May Issue 2015

By | Speaker's Corner | Published 2 years ago

Ours is a bizarre country. We have governments within the government; armies within the army; and judiciaries within the judiciary. The courts of the state delay and deny justice. The courts of the jihadists, Islamists and militants deliver speedy justice. Whenever the country is hit by a natural disaster, the state institutions lag behind, whereas brigades of the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) swing into action immediately. In fact, its chief Hafiz Saeed (one of the most wanted terrorists by the US) even offered help to Uncle Sam when Hurricane Katrina hit US shores.

And now the same jihadi outfits are offering to extend a helping hand to Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Earlier, Saudi Arabia had asked for at least two divisions of the Pakistan Army as foot soldiers to fight in Yemen. But the parliament passed a unanimous resolution stating that Pakistan should remain neutral and refrain from sending troops to Yemen. Bravo! It was a tough decision – saying ‘no’ to a benefactor. And now every Tom, Dick and Harry is appearing on private TV channels to enlighten us about the fact that Pakistan is a sovereign nation and that no foreign power can boss us around, and how ours is not an army for rent, etcetera, etcetera!

But these flag-bearers of sovereignty are tongue-tied when a sectarian extremist like Maulana Mohammad Ahmad Ludhianvi mocks the parliamentary resolution by proclaiming that he will send his fighters to Yemen, come what may. If I were the interior minister of this hapless country, I would take this as an affront to my authority! Ludhianvi heads an outlawed outfit, the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), which is in fact the new name of the former Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). In public gatherings, they never use the appellation ASWJ. They always identify themselves as the SSP.

The JuD chief, Hafiz Saeed, blocks highways every day as he runs a countrywide campaign – Tehrike Tahaffuze Hurmate Harmain Sharifain (allegedly with Saudi money) – urging parliament to pass a new resolution to send troops into Yemen. The same Saeed also blocks highways from time to time to urge the country to wage jihad against India and hoist Islam’s flag on the Delhi Fort. What is the stance of our foreign minister-less foreign office on this?

Meanwhile the Sunni Tehrik holds rallies in every nook and corner of the country to glorify a murderer like Mumtaz Qadri as a hero of Islam. The lawyer who kisses Qadri is appointed judge of the Islamabad High Court. The former chief justice of the Lahore High Court, Khwaja Mohammad Sharif, is Qadri’s counsel and this custodian of law tells the judge that Qadri has done the right thing by killing Taseer and that he should be rewarded for his noble deed. Every third day, Sarwat Ejaz Qadri and clerics like him threaten the government with dire consequences if Qadri is hanged.

Ironically, prayer leaders like Lal Masjid’s Maulana Abdul Aziz can glorify those who killed 132 schoolchildren at the Army Public School in Peshawar. He can eulogise the Islamic State and declare Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi caliph of the Muslim Ummah. And yet our interior minister Chaudhry Nisar stated last month that there was no need to arrest Aziz (despite the FIR that is registered against him) because he has submitted a written apology. Aziz mocked Nisar the following day by boasting that the government would not dare to arrest him as he enjoys the protection of hundreds of suicide bombers. Where are the police, the intelligence agencies and other institutions that are supposed to maintain law and order? Of what use is the parliament’s resolution? While on the one hand the resolution might have impressed upon the world that Pakistan is a sovereign state, on the other, how does the state explain the fact that it is being held hostage by the jihadis and Islamists? The last time the state surrendered was after Collin Powell’s call to General Musharraf post 9/11. This time round, it may have refused to surrender before the Saudi call. But it has nevertheless surrendered before its own blue-eyed boys – the good Taliban, the good jihadis, the good fasadis, and others of their ilk.

Hafiz Saeed counts among the ‘good jihadis.’ Before parliament’s resolution, in one of his sermons he had said that Jamatud Dawa would send its fighters to Saudi Arabia. However, soon after the resolution, he took a u-turn and said that he respects the resolution. But then he took another somersault when the Saudi minister for religious affairs arrived in Pakistan on April 12. It was following Saeed’s meetings with the minister that he launched the Tehrike Hurmate Harmain wa Sharifain, holding rallies across Pakistan, spreading the rumour that the Kaaba is under threat from Houthis, and announcing that it is the duty of every Muslim to sacrifice the last drop of their blood to protect the Kaaba.

But the truth is that the Houthis, who are also Muslims like the Saudis, have not thrown a single stone at Saudi Arabia, forget the Kaaba. In fact, according to United Nations statistics, it is quite the opposite: Saudia Arabia’s coalition forces have killed 1,080 people in Yemen in airstrikes, more than 4,350 have been injured, and over 150,000 have been forced to vacate their homes and find shelter somewhere else.

But the leaders of seminaries have turned a blind eye to the facts. And understandably so. When the Saudi rials were not coming into their coffers, the madrassa students and administrators would go from door to door collecting leftover food to quench their hunger. Now they travel in fancy jeeps, accompanied by a squad of Kalashnikov-wielding security guards. Their opulent lifestyles are a gift from Saudi Arabia. Their petro dollars help fuel sectarian hatred in the country, resulting in the killings of Shias and Ahmedis.

We are told that we ought to be beholden to the Saudis for the oil and the jobs they provide, but our finance minister blurted out the truth the other day –  he said the Saudis sold us oil at the same prices as that prevailing in the open market. And as for jobs, if the Saudis consider providing employment to hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia a favour, they are wrong. In fact, the favour was extended by us to them. Pakistani labourers have built the infrastructure of the Arab countries with their blood, sweat and tears.

But like always, Prime Minister Sharif is bending over backwards to appease the Saudi monarchy, while the Saudi minister has been holding back-to-back meetings with mainstream politicians and leaders of religious parties, besides hobnobbing with sectarian elements like Ludhianvi.

Would a Pakistani official be allowed to do similar things in another country or even Saudi Arabia? He would be declared persona non-grata, if he did. But Saudis are free to do anything in this country, including openly defying our wildlife laws by hunting thousands of endangered birds in Balochistan. The Saudi minister is behaving like a viceroy in Pakistan, just like the US ambassador.

Countries don’t become sovereign by passing resolutions, but by taking action. The parliament’s resolution on Yemen would be meaningless without the political courage and will to follow through on it. Unless we assert ourselves, we will continue to be bulldozed into doing things that are not in our national interest – and sovereignty will remain a distant dream.

Mohammad Shehzad is an Islamabad-based journalist and researcher.