May Issue 2015

By | News & Politics | Opinion | Published 4 years ago

When the Director-General, Sindh Rangers claimed that the violence in Karachi had gone down by 50 per cent, it should have been a cause célèbre for its hapless residents. Except that the reality is not quite as simple as that.

When a well-known advertising executive, two educationists and a social activist are gunned down, all within the space of a few weeks, one questions the veracity of that claim. And what is even more disturbing is that the hand that pulled the trigger in each case remains at large.

The murder of young Sabeen Mahmud, Director T2F, has been the subject of much conjecture. Was it the ISI punishing her for holding a seminar on Balochistan with Mama Qadeer as a guest speaker? Was it RAW, wanting to discredit the ISI? Or was it the Lal Masjid adherents, for her participation in demonstrations against them?

The truth may never out, but the outpouring of grief — national, international — is out there, for all to see.

A voice of reason, tolerance and humanism, Sabeen represented the best that Pakistan had to offer. And now that voice has been silenced forever.

To silence other voices, perhaps?

Just like Perween Rahman, Director, Orangi Pilot Project Research and Training Institute, was silenced, so that no one dared to raise a voice against the land mafia. Or Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was pumped with bullets, so that no one questioned the misuse of the blasphemy law ever. Or lawyer Rashid Rehman was assassinated, so that no one would defend a blasphemy accused. Or Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was shot dead, so that no member of a minority community would raise his head against the injustices perpetrated on them. Or Saleem Shahzad of Asia Times Online was tortured to death, so that no reporter dared to delve into the secret world of spies in future.

It is ironic that while the voices of sanity are being silenced, one by one, those who preach hatred and intolerance, who justify the killing of 132 innocent children at the Army Public School in Peshawar, and who threaten to send their militant cadres to Yemen to aid the Saudi coalition forces in their fight against the Houthis, despite a parliamentary resolution to the contrary, are being allowed to operate with impunity.

Sadly, free speech and rational debate in this country are under grave threat — and not just from non-state actors, but state actors as well.

Activists in the social media will have to curb their thoughts and mind their language as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015 gets underway. As for the ban on YouTube, that is not about to be lifted anytime soon.

Sabeen Mahmud’s murder may have been intended as a warning to those social activists who are attempting to raise their voice against the status quo. But not all are deterred. “I am returning to Karachi to take over Perween’s work at OPP,” shared Rahman’s Abu Dhabi-based sister, at Sabeen’s funeral.

It was heartening, reassuring.

All is not lost in the grieving state of Pakistan.

This article was originally published in Newsline’s May 2015 issue.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.