Silencing the voices of reason
by Sabin Agha
The murder of my former colleague and journalist Wali Khan Babar has once again angered me. As a resident of Karachi, a citizen of Pakistan and as a journalist who has covered target killings — I feel an excruciating pain in my heart, as if someone has clenched it with an iron fist. I refuse to accept any other explanation for his death other than that it was a cold-blooded, premeditated murder! Babar’s murder sent waves of shock among all of us who knew him personally as well as professionally.
Soon after I heard about Babar’s murder, I switched on the TV to get updates. I heard a talk show host calling Wali Khan Babar, a Shaheed-e-Sahafat. We keep appeasing ourselves by giving our grief labels and tags. But the fact of the matter is that it was a cold-blooded murder, just like Governor Punjab Salman Taseer’s was, and like the other 1,400 innocent Karachiites who were victim of targeted killings last year. The body count at the morgues keeps increasing drastically but unfortunately, the state’s security apparatus deem fit only to issue verbal statements like the one that followed Babar’s murder by Interior Minister Rehman Malik who ordered an inquiry.
I would like to ask Mr. Rehman Malik as well as the Karachi Police, whether they have been able to bring the killers of over 1,400 residents of Karachi to task?
I remember Babar as a learned journalist, a passionate Pashtun from Zhob, Balochistan, who was proud of his roots and heritage. I remember how angry he was over the state-sponsored oppression in Balochistan. I remember my arguments on various issues with this young, vibrant, educated, civilised and forward-looking journalist. His voice of reason still echoes in my ears, a voice that was silenced by unknown assailants.
Journalists are supposedly the voices of reason. We are daring but are also cautious about not offending public sentiments and especially those of armed groups due to security concerns. We are exposed to frequent threats from state and non-state actors with no protection offered. According to Reporters Without Borders, 11 journalists succumbed to violence in Pakistan last year, making it the most dangerous country for media personnel. But many of these journalists were killed in the lawless northwest or in Balochistan. However, Babar was killed in the teeming metropolis of Karachi where apparently, there is not an officially-declared insurgency.
Currently, the state of affairs in Pakistan does not paint a bright picture whether it is about protecting the rights of minorities, providing justice, protecting free speech or providing assistance to journalists.
Each passing day, I count the numbers of the victims in Karachi — the numbers swell and so does the impunity in their murders. Why are these butchers of humanity not taken to task? Is it because they wield more power then the state that they have become a state within the state? Is it because we all fear that we might face the same fate as Wali Khan Babar’s?
But I want to make it clear that moderate and progressive forces like me will not remain silent. I will not be isolated and I will not allow forces of darkness to rein my city and my country. I will continue to peacefully uphold the flag of reason and sanity.
A text message that was forwarded by a colleague, raised an important question: how long will we remain victims of violence and remain silent about such killings?
Sabin Agha is a Pakistan-based journalist and a broadcaster. She can be reached at email@example.com