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Country of sheep

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WHAT do those who abducted the four activists want? What crime did those four commit? They used the digital space very effectively to create satirical commentary against an extremist narrative that is sweeping across the country with increasing ferocity. They wrote poetry.

Salman Haider was picked up without warning when he was returning from a visit with friends, and his car was found abandoned near Korral Chowk just outside Islamabad. His wife received a text message telling her to come and get the car, from his phone. Kidnappers usually turn the phone off at once, since it can be used as a tracking device.

Another two were picked up from their homes. In at least one of those cases, the family noticed that their WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger accounts were still on, and being checked, well into the night.

Doesn’t sound like your typical kidnappers again. The BBC, in their news story on the event, put it best: “No group has said it is holding them. All four aired views critical of the military or militancy on social media.”

Now we have news of a fifth individual, with a similar profile as an activist, also missing as per family reports. Whether or not this is the fifth in line, or the last, we don’t know.

What is going on? Whoever picked them up has no fear of being tracked. No group has claimed responsibility, and no ransom calls have been received. Quite apparently, this is not the handiwork of ordinary criminal gangs.

Days after the pick-ups began, a Facebook page by the name of Bhensaa was shut down. The page was reportedly run by two of the individuals who have been picked up, with possibly other partners. It carried material that touched on religion and politics in a way to counter the extremist narrative sweeping the country.

We are turning crooks into heroes on our TV screens, while the courageous and articulate amongst us are violently weeded out.

In a more sinister development, the page that was taken down became active again but with a new group of people posting to it, who began hurling abuse on the original creators of the page and accusing them of engaging in “hate speech”. Really? Hate speech? So is that how this is going to go down?

This in a country where banned sectarian outfits have felt free to hold demonstrations in an open lot in the capital city, complete with their flags, stage and loudspeakers, from which the most hateful speeches against minority sects have been delivered. This in a country where the interior minister himself meets the leadership of a banned outfit and grants its requests. This in a country where leading members of the same group can run for election, and in one case even win.

What on earth is going on in our country? What ideas are animating the people who issued the instructions for these pick-ups? What do they think they are achieving with acts such as these, which amount to little more than simple abductions?

For a country that is being........

© Dawn