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Opinion

Kamila Hyat
November 2, 2017

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Shrouded in mystery

Shrouded in mystery

So many things happen within our society and our state that seem to remain forever shrouded in mystery, with no truth ever peeking through and offering us the transparency that every state needs in order to create a sense of belonging and ownership among its citizens. There have been murders throughout our history that have remained unsolved.

The assassination of our first prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951 still remains a mystery. Murders that occurred decades later, including those of Murtaza Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, also remain unsolved. The layers of secrets that surround these killings and many others create a mist which blocks reality and keeps us locked inside a secret and sometimes oppressive state.

Last week, journalist Ahmed Noorani was added to the list of hundreds of media persons who have been attacked in the country. Pakistan, where some 120 journalists have been killed since 1990, is now ranked among the world’s most dangerous countries for those reporting the news. We need not agree with the views, opinions and motives of any one of them. But there is no doubt that the active attempts to silence voices makes our country a darker place – a place where the true facts rarely reach the public eye and are locked in a literal and metaphorical fog that leads to an increasingly narrow range of vision.

As has been the case in past killings, many theories and rumours have circulated about who targeted Noorani and why. These speculations will inevitably continue. There is much doubt over whether we will ever discover the actual sequence of events. Past instances suggest that there is great likelihood that we will not. After all, murders from the past – including that of Hayatullah Khan in North Waziristan in 2006 – remain unresolved. The active efforts made to target Hayatullah’s family in the years that followed his death point towards a direction. But there is no proof, no way of knowing and no definitive answer. The same is true of the many killings and curious events that have occurred before or since that day.

Even today, we have no understanding of why the arms depot in Rawalpindi burst into flames, setting off the Ojhri Camp nightmare in 1988. Over 100 people died and many more were injured or maimed. There remains a sense of secrecy regarding the findings of the various investigations into this incident. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi – whose father was killed in the incident while his brother, Zahid Abbasi, was so gravely injured that he went into a coma and remained bedridden for 17 years till his death – has many reasons to look into the paperwork that exists regarding the disaster which must still haunt him.

The tragedy, however, is that there can be no guarantee that even a sitting prime minister will be able to discover the full truth which led to one of the gravest tragedies in our history.

There are, of course, many other incidents scattered through the years after Pakistan’s existence. Too many events take place outside the public eye and behind a thick screen through which no light shines. The result, of course, is that citizens never know quite what goes on or even what drives the state forward and determines specific chains of events.

Anyone with a degree of experience in examining the nature of governance and the manner in which it occurs can guess the reasons. But with growing efforts to impose darkness across social media through new cybercrime laws, we can never get beyond the point of guessing, speculating and formulating theories. This situation, of course, makes it easy for conspiracies to flourish and distorted visions of reality to be planted while the truth is kept hidden.

Many states operate in a similar fashion to some degree. But laws on transparency suggest that more facts do fall into the public sphere. The release of the papers on the killing of John F Kennedy in 1963 over the past few weeks provides an example of this. While many years may have passed since the murder, at least some evidence has come forward that can allow people to piece together some parts of a large and scattered puzzle.

In our state, this is a virtual impossibility. Information is so tightly controlled that despite the existence of a free and vocal media, those who work within the confined spaces of newsrooms will testify that there are many black holes they are not even allowed to peep into.

Not a word emerges from these vast spaces of emptiness. If an individual does dare delve into them, he or she can be handled with frightening ease. The degree of violence from various groups that has afflicted our country makes this so much easier and results in a situation that leaves disappearances, death and murderous attacks as mysteries that will linger on forever.

To add to this problem, we live in an age of obscurantism. Attempts to light up buildings in Islamabad in pink to create breast cancer awareness led to a social media outcry and, apparently, threats to officials – specifically over illuminating the Faisal Masjid to raise awareness about the disease. This is in spite of the fact that Pakistan has the highest rate of deaths from breast cancer in the world, with one in every eight women affected by the disease. Although it can be cured if detected in its early stages, breast cancer often proves to be fatal because it is not recognised and a stigma hangs over it.

There are other taboos as well – many of them. There are many issues that are never discussed. As a result, tens of thousands of people suffer. More often than not, they are women. This too adds to the dark veil that shrouds so much of our reality in a country that has refused to move into the light.

Within our society, dark forces operate to keep the cloud in place. There is more and more we can no longer talk about openly and more and more questions to which there are no answers. Until a greater sense of openness is created, we will continue to suffer in silence and live in fear. It is impossible to say who will be the next to face an attack or who will disappear.

The fate of the thousands who rights groups have reported to be missing in the country is simply not known. They could either be dead or have been simply locked up in illegal detention centres. Even the story of the American-Canadian couple and their two children who were apparently valiantly rescued by Pakistani forces from the grip of extremists after five years in captivity is shrouded in mystery. The victims have themselves given contradictory statements on their return to Canada.

In our own country, no one with any sense or regard for his or her own life would even attempt to try and uncover the truth. It is simply too dangerous to do so. As a result of these dangers, we fall further into the trap of secrecy. From this dark hole, there is no ladder that we can use to haul ourselves out into the open again.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

 

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