Missing in the Movement
By Riaz Ahmed
Bol TV’s Aamir Liaquat recently attacked protesters and supporters of January 19 Karachi demonstration for Dr Salman Haider, four bloggers and all missing persons. Liaquat has branded Sheema Kirmani, Asad Butt, Zehra Khan and others for supporting the ‘blasphemous bloggers’. This attack has stunned the civil society. There is a real threat that the verbal attack will be picked up by some fanatics and the named people may be physically harmed. Pakistani media has certainly touched a new low.
Attacks on civil society have not been new. The bravest of them, Sabeen Mehmood, was murdered soon after she hosted a talk on Baloch missing persons last year on April 23. A year earlier a profound social sector activist Perveen Rehman was murdered in cold blood just outside her project office in renowned slum area of Orangi Town, Parveen was known for her work on regularization of village areas eyed by property tycoons. A whole host of other activists, lawyers, journalists have been attacked, maimed, forced to seek asylum or murdered for exposing violation of fundamental rights of the suppressed or for advocating their cause. Its not a matter of state institutions like military or police agencies only that they violate human rights. There are many on the loose, set loose and harboured militant outfits of various shades that outsmart state institutions to create chaos and confusion.
Aamir Liaqat’s attack should therefore not be seen merely as a conspiracy. Similar to Islamist outfits looking for opportunities in the form of sectarian killings, attacks on minorities and exploitation of laws against the weak, other institutions are seeking to optimize on attacking the vulnerable. A whole host of TV channels are daily attacking the lower-middle class in their quest to portray crime as something committed singularly by the powerless. Likewise, Aamir Liaquat has attacked the liberal-left as it appeared vulnerable in defending Salman and other bloggers. No doubt certain agencies are working 24hours behind the scenes on social media to create mischief against anyone challenging the state. Mere criticism of military operations on Balochistan, Pushtoonkhwa, Sindh, Karachi, Shia Genocide or mobilization of state-sponsered jihadi outfits are all considered threats to national security. Channels like BOL by picking on the vulnerable are maximizing their appeal towards the lower and middle class segments in a quest to become mainstream.
On the one hand portraying the attacks on Shias as Iran-Saudi conflict, use of discriminatory laws as protection of religious values, labeling those challenging mega projects like CPEC as Indian agents, justifying disappearances in the name of blasphemy and above all justifying military operations in the name of threats to the state and people has increased manifold in past few years. On the other the disappearance of Wahid Baloch, a writer and publisher of repute, followed by a small but effective movement by the liberal-left in Karachi, Hyderabad and Lahore and largely on social media led not only to the release of Wahid but gave a good boost to the otherwise ‘bound to disappear movements for the disappeared’, as it has happened in the past 12 years.
A young generation of activists, otherwise limited to the social media, led by artists, rights activists, committed leftists has taken great inspiration from the Wahid Baloch campaign. It is this confidence that is unbearable for the state and government institutions involved in disappearances of men and women form a whole cross section of the society. They fear a broader, mass movement involving youth, political and social activists. The letting loose of Aamir Liaquat therefore must be seen in the context of the mixture of state interests converging with a hate campaign of an otherwise shady isolated news channel.
Activists like Wahid, Salman and thousands are being missed because they are part of the movement against injustice. The movement for Baloch liberation continues largely because those in the movement never fail to express solidarity with the missing. Those in the movement for the recovery of missing persons one thing must be clear– there will be no movement without raising the issue of those missing from the movement. The state and non-state institutions will continue to attack the movement until it gives up the issue of the missing.
Since 2004 dissapperances have been challenged by the Baloch. Their movement demanding control of the resources split the nationalists in Balochistan. One section was brutally suppressed by the military. The other, like the National Party, Peoples Party and Muslim League, were coopted by the state through successive governments. This cooption was designed to weaken the movement, squeeze out those demanding political rights and clear the path towards greater projects like CPEC. But now Baloch are one example amongst the thousands missing across Pakistan. Therefore the heightened suppression has to be challenged by a greater movement of the suppressed, more united and more broad-based. At the moment this movement involves at its core the liberals, leftists and activists of various shades. It has to spread and embrace the marginalized Shias, brutally silenced Baloch, the missing of the missing Pushtoon, the horrified Sindhi speaking nationalists and the Urdu speaking families of the missing. There have been attempts in the past to divide the movement. A tragic expression of this was Dr Zafar Arif’s legal disappearance. The liberal-left was held back on this attack by the politics that sees Karachi from the vintage point of MQM. A broader movement for the missing persons therefore must not miss even a single person forcibly disappeared by the state and the government — missing the missing will divide the movement and this suits those behind enforced disappearances.
There is no doubt that there are various forces against peace and development in Pakistan. Many elements belonging to the commercial liberal segment influence the movement for the interests of their masters. However the liberal-left must ensure that the greater goals of the movement are not shrunk to suit the interests of vested interests. The more broader, democratic, all encompassing the movement the greater the chance that voices of the suppressed come out clear to impress upon the huge majority that is silenced by the noise created in the name of national interest and development.
All forms of protests, mobilization, propaganda and engagement must be used. Social media is a powerful medium and its use has allowed exchange of ideas amongst the lower middle to middle class youth. Its time we start thinking about moving towards campuses, forming missing person support groups via social media inside campuses, arranging speakers to speak at events in the campus, arranging relatives of the missing to speak to students so they get first hand details of their ordeal, and distributing leaflets and posters will add a real life touch to the otherwise shared, enjoyed and forgetten memes. On streets when attacked; at the workplaces and campuses in the meantime. In the end formation of a national coalition of activists for the missing persons should be able to give a greater call for protests. It will be at this stage that the society will appear to take sides more clearly and audience for the people like Aamir Liaquat will be limited to their core, the scope of state institutions involved in violations of human rights will then be limited enough to avoid alliances with the non-state actors.