It all comes together. When the Sindh government agreed on Tuesday to the demands of the citizens observing a sit-in for over 30 hours in protest against the Shikarpur blast, probably everyone forgot about Kashmir Solidarity Day. It has been observed annually in Pakistan every February 5 since 1991 when the Nawaz Sharif government during its first stint in power demarcated it as a national holiday.
Advisor to the Sindh government Sharmila Faruqi acknowledged that the demands of the civil society group led by lawyer M. Jibran Nasir were what the government should be doing anyway – like take action against terrorist groups and hate speech. She also rightly laid emphasis on the need to follow due process and to uphold the rule of law. The demands included removing the flags and banners of banned organisations and erasing wall chalking that constitutes hate-speech. The police have reportedly begun moving on these demands.
But it’s not so easy to counter the narrative that has been fostered in Pakistan for decades equating the Kashmir issue with Islam with patriotism. All the so-called religious parties always take out rallies on Kashmir Day. Earlier, they were allies of the security establishment. Things have changed. Now there’s a war going on.
Pakistan’s “religious” groups support the militants who are now at war with Pakistan and have killed over 50,000 civilians and over 10,000 armed forces personnel. Some of these ‘religious’ groups are now also banned for their hate-narrative against different religious communities. Yesterday the Sindh government declared that the Ahle-Sunnat-Wal Jammat (ASWJ) is banned. ASWJ grew out of the banned SSP, that had started out in the 1980s as ASS (name changed after they realised what it stood for), an organisation that under the guise of protecting the ‘honour of the Prophet’, on him be peace, is behind most of the ‘blasphemy’ cases in the country.
On Wednesday evening, ASWJ sent messages to the media demanding coverage for their Kashmir Day rally in Karachi, starting at 2 pm at Lasbela and ending at Gurumandir. Karachi police have not granted them permission for the rally. In Lahore, other ‘banned’ organisations like Jamaat-ud-Dawa are also gearing up for similar rallies.
Pakistan must act firmly against these banned organisations and not allow them to use Kashmir Day as a pretext to flaunt their flags and banners in public. The administration is quick to bring out water cannons and riot police against unarmed peaceful demonstrators. Let the state show its might against those who actually need to be curbed.
Civil society must continue to uphold the need for a continuation of the democratic political process, which in the long term is the only way to curb this menace, rather than calling for any kind of military intervention. It is army interference in politics and foreign and domestic policy that has led to this mess in the first place. It is not something that can be cleaned up overnight.
We need a democratic political process in the long term, and in the short term, decisive actions against those who break the law, whether they do it on the pretext of religion or solidarity with Kashmir, or anything.
As for the Kashmir dispute, I endorse the view that Kashmir should not be treated as merely a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan, but as a matter of the lives and aspirations of the Kashmiri people, whose views must be taken into account when the matter is discussed – to roughly paraphrase from the statement issued at the very first Pakistan India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD) convention in 1994.