By Noman Ansari/Express Tribune
Islamabad, January 14: Salman Haider, Ahmad Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed, Ahmed Raza Naseer, and Samar Abbas have disappeared in the space of days. Some, like Haider, who happened to be a poet, writer, professor, and an editor at the fiercely outspoken publication Tanqeed, and Abbas, who stood as the leader of Civil Progressive Alliance Pakistan, were more prominent. Others, such as Goraya, Saeed, and Naseer kept lower profiles but were known among some as activists on social media.
Upon their disappearance, there was outrage in both Pakistan and international circles. In a country known as one of the most dangerous for free thinkers such as journalists and activists, the incidents were frightening.
The first question that sprang to mind is who is behind their disappearance? To answer that, let’s look at the common threads. All of these men were apparently critical of the government, the growing level of the religious radicalization in Pakistan, and of the military.
To start with, it would be difficult to believe it is the government. This would be like believing a monkey has started riding a bicycle. I mean, it could happen, but it’s also highly implausible.
It’s also difficult to imagine it was religious zealots. The efficiency and chillingly organized nature with which all five men disappeared is beyond the capabilities of common extremists. For one, some of these men had just returned from overseas. For the other, the common zealot would not have been aware of the pages they may have been running in secrecy.
Interestingly and perhaps equally alarmingly, there has been a backlash. It is clearly an organized attempt at changing public opinion. In what is an old pattern, a vicious social media campaign against the abductees began on Twitter.
The old signs were there.
The character assassination powered by identical tweets from dozens of different accounts simultaneously started a snowball effect. Anyone who has seen it happen before can recognize the patterns.
These professional elements with fake twitter profiles usually start the opening over of the match with a combination of keywords like ‘blasphemer’, ‘Indian agent’, ‘anti-Pakistan’, ‘anti-Army’, ‘atheist’, and ‘anti-Islam’ amongst others.
The accusations are all unsubstantiated, all often sporting the same spelling mistakes, pointing to a symptom of copy and paste. But it takes little to fire up our imbecilic ignoramuses, whether online or on the streets, who are easily triggered by such phrases without bothering to do their own checks and lacking the intellect to interpret words taken out of context.
Once the snowball is rolling and the mob has raised its pitchforks, the fire starters draw back into the shadows, letting the mob mentality do the work for them.
As far as the activists are concerned, the snowball has now turned into a rolling mountain, with frostiness spread to television. Just recently, someone who claimed to be a family member of one of the missing came on TV to hurl the sort of accusations at his own family member that will get you killed in Pakistan.
One of the guests, our brightest star for human rights, Jibran Nasir was also the target of these accusations, and could only watch bemused. Many of our keyboard warriors are now are calling for heads of these activists, so easily are they played like a piano.
Let’s say that these men did break laws, then why haven’t they been arrested and tried? For those behind their abductions, it seems like a trial in the public court is a far more a pressing matter than a trial in the court of law.
I have bigger concerns with our bloodthirsty public.
Why are we so thin-skinned? Why must we fight words with violence? Perhaps more disturbing is that these pages that allegedly were run by the activists who did not have more than a moderate following. It seems that the scripture was used once again as a weapon by the mighty to sway the easily swayed public.
The ones who simply can’t be spoken against, weren’t bothered by anti-radicalization activism, but certainly used that as an excuse to silence chatter against them, themselves. This isn’t a new story, and it only fans further the flames of radicalization.
What’s also bothersome is that while five activists who only harmlessly shared their opinions have disappeared, far more dangerous men walk freely in Pakistan, campaigning as they please.
Have a look:
Banned ASWJ’s Aurangzeb Farooqi, a 4th Scheduler who openly declares Shias kafir, will run for NA-18 Abbottabad. Outlawed sectarian organizations (LeJ/ASWJ) should not be equated with terrorist outfits, says Pakistan Home Minister Chowdhry Nisar.
And who’s placed jihadist Al-Muhammadia Students, the wing of the UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed’s banned Let/JuD, in charge of Pakistan’s ideology? And federal Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Yousaf presents government’s National Peace Council’s ‘peace’ shield to banned ASWJ’s Masroor Jhangvi
State Behind Abductions
Disappearances have become quite common in Pakistan, says a commentator in Dawn. And from the proceeding of cases in the Supreme Court to other evidence, it has become clear that certain state agencies have been behind many of such incidents.
It is not surprising, then, that with the recent disappearances of four or five people, suspicion once again falls on these agencies. And if they are not behind these disappearances, it is important for the agencies to find out who is — not only to end the ordeal of those who have disappeared, and of their families and friends, but also to signal that the practice of enforced disappearances is not official state policy.
The state cannot take away the freedom of a person without due process. This can never be justified and should never be tolerated. The state cannot allow any individual or group of individuals within a country to do that either.
Those who break the law should be arrested. But they should face due process. Making them disappear is no way to deal with differences; neither is breaking the law. People have rights and those rights should be respected.
When Pakistan’s laws have provided state agencies with wide powers to arrest and detain people, why is there a need to allegedly resort to disappearances? Clearly, it is not to get information from them. The police, despite working within the confines of the law and under the scrutiny of the judiciary, often resort to torture to extract information. It is alleged that for certain security agencies, the use of torture is even easier. So, even if they make a public arrest, they can always get the information they need. No one needs to make people disappear to get information.
To Frighten People
‘Disappearances’ are being resorted to in order to frighten the people. They follow a similar pattern. Someone disappears. Everyone denies being involved. The interior minister says he will look into the issue but clearly has no control over those allegedly responsible. The person who has disappeared knows he could very easily end up dead. His family and friends also fear the worst. Those who share similar views have real reason to stay quiet lest they too are picked up. It is to instill this feeling of fear and helplessness that disappearances are enforced.
The state is supposed to protect its citizens. If the state is weak enough to allow factions and/or groups to undermine the rights of citizens, or if the state itself turns into a violator of rights, it loses its reason for existence. The state cannot and should not deal in fear. Making citizens fear their own government can never make for a stronger country and/or polity. Will our state institutions ever understand this?