Shahbaz Bhatti’s Murder: Challenge for the Politics of Pakistan?

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Moeed Pirzada | Chowk.com |

Few years ago, Shahbaz Bhatti confided in a friend: “ I don’t want to get married, because I know that sooner or later an assassin’s bullet will find me; it will only be unfair to that woman and my children.” That friend, a Pakistani origin Christian now lives in exile in Sweden.

The last time I met Bhatti, it was at the eve of a diplomatic farewell to Jan De Kok, the EU Ambassador to Pakistan. He wore his usual smile that often reminded me of Jaggit’s ghazal, “ kewoon itna tum muskara rahay ho, kiya ghum hay jisay chupa rahay ho?” (Why you smile so much? What hurts so much that you need to hide?). We spoke briefly about Taseer’s murder, the Blasphemy Laws, our inability to create a political consensus to reform them and his caution to appear in tv programs due to mounting threats. I also told him that his heading the parliamentary committee that was supposedly reviewing these laws is a political mistake; for this gives an excuse to obscurantist elements to block all progress on this issue. This soft spoken, quiet gentleman paused and reflected and surprisingly agreed with me. Little did I realize that the shadowy assassins will soon cite this as a cause to puncture his torso with thirty holes.

It is only natural when people compare this with Taseer’s murder. Yet there are chilling differences that should not be missed. Mumtaz Qadri’s act, however despicable, in the end, represented the state of mind of an impressionable individual. That desperado derived his permissibility from an atmosphere of political frenzy created by the street agitation and irresponsible sloganeering by all those religious parties and outfits who were trying to expand their political space by piggybacking on the Namoos-e-Risalat controversy; an amateurish media that often reported without critically analyzing added to the enabling atmosphere in which Qadri could derive justification for his tragic actions. But Bhatti’s murderers, irrespective of who they really are, have done a conscious calculated attempt to shift back the Pakistani political field away from nationalistic sentiments generated by “Raymond Davis Affair” bringing it back to the regressive mindless politics of religious identities.

But there is yet another difference. Religious parties like JUI(F) and JI were trying to gain space at the expense of the mainstream political parties for in the end they see their future inside the parliamentary democracy. However these so called, “Punjabi Taliban”, whose nature we can endlessly debate, are now trying to extract ground from these established religious parties of Pakistan. Through this brazen act they are now trying to squeeze more milk out of an issue that was first irresponsibly handled by PPP, main stream religious parties and the liberal intelligentsia. And an issue that was effectively displaced in the agendas of religious parties and public consciousness by the more worldly “Raymond Davis Affair”

This raises number of issues: One, it confronts religious parties with a challenge as to how should they react? Mostly there has been an eerie silence; so far only JI has condemned the Bhatti’s murder but they have taken the interesting position of accusing Americans and more specifically the CIA; Second, Pakistani politicians need to clearly see an extra-parliamentary foe that is capable to shift and control the political field without the capacity or the need to win elections and is thus forcing them to adopt positions which don’t define them; PPP is the biggest victim of this dynamic after Taseer’s murder so far but PMLN is suffering too, whether it realizes it or not. The Senate’s inability to offer prayers for Taseer speaks volumes about the pressure being generated upon the collective political system.

But the challenge to Pakistan’s military establishment, if they care to understand, is humungous. Internally it is faced with an “undefined enemy” that can take away territory without having an army, and if not checked effectively can penetrate inside and like a science fiction saga change the character of the army itself; externally with every such incident Pakistan is seen as a country that is increasing its nuclear stock piles and missiles but has lost control to shape a rational political discourse. If there is a mounting concern from Washington to London, from Beijing to Delhi then you can’t blame them anymore. Can you?

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