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Beyond The Kartarpur Corridor There Is Much To Be Done

Miranda Husain
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The good cheer was overshadowed by those who failed to distinguish between worship rituals and day-to-day survival in a nation where religion is employed as an instrument of state power, writes Miranda Husain 

Kaptaan must be feeling rather tickled pink. At bowling over all the Thomases who doubted his ability to go as the crow flies. Yet he has managed to leave everyone and their cat well and truly stumped. For the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor has proved a resoundingly U-turn-free zone.

Of course, there was that pesky matter of being publicly checked by the military mouthpiece. Over the premiership move of inviting Sikh pilgrims from India and encouraging the leaving of passports at home. But Imran Khan is sufficiently mature to understand that this is the price the civvies must pay when the Army chief speaks for them.

When all is said and done, however, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) deserves praise for prioritising the right to religious worship over uneasy neighbourly relations with New Delhi. Not least because the Corridor’s inauguration coincides with the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Devan Ji: the founder of Sikhism. 

Yet the good cheer was overshadowed. By some in Immy’s inner circle. Choosing this historic occasion to persuade that here, in this hard country, minorities enjoy full fundamental rights. No one, from the Sindh Governor to the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting, had seemingly received the memo distinguishing between worship rituals and day-to-day survival in a nation where religion — or, indeed, any ideology crossing the public-private divide — is employed as an instrument of state power. 

Pakistan needs to uphold or re-negotiate the social contract. Neither of which appears to be happening. Instead, the likes of Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan bemoans how “our religion” will remain incomplete without belief in the finality of the Prophet (PBUH). Thereby reinforcing the dangerous anti-Ahmadi prejudice to which the Centre itself succumbed when it sacked Dr Atif Mian from the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) over his faith. Similarly, the special assistant for Information urges country’s youth to draw inspiration from the Holy Quran to propel them forward. Yet this unwittingly sends the message — regardless of the question of Islam providing minority justice — that the state is only concerned with the welfare of its mainstream Muslim population. Thus reducing non-Muslims and minority sects to mere props.

Such comments are highly irresponsible. Especially coming in the same week that the Lahore High Court (LHC) ordered security for eyewitnesses in the so-called Christian couple lynching case; coinciding with the fifth year anniversary of brick kiln worker Shahzad Masi and his pregnant wife, Shama Bibi, being beaten and burned to death over false blasphemy claims. That the pair are still waiting posthumously for justice — before an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC), no less — remains a travesty. This is not to suggest that the courts have sat idle all this time. But it is to point out when accessing due process, minorities often have to battle a numbers game. In this instance, some140 people were booked for murder back in November 2014; a figure reduced to 103 by the time charge-sheets were made. Shockingly, once the trial got underway, 90 more were acquitted. Including the brick kiln owner who reportedly locked the pair up and left them to their fate. To date, only three people have been sentenced for the killings; with two others exculpated as recently as May. 

This is some rough justice.  And while it did not kick off on PTI’s watch — the same cannot be said of the furore led by a resurgent and violent religious right that demanded Asia Bibi’s head on a stick. Following the Christian farm labourer’s exoneration of all blasphemy charges. A country that ensures fundamental rights for all has no need for capitulation. 

To be sure, there are small moves in the right direction. Including the Prime Minister’s prompt and principled sacking of then Punjab Information and Culture minister, Fayyazul Hassan Chohan, back in March. Over the latter’s hate speech in which he termed Hindus as “cow urine-drinking people”. Yet this welcome display of solidarity with a minority group was somewhat short-lived. For by the summer, a PTI placard featuring Kaptaan’s face as the poster-boy for Kashmiri unity suddenly sprang up. That it compared Hindus to Nazis represented the mother of own goals. At the very least, a distinction between Modi’s India and ordinary Hindus on both sides of the border was required.

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Elsewhere, Captain Safdar was booked last month under Article 124-A of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC); pertaining to sedition. For badmouthing state institutions while threatening to topple a sitting government. Yet the media insists on misreporting this as hate speech. Thereby doing a gross disservice to the real victims of this crime. Such as the Ahmadis who were the target of his merciless diatribe launched on the floor of the National Assembly some two years earlier. Where no one of any political hue interrupted this blatant incitement to violence. It is also reminiscent of how the PTI got tough with Khadim Rizvi and his Labbaik boys only after they called for insurrection against the COAS.

Thus if Pakistan’s minorities are to truly enjoy full freedom of rights — the state and all its institutions must recognise subservience to the citizenry. No matter race, religion or creed. And if that happens, only then can the PM dream of leading a modern Islamic society in the image of his own making. Something that will take generations. 

So, the real question is: does Kaptaan see himself batting in the long game? 

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