Shame in­deed

The Pak Banker - - EDITORIAL - Tariq Khosa

THE de­mo­li­tion of the Babri Masjid was "an act of ab­so­lute per­fidy, which should make all In­di­ans hang their heads in shame," writes In­dian Pres­i­dent Pranab Mukher­jee in his mem­oirs.

The sense­less, wan­ton de­struc­tion of a religious struc­ture, purely to serve political ends, also re­sulted in the de­struc­tion of In­dia's im­age as a tol­er­ant, plu­ral­is­tic na­tion. What hap­pened in Pak­istan that un­for­tu­nate day on Dec 6, 1992, was also shame­ful when mob frenzy re­sulted in the de­struc­tion of Hindu tem­ples, Chris­tian churches and Sikh gur­d­waras in a fa­natic re­sponse that re­mains etched in my mem­ory. The banned mil­i­tant out­fits in Pun­jab pose a mor­tal threat to the state.

I was po­lice chief of La­hore district. As the news of the Babri Masjid de­struc­tion spread, the political and religious par­ties gave a call for protests. An­tic­i­pat­ing vi­o­lence, La­hore po­lice was put on red alert and a de­tailed se­cu­rity or­der was is­sued to com­bat mob vi­o­lence. As a re­sult of co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the civil ad­min­is­tra­tion and the mil­i­tary, the corps head­quar­ters at La­hore also put in place its con­tin­gency plan­ning in aid of civil au­thor­ity. We even placed a po­lice wire­less op­er­a­tor in the army of­fice for a minute-to-minute re­lay of the law and or­der sit­u­a­tion.

As protest pro­ces­sions turned big­ger and more vi­o­lent, po­lice re­sorted to lath­icharge and tear-gas shelling to pre­vent the mob from torch­ing sites sa­cred to the mi­nori­ties. As the sit­u­a­tion turned ex­tremely volatile, I sought the per­mis­sion of the in­spec­tor gen­eral of po­lice, Pun­jab, and also con­sulted with the deputy com­mis­sioner to al­low the po­lice to re­sort to fir­ing in re­sponse to widescale dam­age to prop­erty.

In­de­ci­sion pre­vailed at the pol­icy level for some time. How­ever, the IG came back to me and said that the political au­thor­i­ties had de­cided not to re­act vi­o­lently to the mob frenzy. Tac­itly, the IG sug­gested that the po­lice should not con­front the mob and let the crowd de­stroy aban­doned tem­ples and churches.

With a heavy heart, I had to tell the po­lice divi­sional com­man­ders not to re­sort to fir­ing in the ab­sence of any or­ders from the district ad­min­is­tra­tion. How­ever, all ef­forts were made to evac­u­ate the tem­ples and churches so that loss of life would not oc­cur. The mob de­stroyed tem­ples and the La­hore Mu­nic­i­pal Cor­po­ra­tion's ma­chin­ery was also de­ployed to fa­cil­i­tate the task of the mob­sters.

It was a sad day for Pak­istan. Religious in­tol­er­ance man­i­fested it­self at the political and pol­icy lev­els. Po­lice bore the brunt of mob fury and hap­less cit­i­zens suf­fered agony and ha­rass­ment. The blame should squarely be shared and ad­mit­ted by the political and mil­i­tary pol­i­cy­mak­ers.

If Babri Masjid be­came a sym­bol of Hindu fa­nati­cism, Lal Masjid in Is­lam­abad re­flects the big­otry and vi­o­lence of zealots in Pak­istan. The clash be­tween the state and non-state ac­tors in July 2007 brought in its wake a legacy of shame and vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism that re­fuses to go away. The du­plic­i­tous state poli­cies and con­se­quent in­tol­er­ant and big­oted mind­set that is all-per­va­sive show their ugly man­i­fes­ta­tions too fre­quently.

A case in point is the le­niency shown to the fire­brand cleric of the in­fa­mous Lal Masjid, who is known for his vi­o­la­tions re­lated to hate speech, fan­ning mil­i­tancy, in­sti­gat­ing sec­tar­i­an­ism, in­cit­ing ter­ror­ism and chal­leng­ing the state time and again. He had the cheek to in­volve the ISI in a con­tro­versy by claim­ing that he was ne­go­ti­at­ing with an of­fi­cer of the agency while an­other se­nior of­fi­cial of the same in­sti­tu­tion was act­ing as a 'spoiler'.

I find the role of Is­lam­abad po­lice as timid and strange in this case; in­stead of set­ting an ex­am­ple of zero tol­er­ance against religious big­ots, they have cho­sen not to as­so­ciate the ac­cused in in­ves­ti­ga­tion and sug­gested that he ob­tain pre-ar­rest bail. The cleric is not even both­ered claim­ing that a false case was reg­is­tered against him and as per di­vine guid­ance (is­tikhara) be­ing un­favourable, he was re­luc­tant to go for bail. What logic! It de­fies all the prin­ci­ples of crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Why are the po­lice re­luc­tant to pro­ceed with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion or ar­rest the fa­natic mul­lah? Know­ing the cul­ture of 'nod from the boss', they are ob­vi­ously await­ing the in­te­rior min­is­ter's or­ders. So much for the op­er­a­tional au­ton­omy of the po­lice un­der a mer­cu­rial min­is­ter!

An­other case of du­plic­ity in terms of the pol­icy of the state in tak­ing on all non-state ac­tors is the de­layed re­al­i­sa­tion af­ter the Pathankot at­tack that ac­tion against Jaish-e-Mo­ham­mad should have been taken ef­fec­tively as part of the Na­tional Ac­tion Plan. In the meet­ing chaired by the prime min­is­ter on Jan 21, 2015, I had cau­tioned the political lead­er­ship and se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment that the banned mil­i­tant out­fits in Pun­jab would pose a mor­tal threat to the in­tegrity of the state. The dis­tinc­tion be­tween 'good' and 'bad' mil­i­tants should give way to across-the-board ac­tion against all banned groups who con­tinue to op­er­ate un­der new names. The state should go af­ter the mas­ter­minds, fa­cil­i­ta­tors, of­fice bear­ers and ac­tivists by seal­ing the of­fices and ar­rest­ing the mil­i­tants un­der the Anti-Ter­ror­ism Act and the Pro­tec­tion of Pak­istan Act.

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