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The Dynamics Of Outrage And Silence In Pakistan

  • Shaheen Buneri

Pakistani protesters burn an effigy of CIA contractor Raymond Davis during a demonstration in Lahore on February 28.

Pakistani protesters burn an effigy of CIA contractor Raymond Davis during a demonstration in Lahore on February 28.

Activists from some Pakistani religious parties have been organizing demonstrations to demand that Raymond Davis -- an American citizen who was assigned as a CIA agent to the U.S. Consulate in Lahore and who was allegedly involved in the killings of two Pakistani citizens there -- be hanged. Although the case is still the subject of diplomatic and legal scrutiny, Pakistan's religious groups and conservative political parties are working hard to stir up passions around the issue.

At the same time, some journalists and commentators in the media have joined this chorus, playing on the public's deep-seated sense of insecurity and uncertainty to push the notion that the West -- particularly the United States -- is responsible for all Pakistan's ills. You only have to spend a little time watching television talk shows and news programs to see how these forces are trying to pressure the courts and the parliament.

And some figures within Pakistan's military and security establishments have backed these conservative forces in order to promote their own geostrategic agenda in the region and deflect public attention from pressing issues like poverty and insecurity.

Over the last decade, extremist militants have attacked 54 Pakistani places of worship of all faiths. More than 1,100 worshippers have been killed in the attacks and nearly 3,000 have been injured. Most of the attacks were carried out in the Pashtun-dominated tribal areas and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. People in northwestern Pakistan are rightly asking why the conservative political parties and religious groups have been silent on this bloodshed. Most of these innocent civilians were Muslims and all of them were citizens of Pakistan.

I remember back in 2001 when Maulana Sufi Muhammad, head of the Movement for the Enforcement of Shari'a in my home district in Buner Valley, persuaded more than 7,000 locals to join the "jihad" against "infidels" in Afghanistan. Most of these people were peasants, shopkeepers, and day laborers who did not understand the game they were getting caught up in in the name of religion. When the fighting in Afghanistan got hot, Muhammad left his recruits and returned safely to Pakistan. Why have the defenders of Islam had nothing to say about what aspect of religion was served by this senseless sacrifice?

All along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, hundreds of schools, health-care centers, music shops, and other targets have been reduced to ashes by Taliban extremists in recent years. But none of Pakistan's religious leaders -- not even the moderate ones! -- has spoken out against this blatant terrorism.

The Koran instructs every Muslim man and woman to acquire knowledge, but our religious leaders say nothing as our children are deprived of their future. They have nothing to say about this organized campaign to keep the region's people ignorant, impoverished, and terrorized -- a perfect recruiting pool for endlessly pushing the extremist, jihadist agenda.

Ignoring The Real Problems

Few in the media or leadership have realized that religious fanaticism has now penetrated the hearts and minds of the urban middle class. In recent weeks, we have watched as lawyers who were once lauded for taking to the streets in the struggle for an independent judiciary have competed with one another to offer pro bono defense for Mumtaz Qadri, a fanatic who proudly confessed to murdering the moderate governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, in January.

Could it be that endless talk about the blasphemy laws or the Raymond Davis case is just a way of avoiding the disastrous situation facing the country? No need to discuss tax evasion, economic decline, insecurity. No need to come to grips with the problems facing the long-suffering people of northwestern Pakistan. Isn't it easier to keep people uninformed and impoverished, easily misled by unfounded allegations and propaganda?

The whole region from Waziristan to Swat only attracts the attention of the media and the government when a terrorist attack occurs. No one is paying attention to the region's destroyed homes, families, and infrastructure. Only a few international agencies, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), have been supporting the development process in this hard-hit region.

But now the religious right and political conservatives are willing to throw away this bit of real help in order to use anti-American outrage to cover up their own failures and malfeasance. And in the meantime, the government has announced it will build another military base in Swat.

Shaheen Buneri is a broadcaster with RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

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