cars but no one chose to report these incidents. Instead, the long-suffering public stoically bore this abuse also. After all, few believe the police would have come to their assistance.
So there we are; a terrorized civil society as a result of mind games played through rumor mongering and the visible inability of the state to exercise its writ against an increasingly tyrannical minority. So adamant are some segments of the state in indulging these extremists that the concerns of the wider society have been given short shrift. After all, the wider society is seen as the silent majority -- non-violently pursuing their micro level lives. But when the life and liberty of this silent majority is threatened, they will have to rise and be counted.
Such a time is on us now. At every level we are being threatened. Here in the capital we are suffering the tyranny and terror of the Jamia Hafsa, but this is rampant all across the country. In our rural areas, we are facing the wrath of power-hungry local politicians who terrorize through the DPOs (as the SPs are now termed) and DCOs (former DCs) all those who seek to remain outside their influence or challenge their corruption. When it is women managing alone in the rural areas, the situation is particularly disturbing with DPOs transferring any SHO who may be enforcing the writ of the law. So we have to contend with SHOs who are in league with local criminals and terrorization has become the norm.
Is anybody concerned? There is no one who will listen if the oppressors are district nazims, government MNAs or MPAs -- certainly not the local officials who are now beholden to the local politicians. Clearly, the law and writ of the state hold little value for the "powerful". Whether it is the danda of the Jamia Hafsa or the political clout of the local politicians, the security the state must provide and the law and order that it must assert has all but vanished. Local criminals, including known declared absconders of the law, are now openly asserting their will through violent terror. Even local lawbreakers who have been banned from entering their areas continue to rule through "remote control" of the local officials.
This scribe has always been passionate about this wonderful nation but never has so much despondency been so rampant. It is not so much the extremist perspective that is worrying -- after all, a stubborn liberalism still compels one to accept and tolerate diversity as long as this tolerance is mutual -- but the inability of the state to assert its writ effectively and the hijacking of the state authority by individuals and groups. Unless the state can exercise its writ effectively on the domestic front, it will constantly face both internal and external pressures -- as seems to be happening presently.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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