Pakistan’s Punjab province and its India-centric media are waking up to Mullahgardhi after the brutal assassination of minority leader and federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti on March 2nd and Punjab governor Salman Taseer on January 4th--one Christian and the other a Muslim Shaheed (Allah may bless their soulds). The twin assassinations have drawn a dividing line in the Punjab and to some extent in the media, two major bases for molding public opinion in Pakistan.
This divide line was lacking in Pakistan’s most populous province when politician of the national caliber from Sindh Benazir Bhutto was murdered in highly dubious circumstances in December 2007. The same antipathy was noticed when Mullah’s Ghundagardhi (terrorism) was ruling the roost in Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. The so-called ever-expanding media of Pakistan kept distance from telling stories of families whose men were beheaded, women were openly whipped, schools were bombed (still continues), and Mullahs started patrolling cities and towns in Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, the western neighbors of the Punjab.
The truth prevails no matter how much generals, Sharifs, Rahmans, Munawwars, Kamrans, Mirs, Abbasis, Masoods, Rasheeds and Imams, try to sugarcoat Mullahism as ‘strategic depth’, ‘Jehad’, ‘the frontline army against India’, ‘foreign war’, and ‘war imposed on Pakistan’ . The tunnel vision, or close-ended thinking one may call it, didn’t open up to Mullah’s Ghundagardhi in Swat or Waziristan, but Shaheed Bhatti and Shaheed Taseer broke the smokescreen in the Punjab.
With full sympathy for families of Shaheed Taseer and Shaheed Bhatti, the two assassinations are exposing the hitherto less-debated Ghundagardhi of Mullahgardhi in Pakistan. The tragic killings are waking up liberals (believers in diversity of opinion) of the Punjab and some honorable journalists to speak their mind in public. There are more tweets, more columns, more facebook, more parliamentary debates, more editorials calling liberals bravos and Mullahs cowards, more exposure of undercover Mullahs in military, media and political gallery of Pakistan.
While all this is a significant step towards changing the centuries old Hindu-centered Punjabi mind, the liberals and democratic forces of the province need to build pressure on the pro-Taliban Sharifs-led provincial government for cutting off its relations with religious terrorists. The current policy of the Sharif brothers is equivalent to MMA’s rule in Pakhtunkhwa in early 2000s. Then Chief Minister Akram Durrani of the Jamiat-e-Ulama-i-Islam and Senior Minister Sirajul Haq of the Jama’at-e-Islami were telling the masses of Taliban’s non-existence when Mullah Fazlullah was fortifying Taliban’s headquarters in Swat Valley.
If Sharifs are not delivering at this critical moment, the Punjab has to kick them out of power to see its young kids read from a book in a school, its women contribute to their families, its industry produce high quality surgical instruments, its men have a choice to shave or not to shave their beards, its musicians make new tunes and its Alhamra stage Pakistan’s culture in years to come.
The alternative is dangerous. A ‘shut up’ policy against the killer Mullah will finally land nukes into his hand, millions will be displaced, drones will control the skies, queues will be everywhere in front of the WFP’s trucks, pregnant women will die in tents due to lack of health facilities and a bag of one kilo pulse will be sold for Rs 1,000, by then a dollar will be equal to Rs 10,000.
This is what history has shown, not far away in Latin America or Sub-Saharan Africa, but just next door in Swat valley, FATA and Afghanistan. Let’s learn a lesson and reject the ‘strategic depth’ story of the GHQ for a peaceful Pakistan with religious tolerance for all its citizens.