And so Pakistan’s descent into chaos continues to gather pace this morning with the news that another opponent of the country’s blasphemy laws has been assassinated. Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for religious minorities, was gunned down in Islamabad while travelling to a meeting. The Dawn reports:
Shahbaz Bhatti was on his way to work in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, when unknown gunmen riddled his car with bullets, police officer Mohmmad Iqbal said. The minister arrived dead at Shifa Hospital and his driver was also wounded badly, hospital spokesman Asmatullah Qureshi said.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but private Pakistani TV channels showed pamphlets at the scene of the killing that were attributed to the Pakistani Taliban warning of the same fate for anyone opposing the blasphemy laws.
This comes almost exactly two months after the assassination of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab and leading campaigner against Pakistan’s blasphemy law. He was killed after championing the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy.
The outpouring of support for Taseer’s assassin was a remarkable display of brazen defiance as militant groups threatened to kill any politician who challenged the blasphemy law. Thousands marched through the streets of Lahore in his support, lionised his family, and lawyers offered to defend him pro bono.
Small wonder, then, that terrorists felt emboldened enough to assassinate another politician who dissented from their worldview. Another parliamentarian, Sherry Rehman, who supports repealing the blasphemy law has also been threatened with death. Since January she has essentially been forced into hiding. Assassination is now an established part of Pakistan’s political culture; a form of political Darwinism.
The government has effectively lost control of its ability to govern Pakistan. It cannot pass meaningful reform or legislation and is hostage to the whims of the Taliban. By contrast, while the government’s sphere of influence continues to crumble — even within Islamabad — Bhatti’s assassination reveals just how deep reaching the Taliban’s network is. Their sympathisers — and religious extremists more generally — now operate with impunity in the Punjab, once Pakistan’s most stable province.
The social commentator Nadeem Paracha despairs about all this:
Why shouldn’t these [Taliban] madmen continue the way they have been so far? — slaughtering innocent men in the name of faith, taking out highly-charged rallies condoning the murders and using mosques to announce their list of those who (according to them) are wajibul qatal.
Why shouldn’t they, indeed. Because who are they afraid of? Not the state, not the government, not the law. All three have simply capitulated in front of the psychosis that is ever so often being presented to us through TV talk shows, mosques and cyber space as the ‘true faith.’
What can be expected from a state that has a history of both creating and hosting exactly the kind of faith-driven lunacy each and every Pakistani is now engulfed in?
Now the same state is struggling to control the glorified monsters that it created. These monsters have no fear of their creator. The state is hapless and stunned; only good to play silly games with its subjects. The Pakistani state is not grounded in reality. In fact it is not grounded at all. It is a fantasy that has now started to rot and look redundant. It is a 63-year-old daydream about being pious, just and strong. And yet it has been anything but.
No one trusts the Pakistani state anymore — ironically not even those who want to make Pakistan look and sound macho, ghiaratmand and devout.
The culture of violence and death has now become so pervasive in Pakistan that, like the Cossacks, there is an almost fatalistic resignation to the militarisation of their society — and all the callous hardening of compassion for fellow citizen-strangers that brings.
Yesterday, someone sent me this video showing schoolchildren play acting as suicide bombers:
How this ends is anyone’s guess.
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