Pakistani political discussions are reverberating with talk of hanging 5,000 people to cleanse the country of opposition.
After weeks of rumors of a possible large-scale crackdown against opposition politicians and dissidents being contemplated in the upper echelons of power, a senior government minister has publicly advocated hanging thousands of Pakistanis outside the existing laws and constitution of the country.
“If it was in our hands, hanging 5,000 people today would change the destiny of [Pakistan’s] 220 million people,” Faisal Vawda, Pakistan’s minister of water resources, told Geo TV on June 11. “Our next 20 generations have to wait to do this [purge] in accordance with the law.”
The comments generated debate and sharp reactions in Pakistan.
“The talk of hanging 5,000 people is fascism,” said lawmaker Khurram Dastgir Khan, senior leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N).
“The recent statement by a federal minister that 'hanging 5,000 people' would 'solve Pakistan's problems' was highly irresponsible,” the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the country’s leading rights watchdog, said in a message on Twitter. “It makes a mockery of the rule of law — something no democracy can afford to do.”
Rauf Klasra, a senior journalist and television host, confirmed that during a recent discreet meeting with several television hosts a “major figure in Pakistan” discussed possible plans for such a purge.
“It was discussed there that, if needed, 5,000 people will be killed,” he told the Aap News television channel. “Perhaps Faisal Vawda got wind of the discussions of that high-profile meeting.”
Alluding that the meeting was held with a senior government figure, Klasra hinted that Islamabad was taking a cue from recent crackdowns around the globe.
“It was said that they have already prepared the lists [of the 5,000 people supposed to be killed] and can act on it in an Egyptian or Chinese model.”
Pakistan’s opposition political parties, press, and activists campaigning for peace, rights, and accountability are already facing what appears to be a widening government crackdown.
The arrests of former Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and a senior leader of the PML-N on corruption charges have provoked protests inside and outside the parliament. Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and PML-N are expected to lead opposition political parties in protests on the streets and challenging the government’s wafer-thin majority inside the parliament.
Opposition politicians believe skyrocketing inflation and a fledgling economy are expected to attract people to the anti-government protests. On June 14, Pakistan’s lawyers are expected to protest the government’s misconduct case against a Supreme Court judge who was critical of the country’s powerful military.
On June 12, the Election Commission of Pakistan postponed for nearly three weeks provincial assembly polls in seven districts of the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that were scheduled for July 2. Now merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, this is the region where the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) first emerged. Since May 26, two of the movement’s lawmakers and scores of its supporters have been arrested in what appears to be an extensive crackdown on the movement.
Islamabad’s crackdown, however, appears to have hardened opposition leaders.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the young PPP leader, recently warned that his country was on the path toward rolling back representative rule and the state’s priority is to crush democratic civilian voices while continuing to support and harbor terrorists and extremists.
“We are experiencing a transition away from democracy,” he told opposition lawmakers. “We are experiencing a transition to dictatorship -- a transition to authoritarianism -- a transition to totalitarianism."