Offending the ‘gods of the state’

The attitude of some of those who act on behalf of our stateis terribly reminiscent of the city state of Athens circa 400 BC

Twelve months after five civil society activists mysteriously went missing Pakistan’s FIA has submitted a report before the Islamabad High Court effectively clearing their names. The five had, at the very beginning of this year, been accused of using social media to promote blasphemous ideas and content. The ‘disappeared’ were: academic Salman Haider; bloggers Asim Saeed; Waqas Goraya and Ahmed Raza Naseer; and Civil Progressive Alliance Pakistan (CPAP) president, Samar Abbas.

The way in which they seemingly evaporated into thin air before finally reappearing only to immediately flee the country suggests that they had been unlawfully picked up by our spooks. Indeed, this was later confirmed by one of the gentlemen as he gave an interview with an international media house. Fortunately, all five managed to survive the physical torture endured. Had they not, this overdue acquittal would have been utterly meaningless.

Admittedly, most comparisons prove unjust. Nevertheless, the attitude of our state apparatus as well as some of those who act on its behalf is terribly reminiscent of the city state of Athens circa 400 BC. This was the time when Socrates lived and ultimately lost his life for allegedly corrupting young minds; in short, for not believing in the gods of the Athenian state. For he dared to question the capricious highhandedness emanating from the uppermost echelons of power, including the collective notion of ‘might makes right’. Thus was he condemned and tried for these crimes. His fate was thus the death sentence by way of drinking a hemlock poison.

All of which begs the question as to who are the gods of the Pakistani state. The answer lies in the usual suspects: the Islamist clergy as well as the military establishment. Of course, there may be others too; though these are nothing more than bit part players. Meaning that the latter neither enjoy as much hegemony over the state nor can they single-handedly in one fell swoop overturn the tables of our polity. This then leaves it to usual suspects, who, knowing each other’s strengths only too well often find themselves working hand-in-glove. And so it happens that when one group or another criticises the military – over singularly calling the shots in terms of national security, foreign policy and especially vis-à-vis our relations with both India and Afghanistan – they are immediately labelled anti-state. And since Pakistan stands for Islam, they are also accused of being either atheists or anti-Islam. The same thing happens when a particular groups slams what it may see as the sectarian encroachment of the dominant sect of Islam here in Pakistan. It goes without saying that this offends the gods of our state.

Today, the state stands fully naked as it readily extends generosity to men with untold blood on their hands, such as Ehsanullah Ehsan. While, conversely, it ‘disappears’, tortures and tries to prosecute those who believe in protesting through peaceful means the state’s very unscrupulousness

Thus it is no coincidence when so-called dissenters find themselves ‘ousted’ as either being on the RAW or CIA payroll – or else falsely accused of blasphemy. After all, most of us witnessed how some of our most ultra-orthodox television anchors and self-proclaimed televangelists spread malevolent propaganda against the five bloggers. Interestingly, in their case the complainant was the Shuhada Foundation, a group associated with pro-ISIS Imam of the notorious Red Mosque in Islamabad.

I personally believe that our social media activists and those like them dream of a tolerant Pakistan where democracy flourishes beyond electoral exercises and consequent of government. But let us suppose for a moment that by striving towards this goal – our dissenters have, in fact, incited unrest or else corrupted the minds of the impressionable. Yet even then, they must be dealt with in accordance to the law and in a manner befitting a state. As opposed to having branches of the latter going round like hooligans and abducting them. Sadly, the apex court that is so keen to take suo motu action when it comes to lowly administrative issues like particular water supply lines doesn’t appear to feel the same compulsion when it comes to taking to task those who commit grave human rights violations.

Naturally, the gods of the state are more inclined towards those groups which expertly exploit both religion and jingoistic patriotism. Thus they have no qualms about muzzling the dissenting few who sincerely believe that the state owes equity to those of its citizens not necessarily subscribing to the ideas of dominant orthodoxy. Today, therefore, does the state stand fully naked as it readily extends all sorts of generosity and kindness to men with untold blood on their hands, such as Ehsanullah Ehsan and Asmatullah Muawiya. While, conversely, it ‘disappears’, tortures and tries to prosecute those whom believe in protesting through peaceful means the state’s very unscrupulousness.

And so it will be that these false idols, these gods of the state will continue their illegitimate hold over Pakistan both in terms of society and polity; unless and until the ideals of civilian supremacy and democracy are fully realised. The greatest irony of which is that this is something they understand well, perhaps more than the citizenry or the political leadership itself. For else why would they always position themselves as the harshest critics of people-led power and related civil liberties alike. Thus to be sure, without any shadow of a doubt, whenever directly elected governments have been ousted – this was the work of the usual suspects acting in cahoots.

It seems, perhaps, that many more dissenters will have to suffer at the hands of our repressive state; quite possibly for another decade or so. Yet this ought not to be cause for complacency. For time is surely running out for such acts of oppressive highhandedness on the parts of our self-appointed gods.

The writer is a sociologist with interest in history and politics. He tweets @ZulfiRao and can be reached at

Published in Daily Times, December 29th 2017.