Over the past few days, five persons have gone missing in Pakistan. Nothing should be considered unusual about these particular disappearances since people go missing for various reasons across the country; ranging from separatists in Balochistan, political workers in the largest metropolitan city of Karachi, children from the city of culture Lahore, anti-military Islamist activists from KPK and Hindu girls from rural Sindh province. Many of them do eventually turn up, some with broken bodies and souls, marred with torture marks, whilst others as dead bodies, with execution style bullet holes. Then there are those “lucky ones”, found alive and intact, such as the Hindu girls who return as having suddenly embraced Islam out of their free will since their disappearances, married to their abductors (aka saviours), or vice versa, depending on which angle one views their ordeal. And that is the key behind disappearances in Pakistan; a matter of perception.
What makes these missing persons different isn’t just the fact that they are all liberal-minded secularists, lumped together as “social media / human rights activists”, it’s the negative perception carefully and systematically being crafted about them by Islamist leaning anchors, analysts, scholars and religious elite. It’s the time tested narrative being deployed against them, that these activists are “blasphemers”, having insulted Prophet Mohammed PBUH, sold their souls to the atheists and wish to “secularise” Pakistan. Please note that secularism has no equivalent word in Urdu other than atheism, in other words apostasy from Islam. It’s being craftily pushed out into the media that these misguided souls challenge the word of Allah, owing to their criticism of certain laws built into the Constitution. One of the targets of these activists is the Blasphemy Law which does nothing but used as a tool at the hands of the land mafia to throw minorities out of their homes releasing lucrative prime estate land, religious zealots to take control of their mosques to claim as their own or neighbours to settle petty scores conveniently sending alleged blasphemers behind bars for years without trial, tainted for life as outcasts, left fearing for their lives.
This type of negative perception and toxic propaganda has already claimed the life of one prominent secularist Salman Taseer, whose murderer hanged last year by the state, has now been elevated to the status of a Saint, revered by Islamists across Pakistan including those in the UK. This is the very rhetoric that has led to several mobs attacking individuals and entire neighbourhoods resulting in the deaths of alleged blasphemers who later turned out to be innocent. Yet these unsuspecting victims couldn’t be saved from the enraged crowds provoked by fiery speeches by mullahs from their pulpits, their hate filled speeches broadcast over loudspeakers from minarets.
The same modus operandi is being used by media savvy Islamists in staged televised talkshows with secular activists lured into such debates. With subtly slipped in phrases and blatant proclamations about the seculars having insulted the Prophet PBUH, maligned and mocked Islam, therefore considered outside of the folds of the religion. Sadly, no contradictions or subsequent clarifications by the secular human rights activists would be acknowledged or even pondered over by the masses, having felt the immediate effects of the blasphemy allegations. The disgust against them multiplies as each programme is aired solidifying the notion that somehow they deserved what they’re experiencing.
Whilst dictator Field Marshal Ayub Khan perhaps initiated the trend of “picking up” anti-government activists in Pakistan, during his time they were given A-class cells in prisons and eventually put on trial. It was the latter day civilian Martial Law administrator Z. A. Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto’s daddy, who perfected the art of activists’ and political opponents’ disappearances. He set up a holding facility called Dalai Camp in the lawless, semi-autonomous region of FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) where the missing persons would be taken and upon being questioned by the judiciary, any police officer could swear under oath, that they had no knowledge of such a person’s presence “inside” the territory of Pakistan. Perhaps one of the Bush advisors had read up on Pakistan’s history, to have advised him to set up a similar facility, in nearby Cuba, known as Gitmo. Yet the Americans could go only as far as holding folks they couldn’t readily put on trial, but with their names known to the rest of the world. In Pakistan, a disappearance is often without trace.
Today, there is no rumour of the existence of a place like Dalai Camp inside Pakistan. However in addition to deep state agencies’ hospitality venues, there are places like the Binori Town mosque, Lal Masjid, and many other areas across southern Punjab where banned outfits have their strongholds and where their leaders roam freely. They somehow render the requirement redundant for a state-run one-stop-shop for holding certain types of activists such as those who have gone missing during this past week.
There have been some protests to put pressure on the government to find the activists. However they have been insignificant in terms of the number of people who turned up, as compared to perhaps the protests last year calling on the state to set Taseer’s murderer free. Therefore in the prevailing situation, if there is any hope for the recovery of these free thinkers and the future of Pakistan, it is for enlightened individuals to counter the venomous narrative being disseminated against them by using their own Facebook pages, twitter feeds, whatsapp conversations, Instagram imagery and all else at their disposal. People may be afraid to come out onto the streets of Pakistan to protest but they can still reach millions across the world to raise awareness about this issue and the repercussions it can have on the country and the freedom of thought for the future generations. It is the global awareness campaign and the pressure it will exert on the establishment in Pakistan, that will help free the free thinkers.