By Raza Rumi
Shahbaz Bhatti’s brutal assassination indicates that Pakistani state has to battle with a compounding existentialist crisis. As if Bhatti’s murder was not a shameful indictment of the state of security for a sitting minister, the muted response of the country’s civilian leadership reminds us of the near impossibility of governing a dysfunctional state and a fractured polity.
The federal cabinet meeting, which late Shahbaz Bhatti (SB) was supposed to attend on the fateful morning of March 2, continued on schedule, which came as a surprise given the gruesome murder of a fellow colleague, a federal minister in the heart of a barricaded capital. Furthermore, a mere two minutes of silence were observed in parliament as a mark of respect for SB during which time, 3 representatives of the JUI-F were conspicuous in their refusal to stand up for the slain minister’s memory. Worse, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman hinted in a meeting with JI chief Amir Syed Munawwar Hasan that the murder of SB was not related to extremism. The whimsical Maulana made a strange reference to the offensive cartoons, which had depicted Holy Prophet (pbuh) and stated: ‘The West must not demand a one-sided display of patience from us’ (meaning, we can incite murder with immunity if the West can publish cartoons with immunity).
In the immediate aftermath of the murder, otherwise hyperactive right-wing parties remained silent on the issue, including mainstream parties such as the PML-N and the PML-Q. Only Imran Khan’s TI released an official statement, together with the PPP, MQM and ANP which strongly condemned the cold-blooded murder. It was only after Asia Nasir, a Christian member of the National Assembly had delivered an emotionally charged speech and led a token walkout by some other members of the National Assembly that a 3-day mourning period for SB was announced; and later the PM requested the formulation of a strategy by the House for curbing extremism in the country.
The persistent sense of insecurity amongst senior officials has begun to show, with members of the cabinet turning against the government, seeking curtailment of extremism and charging relevant government agencies of inaction and indecisiveness in countering the rising trend of lawlessness in the federal capital. This charge was led by Raza Rabbani and Babar Awan, both of whom offered to tender their resignations and accept moral responsibility for the murder. This embarrassing episode came to an end with emotions boiling over and Prime Minister Gillani eventually offering to resign himself (who was subsequently coaxed by his colleagues to stay on).
The only official who refused to resign until his ineptitude was proven (claiming that there was no security lapse, whatsoever) was Interior Minister Rehman Malik. Malik instead, attempted to repel attacks made against him by indicating that he was a key target on the terrorists’ hit list, and by drawing a comparison between his own lack of efficacy and that of Punjab CM, Shahbaz Sharif. The latter has vociferously claimed that terrorism is a national menace by calling certain militant groups ‘Punjabi Taliban’ was akin to fanning provincialism.
Tehreek i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) allegedly left pamphlets claiming responsibility for SB’s death at the site of the murder. However, the national paranoia against ‘Western’, ‘Zionist’, ‘Hindu’ powers has diverted investigations towards the commonly cited ‘hidden agenda’ of Pakistan’s enemies. Intelligence authorities have allegedly reported ‘rock-solid evidence’ indicating the presence of foreign hand in Bhatti’s murder. These range from Xe International (previously Blackwater), the CIA and India’s RAW. These ‘rock-solid’ facts include the throwing of pamphlets with Kalma e Tayyaba and the Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) name written on them on the ground. As the TTP cannot be said to do anything of the sort, even by mistake given the rush that they must’ve been while leaving the crime scene, it is difficult to imagine that anyone other than non-Muslims would be involved!
Religious parties have been quick to jump to this conclusion, with the following roaster indicating the specific favorites of those in question:
- Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer Syed Munawar Hasan: CIA (to divert attention from Raymond Davis and present the peaceful movement for the protection of the blasphemy laws in a negative light).
- JUP president, Dr Abul Khair Muhammad Zubair: Western elements (to malign religious parties).
- Chairman Sunni Ittehad Council, Sahibzada Fazal Kareem: Both domestic as well as a foreign hand[s], more of a hybrid approach to conspiracy theories (believes that Bhatti’s murder not related to Taseer’s assassination as the movement for protection of blasphemy laws had already succeeded!)
- Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool convener, Maulana Ameer Hamza: The culprit was Blackwater, the infamous US company.
However, all is not lost yet. The responses of the civil society, the Christian community and sections of media have been encouraging, signifying how Pakistanis can demonstrate their resistance even in such dark times. However, capitulation to extremism by Pakistan’s moderate parties does not bode well for the future of democracy. Worse, we are yet to hear a condemnation from Pakistan’s real power centre: the security establishment. It is ironic that this powerful player in Pakistan’s politics stands to lose the most if extremism is not tackled and short termism is not replaced by a medium term strategy aimed at saving Pakistan.
Ali Abbas contributed to this piece from Lahore
First Published in The Friday Times, Lahore (March 11, 2011)