Buses carrying unarmed citizens were intercepted. Passengers were forced to disembark at gunpoint, abducted, identified and then killed execution style in Mastung, Balochistan. This has happened before multiple times. In this round of murderous frenzy, the victims were selected on the basis of ethnicity and not sect. Does that make this murder less condemnable or more palatable? Of course, it does not. A murder is a murder is a murder. Here again, the victims were carefully chosen and subsequently murdered. No claims of responsibility have come yet. However, some friends seek to apologise in advance. Simply put, what if the Baloch separatists claim responsibility the massacre? Should the condemnation then be equivocal and in layers? Enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and historical, systemic deprivation are part of the shabby and bloody report card of the state in Balochistan. Yet, does this in any way excuse or lessen the barbarity of what has been perpetrated? It does not. The killing in Mastung was in substance and as in form identical to the executions previously carried out by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and affiliates. Previous killings of non-Baloch settlers by the BLA, etc. are plain and simple cold-blooded murder.
It is always helpful to provide context for the violence; never to make apologies for murder. The conversation on the impunity and failure of state in Balochistan has to be conducted and conducted vigorously now. However, the passengers on that bus were not killed by historical deprivation. They were killed by people who believed that unarmed, non-combatants can be deliberately targeted and killed execution style and there is no justifying that. It is murder when those identified and killed are Shia and it is murder when those identified are non-Baloch citizens of Balochistan.
It is murder when bullet-riddled bodies of the victims of enforced disappearances are found dumped. Extra-judicial killing without trial does not become kosher because the killed was suspected to be a non-patriot.
It seems all of us have blind spots towards preferred violence similar to the one example given above. For some, the TTP are ‘estranged brothers’ and the murder and mayhem that they have wreaked upon our soldiers and civilians is just a policy disagreement. The apologists either refuse to condemn them or spend a token of one line ‘all loss of life is regrettable’ and then go on to justify all of this as a function of US foreign policy and other assorted silliness. The flipside of this is if one does not share the apologists’ view and believes that whatever their ideology and grievances are, they have to be prevented from inflicting more violence on the citizenry then one is not to question the use of force by the state and not insist upon adhering to the norms of conducting hostilities. The binary is that violence needs to be accepted, justified and by extension backed wholesale; be it either of the TTP or collateral damage by the state.
Recently in Daska, Sialkot, a police officer using an assault rifle murdered two lawyers. The killing, while unfortunate, was perhaps, not a completely unprecedented or even unexpected occurrence in our brutalised society. The response to it was what was extremely alarming. The discourse on the media and amongst many enlightened friends was ‘both sides are to be blamed’, ‘Police gardi versus Wukala gardi’, ‘serves these lawyers right’, in short a search for equivalence. Let us assume that the lawyers were rowdy and hurled abuses, etc. Does that justify direct repeated gunfire from a close range? Does the lawyers’ perceived rowdiness of the past form an excuse for this murder? Like the Mastung and TTP examples; what is so difficult about terming a murder a murder. The population at large it seems does not like lawyers or the Police; yet it is disturbing how causally ‘verbal abuse’ and direct use of gunshots are equated.
The Model Town shooting is another troubling example. Dr Tahirul Qadri’s politics is dangerous and personally completely unappealing. However, does the pelting of the Police with stones, chanting slogans and blocking off a few roads mandate direct firing into the crowd, killing many including gunshots to the head? Here again friends began the condemnation along the lines, ‘Killing is of course wrong but these hooligans needed to be restrained…’ Really, shot in the head for pelting stones? There is a larger debate of a politically compromised police force without the capacity of modern riot control, etc. However, what happened in Daska and Model Town was murder and the victims did not bring it upon themselves by being rowdy.
Governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by his security guard because the murderer felt provoked due to his religious sensibilities being offended. Senator Israrullah Zehri once defended on the floor of the house the burying alive of five women (including three teenage girls) since the practice was a part of “our tribal custom”. Honour killings are justified routinely on the grounds of being provoked.
Mr Imran Khan wrote an utterly distasteful article after the Karsaz bombing in 2007 arguing the cruel line that Shaheed BB had herself to blame. Some of the lines that Mr Khan wrote in The Telegraph are:
“I’m sorry to say this, but the bombing of Benazir Bhutto’s cavalcade as she paraded through Karachi on Thursday night was a tragedy almost waiting to happen. You could argue it was inevitable.” “This may sound equally harsh, but she has only herself to blame.” “… Benazir was making herself a target for assassination.” “The tribesman’s culture is a revenge culture. When one is killed another takes his place.”
This is Mr Khan writing three days after a blast at Karsaz, Karachi, had killed at least 139 people. The point today is not to pick on Mr Khan but to merely illustrate that apology for murder is a thread that runs from the lawyer garlanding Mumtaz Qadri to the political leader scoring small points to the representatives of the state itself.
In this twisted non-logic, Salmaan Taseer and BB brought it upon themselves by being brave (or reckless as those who cannot summon courage in themselves phrase it). The lawyers in Daska and protestors in Model Town brought it upon themselves by being rowdy, Hazaras by belonging to the wrong sect and the victims of Mastung to the wrong ethnicity, the schoolchildren in APS being collateral damage. The murderer is absolved always by some of us. The murderer is stripped of agency and it seems he had to do it. Therein lies the problem. In all these examples the murderers chose to do what they did and the starting point is to describe their actions as they are. The context gives an opportunity for understanding, redress and prevention in future. An apology for the violence or demonising the victim does nothing but provide an enabling environment for the next killing.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2015.