Salman Haider, Ahmad Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed, Ahmed Raza Naseer, and Samar Abbas have disappeared in the space of days. Some, like Haider, who happened to be a poet, writer, professor, and an editor at the fiercely outspoken publication Tanqeed, and Abbas, who stood as the leader of Civil Progressive Alliance Pakistan, were more prominent. Others, such as Goraya, Saeed, and Naseer kept lower profiles but were known among some as activists on social media.
Upon their disappearance, there was outrage in both Pakistan and international circles. In a country known as one of the most dangerous for free thinkers such as journalists and activists, the incidents were frightening.
The first question that sprang to mind is who is behind their disappearance? To answer that, let’s look at the common threads. All of these men were apparently critical of the government, the growing level of the religious radicalisation in Pakistan, and of the military.
To start with, it would be difficult to believe it is the government. This would be like believing a monkey has started riding a bicycle. I mean, it could happen, but it’s also highly implausible.
It’s also difficult to imagine it was religious zealots. The efficiency and chillingly organised nature with which all five men disappeared is beyond the capabilities of common extremists. For one, some of these men had just returned from overseas. For the other, the common zealot would not have been aware of the pages they may have been running in secrecy.
Interestingly and perhaps equally alarmingly, there has been a backlash. It is clearly an organised attempt at changing public opinion. In what is an old pattern, a vicious social media campaign against the abductees began on Twitter.
The old signs were there.
The character assassination, powered by identical tweets from dozens of different accounts simultaneously started a snowball effect. Anyone who has seen it happen before can recognise the patterns.
These professional elements with fake Twitter profiles usually start the opening over of the match with a combination of keywords like ‘blasphemer’, ‘Indian agent’, ‘anti-Pakistan’, ‘anti-Army’, ‘atheist’, and ‘anti-Islam’ amongst others. The accusations are all unsubstantiated, all often sporting the same spelling mistakes, pointing to a symptom of copy and paste. But it takes little to fire up our imbecilic ignoramuses, whether online or on the streets, who are easily triggered by such phrases without bothering to do their own checks and lacking the intellect to interpret words taken out of context.
Once the snowball is rolling and the mob has raised its pitchforks, the fire starters draw back into the shadows, letting the mob mentality do the work for them.
As far as the activists are concerned, the snowball has now turned into a rolling mountain, with frostiness spread to television. Just recently, someone who claimed to be a family member of one of the missing came on TV to hurl the sort of accusations at his own family member that will get you killed in Pakistan. One of the guests, our brightest star for human rights, Jibran Nasir was also the target of these accusations, and could only watch bemused.
Many of our keyboard warriors are now are calling for heads of these activists, so easily are they played like a piano.
Let’s say that these men did break laws, then why haven’t they been arrested and tried? For those behind their abductions, it seems like a trial in the public court is a far more a pressing matter than a trial in the court of law.
I have bigger concerns with our bloodthirsty public.
Why are we so thin-skinned? Why must we fight words with violence? Perhaps more disturbing is that these pages that allegedly were run by the activists who did not have more than a moderate following. It seems that scripture was used once again as a weapon by the mighty to sway the easily swayed public. The ones who simply can’t be spoken against, weren’t bothered by anti-radicalisation activism, but certainly used that as an excuse to silence chatter against them, themselves. This isn’t a new story, and it only fans further the flames of radicalisation.
What’s also bothersome is that while five activists who only harmlessly shared their opinions have disappeared, far more dangerous men walk freely in Pakistan, campaigning as they please.
Have a look:
Banned #ASWJ‘s Aurangzeb Farooqi, a 4th Scheduler who openly declares Shias kafir, will run for NA-18 Abbottabad. Ch Nisar’s motives r clear pic.twitter.com/EmVLD7V1CI
— Bilal Farooqi (@bilalfqi) January 12, 2017
Outlawed sectarian organisations (LeJ/ASWJ) should not be equated with terrorist outfits. Ch Nisar’s love for Ludhianvi is awe-inspiring. pic.twitter.com/Bgrzb8rn1m
— Ali Salman Alvi (@alisalmanalvi) January 11, 2017
Who’s placed jihadist Al-Muhammadia Students,wing of UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed’s banned Let/JuD, in charge of Pakistan’s ideology? pic.twitter.com/XB0eBB5YwY
— Bilal Farooqi (@bilalfqi) January 11, 2017
Interior Minister Nisar says that ASWJ, a violent anti-Shia group, banned by his own ministry, aren’t terrorists https://t.co/oOZ1XtPRGD
— Saeed Shah (@SaeedShah) January 11, 2017
Pls don’t cower to these fanatics! Banned #ASWJ‘s Aurangzeb Farooqi on Dec 25 threatens Sindh govt to roll back minorities protection bill pic.twitter.com/sJoItAeZ5C
— Bilal Farooqi (@bilalfqi) December 26, 2016
Faces of banned Sipah-e-Sahaba/#ASWJ leaders in Haripur yesterday.@MJibranNasir @bilalfqi @ZaidZamanHamid pic.twitter.com/I4uPDNEXUh
— Yawar Abbas (@YawarOfficial) January 12, 2017
Here’s #PP78 Jhang’s newly elected lawmaker #ASWJ‘s Masroor Nawaz Jhangvi threatening to finish off a ‘handful’ minority of Pakistan’s Shias pic.twitter.com/lc4Nlqr7XP
— Bilal Farooqi (@bilalfqi) December 1, 2016
Banned #ASWJ held rallies in Islamabad and Karachi #Dec16.That’s how Pakistan honoured the memory of the kids &teachers killed in #APSAttack pic.twitter.com/31s8RhqpLG
— Bilal Farooqi (@bilalfqi) December 16, 2016
Thousands gather in #Faisalabad for #Kashmir Conference at #DhobiGhat Ground, Hafiz Saeed Khutba Jumma Ahead. pic.twitter.com/oiaJvANSRd
— SALAAR (@SalaarOfficial) January 13, 2017
Today’s Hero Javed Hashmi in 2012 “something should happen to #HafizSaeed, then entire nation will be responsible”https://t.co/F4PfvWbrZT
— Sonia Hassan (@soniahassan50) January 2, 2017
Clearly, these five abducted activists were the most dangerous men walking the streets of Pakistan. Where are our priorities?