When Nawaz Sharif was trying to impose his so-called Sharia Law in Pakistan during his last stint as Prime Minister in the late 1990s, I voiced my despair at this dangerous move to the respected journalist Aziz Siddiqui, who was co-director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Siddiqui sahib heard me out. He paused and removed the pipe from his mouth, then replied in his gentle way, with a half smile, “Phir kya karein, hathyar Dal deiN?” (So what shall we do, shall we lay down our weapons?).
He was right, of course. We can’t afford to lay down our weapons. Our weapons are our words and our non-violent, collective insistence on truth, transparency, accountability and fair play. Lies, spin, and violence will not win.
I often remember the late Siddiqui sahib’s words. I was reminded of them again today by despair brought on by the blast today in Karachi, which has claimed 45 lives so far (and counting). The explosion took place in Abbas Town, a residential area inhabited mostly by Shia Muslims. The initial death toll has steadily risen and includes women and children.
This is not ‘sectarian’ violence, but target killings by banned extremist militant outfits funded largely by money from Saudi Arabia. Their predecessors gained strength during the first Afghan war in the 1980s during the Zia years. Wall chalkings began appearing in Pakistan’s cities proclaiming Shia Muslims as ‘kafir’ or infidel. We are reaping the hatred sowed during those years, compounded by poor law and order practices; criminals at the local level not being apprehended, charged, tried and punished because police don’t have the power/training/means to follow through; courts freeing them for lack of ‘evidence'; no witness protection plan. The militants are getting emboldened, stepping up their activities, and most political parties are bending over backward to appease them. What we need is strict action against them. You can’t hold dialogue with those who are holding a gun to your head.
At the same time it is important to remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr. that are so relevant in this situation, where anger and frustration is rising: “As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos” -quoted by labour leader Steven Tolman at the NAACP MLK breakfast in Cambridge on Feb 23, 2013.