As human rights activists disappear, the civil society fears the worst

With such a delusional sense of patriotism we would only do more harm to this nation than good

The society at large is shocked by the disappearance of Salman Haider and other human rights/secular activists.

It is being perceived as a dark chapter in Pakistan’s history, one that reminisces the days of Zia Ul Haq in the 70s and his crackdown against that deemed un-islamic and anti-state.

This dark new chapter against civil society is not being fought on the streets, colleges or universities as they were back in the Zia’s days. In this new age of information we can clearly see governments around the world taking every possible step they can to silence dissent, discourse or any work deemed a threat to “national security” and vested interest, with mass surveillance, media censorship or silencing activists forever.

Pakistani human rights activist protest against the disappearance of human rights activists (AFP)

Dr Salman Haider an academic and poet together with blogger Ahmad Waqas Goraya, Aasim Saeed and Ahmed Raza were some of the names to surface, of the secular activists to have disappeared without any trace. Till now unofficial sources are pointing out to abductions of over all nine activists mainly from Punjab. The government only naively responds to not being aware of these mysterious abductions.

All these social media activists had a set of things in common, they wrote openly on social media, their Facebook pages and blogs condemned the ever increasing rise in religious extremism, sectarianism and highlighted the plight of religious and ethnic minorities often with their fearless poetry, political satire and thought provoking blog posts.

A war on left-leaning and liberal activists can already be seen across South Asia in the recent years as scores of secular bloggers have been murdered in Bangladesh by militant Islamist groups, which remain at large. While in India Hindutva extremists attacked and murdered secular thinkers as well ensuing a debate of how tolerant ‘Modern India’ is.

Civil society and other human rights activist protest against abduction of Salman Haider and other activists outside Karachi Press Club (AFP)

Pakistan is a nation with its own complex socio-political dynamics that has adversely been impacted by decades of Islamist terrorist insurgency (all thanks to Zia’s unholy alliance with the West to defeat Soviet Union) which so far has only contributed to a significant loss of life of its own civilian population.

Despite the heavy toll its people have suffered, we can still see a long list of jihadi extremist groups operating openly in the name of Islam and humanitarian work often using social media e.g. Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube to sell their toxic sectarian ideology that has already cost the lives of thousands of people, promoting extremist views that seek to declare anyone an apostate and blasphemer if they don’t agree to the ‘status quo’ narrative of religious or nationalistic ideology even threatening members of arm forces, media and political parties with complete impunity.

Still, we’re unable to see a crackdown to silence the voice of hate and intolerance; instead we can see activists, who speak for an inclusive, tolerant and progressive Pakistan, vanish without trace.

If speaking out against extremism is considered anti-Islam, if speaking out against intolerance is considered anti-Pakistan, if speaking out against human rights violations is considered anti-military, then I am sorry to say that our idea of nationalism is full of flaws. With such a delusional sense of patriotism we would only do more harm to this nation than good.

What we have witnessed are sudden disappearances in quite distressing situations. We see poet activist Salman Haider who can’t survive without his allergy medication, but still continues to inspire others with his beautiful poetry targeting extremism. We see Ahmed Raza, a polio-stricken young man in a wheelchair, who was taken away in front of his father without any trace of his whereabouts. We see Ahmed Waqass Goraya a husband of 9 years, and father to a beautiful son, taken away while he was on a short visit to his beloved nation leaving his wife in distress and concerned about his safety and health.

With the worrisome news of these missing activists being abducted and held without any trace, a climate of fear and distress is concerning every activist, blogger and journalist in the country.

Despite this fear we can still see members of the civil society from across the country e.g. Karachi, Multan, Lahore and Islamabad join together to protest and demand an immediate recovery of all missing activists.

The civil society is doing its part as concerned citizens let us all strive for a Pakistan where no one should be abducted at any cost. Let us all raise our voice against bigotry, oppression and persecution of all sorts that is being carried out against activists striving hard for a progressive Pakistan. Let us all uphold the law that is often taken up for granted and break the never-ending silence against this senseless oppression of freedom and progress.

Muhammad Salman Khan is a Karachi-based environmental blogger and social activist. He is a lover of nature, defender of human rights and environment. Follow him on Twitter

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