Pakistan’s politicians should stand by, not lash out at, the country’s liberals
Lahore’s Raza Khan founded Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a group that pushed for peace between India and Pakistan, and was “disappeared” almost a month ago. Abdul Wahid Baloch of Karachi, a progressive man of letters, was picked up last year but returned after four months and is too scared after the torture he suffered to name his tormentors.
Journalist Zeenat Shahzadi, investigating the disappearance of an Indian national in Pakistan, was abducted from Lahore in August 2015. Too scared to name the tormentors, her younger brother committed suicide. In January 2017 six bloggers advocating civil rights were “disappeared” in Lahore and Islamabad. They kept too mum after their return.
A Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances says it received 300 complaints of enforced disappearances from August to October 2017. Most of those picked up by the deep state are supposed by the majority population to have succumbed to the disease of “liberalism.” Popular leader Imran Khan tends to encourage the state-operated “disappearances” by cursing the liberals as renegades of the country, implicitly approving their elimination. And clerics dump them with “double-crossing” secularists.
The Urdu-English divide also brings out the ideological contrast in Pakistan: the English-language press is considered alien to the Pakistani sensibility even though the liberal keeps insisting that Pakistan should adhere to its Constitution in letter and spirit and eschew the intolerance emanating from nationalism and ideology. One TV anchor who earlier popularized the term “liberal fascist” was roughed up by the state when he deviated from the prescribed conduct and took a liberal stance.
Extremism is easily described in Pakistan. It is violent and coercive and seeks “reform” of the state by going against its Constitution. Liberalism is not a creed; even a cleric can be liberal. But a liberal is not “weaponized” and simply cannot “enforce” his agenda on civil society and is therefore vulnerable. Politicians like Imran Khan should stand by him instead of demonizing him.