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We Know Who Sabri's Killers Are. We've Always Known

28/06/2016 8:35 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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AAMIR QURESHI via Getty Images
Pakistani Shiite Muslim protesters pray as they pay tribute to Sufi musician Amjad Sabri who was killed in an attack by unknown gunmen, in Islamabad on June 22, 2016. One of Pakistan's best known Sufi musicians was shot dead by unknown assailants riding a motorcycle in Karachi on June 22, triggering an outpouring of grief over what police described as an 'act of terror'. Amjad Sabri, aged around 45, was travelling by car from his home in the city's eastern Korangi area to a television studio, when a motorcycle pulled up alongside the vehicle and the attackers opened fire, Farooq Sanjarani, a police officer said. / AFP / AAMIR QURESHI (Photo credit should read AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

Amjad Sabri's untimely and unfortunate death was a shock for all of us, and the pain and sadness will take time to go away.

Pakistan, of course, is no stranger to such murders. And if we take a step back, the qawwali singer's killing is part of a larger pattern.

What is this pattern? A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban took responsibility for Sabri's death not long after it happened. But can we take the Taliban's word for it? We could - after all, militant groups often try to stay relevant and make their existence known to the public by carrying out such acts.

But let's not quarantine this problem and limit it to militant groups. And let's also not wait to find out who the shooters really were. For individual identities matter less when the problem is societal and people implicated in one way or another are found everywhere.

From TV channels to newspapers, from classrooms to dining rooms, from mosques to FB, condemning people for transgressing the bounds of Islam is common...

Who has done what against Islam is not a debate that only happens chez Taliban. From TV channels to newspapers, from classrooms to dining rooms, from mosques to Facebook, condemning people for transgressing the (increasingly strict) bounds of Islam is a common occurrence in Pakistan.

For something to exist, it needs to have an effect. And the result of such national narcissism is what we are seeing now.

When Ahmedi Muslims are declared infidels by the state, and when ideologues on TV and in mosques do not cease to reiterate people belonging to this sect are not Muslims, does one really not know who is actually killing Ahmedis every other day in this country?

Though they are socially and numerically more powerful than other minorities, Shias come in the orbit, too. Christians and Hindus face some of the worst violence in Pakistan.

"Blasphemy" provokes so much passion that even the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, lost his life to a religious fanatic for defending a Christian woman who was accused of desecrating the Quran.

The Supreme Court took a brave step in sentencing Taseer's killer to death, but even the country's highest official juridical authority did not dare challenge the premise of the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Taseer's killer was condemned for taking the law into his own hands. As far as blasphemy is concerned, the court still considers it a grave act and the Christian woman continues to linger in jail.

Not everyone, of course, is a believer and many are in fact imposters. It happens often that religion is used to settle personal differences.

Taseer's killer's social attraction was such that tens of thousands came to his funeral. In fact, some of the strongest defendants of the blasphemy laws and the killer were lawyers themselves. Does one really not know who the killers are the next time someone is murdered in the name of defending Islam's and the Prophet's honour?

Not everyone, of course, is a believer and many are in fact imposters. It happens often that religion is used to settle personal differences. In many blasphemy cases, the issues are related to property disputes and other petty matters. In the case of the Ahmedis, when they were first declared non-Muslims by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's government, many capitalized on the occasion and removed them from top government posts.

What are the chances that it is maybe under the cover of religion that someone killed Amjad Sabri? Religious labels are there for the taking and, in many cases, are given a posteriori. The theory is that he was killed because he sang songs that were objectionable to the more hardcore elements -- it could be true, but it could also be a fig leaf for something completely different.

We know that Sabri was an MQM sympathizer and, despite his wealth, chose to live in a poor locality of Liaqatabad -- named after Liaqat Ali Khan, Pakistan's first Prime Minister who was also a big patron of the Urdu-speaking Mohajirs who settled in Karachi after Partition.

The thing about Pakistan is that there are so many possibilities and so many potential players. But at the same time, we all know what is going on...

We also know that there is a big military operation going on in Karachi, targeting the MQM, its workers and its supporters. We know that those who speak out against the transgressions of the paramilitary in Karachi have been killed before. We know that those who speak out against the army operation in Baluchistan have been killed in this city.

We also know that in both the cases, the blame was conveniently put on religious elements when the issues were clearly not religious.

The fact is, the MQM is not innocent either. It runs a like a mafia and forces its constituency to pay protection money. Failure to pay up can be fatal. Or perhaps Sabri's death was due to some other disaccord and disagreement. In this case, too, blaming the crime on religious elements is the easiest way to wash the matter off your hands.

The thing about Pakistan, and especially Karachi, is that there are so many possibilities and so many potential players involved. But at the same time, we all know what is going on and who is doing what. It does not even matter who the person behind the gun is when the systems of violence are so visible. And from one death to another, we live on with the knowledge of who the killers really are.

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