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It is not enough to dismiss Sept 21 as an expression of hate. The event underlined a dangerous level of government incompetence. Many analysts in Pakistan are mistaking the violence we saw on Sept 21 as hate. It would be more accurate to see it as an indictment of an incompetent government and a failed political culture.
The worse violence occurred in areas heavily dominated by political parties. At the same time, many protests organised by religious and other parties were peaceful. Seeing the violence in purely a religious context would be wrong, an oversight that many analysts are making. The elected government of President Asif Zardari bears direct responsibility for the violence we saw on the government-sponsored ‘Ishq-e-Rasool Day’.
In a country facing security challenges and where political violence goes unchecked, who in his right mind would play with fire by designating a special day for protest? No other Arab or Muslim country did it. The Zardari government should be sued for millions of dollars lost by Pakistani citizens because of government incompetence.
More worrisome is political opportunism. There is a strong suspicion that the Zardari government exploited religion to offset the impact of its lost cases at the Supreme Court. For example, the blanket ban on YouTube – and not just the objectionable links – was an overblown step that came a day before an expected dismissal of Prime Minster Pervaiz Ashraf by the Supreme Court.
The national holiday asking people to come out on the streets was apparently part of a government strategy to create sympathy on the eve of a Supreme Court decision to disqualify key presidential aides, including interior minister Rehman Malik. It is telling that both the prime minister and interior minister pushed the idea of a day-off for protests against cabinet opposition.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Sept 21 debacle was more than just a government idea gone bad. Shouldn’t such a government be made accountable for the mess it created? Shouldn’t the interior minister be questioned for his lack of judgment on the consequences of designating a day off for protest on an inflammatory issue in a country already suffering from political violence?
The violence on Sept 21 is not dissimilar to violence committed by political parties on different occasions. The organised raids on banks in Karachi had little to do with anti-film rallies and more to do with a culture of violence fostered by political parties over a period of time.
This culture has led to the creation of secret militant wings in most parties, and to raising a cadre of ‘party workers’ trained for agitation and street violence. Sadly, even a relatively clean party like the PTI succumbed to street violence thanks to the recent recruitment of ‘party workers’ with prior professional experience.
It is not enough to dismiss Sept 21 as an expression of hate. The event underlined a dangerous level of government incompetence. It also highlighted a culture of street violence common to all political parties, religious and nonreligious.
Instead of turning this into a question of extremism, the Zardari government should be made answerable to serious questions about governance. It is also a good opportunity to put the violent Pakistani political culture on trial.
By Ahmed Quraishi
Pakistan Cyber Force