Raza Rumi, a TV anchor, editor, columnist and my dear friend, survived an attack on his life last week. In the attack, Ghulam Mustafa, a 25 year old kid married only nine months ago, lost his life last Friday evening.

I was trying to put sense into Raza’s head just four days before the incident but Raza was adamant, and we agreed to continue talking another time. After the attack, I rushed to Lahore to see him and found myself sitting with a composed yet agitated Raza. Losing Mustafa was not a small thing for him and his family. Over the years, Mustafa had become a part of Raza’s life. Still, I saw him firm, confident and unwavering.

Leaving his home, I kept thinking about the sick mindsets which allow the killing of sufi souls like Raza; a man who takes every criticism with a smile, who responds so humbly and intelligently, that you are pushed to respect and love him; a man who is an ardent devotee of Sufis and saints like Rumi, Nizamuddin Aulia, Data Ganj Bakhsh Shakkar, Rehman Baba, Bullay Shah. I wondered what went through him when he saw the blood of his companion.

Right after the attack, Raza ran for help to save Mustafa’s life. That was when he met with this society’s painful apathy. The religion-fixated, anti-blasphemy enthusiastic public, ever ready to be provoked in the name of Hurmat-e-Rasool, refused to follow the basic principle of the Prophet’s (PBUH) life; to help those in need. No one from “the pious” stopped to help a dying man.

When he reached hospital, thanks to the private guard of a nearby bank who fetched him a rickshaw, Raza had to go through another ordeal; convincing doctors to save Mustafa’s life. The hospital refused to even touch Mustafa till the police arrived. For a precious 15 – 20 minutes, they watched his dying pulse, but he could not wait for our collective conscience to be stirred. With Mustafa, died that small candle of hope in our society’s ‘resilience’ and the traditional enthuse to ‘help each other when in need’ that we so proudly boast of to the world.

 Coming to the central point, why was Raza attacked at all? How did the terrorists get to him? How did they flee from a busy market area without being noticed by the vigilant eyes of a well governed Punjab? This does not imply that the Punjab government is responsible or negligent. The mess is deeper. The terrorists, who now insist upon not being called terrorists, closely monitor the media, identify ‘problem makers,’ put their names on a public hit-list, and attack. They have unchecked access to arms, can carry them anywhere in urban areas, attack, kill and flee with impunity.

Raza’s crime has been to speak his mind, to stand with minorities and women, to speak up against the injustice meted out to the powerless classes, to break conspiracy theories, to advocate peaceful coexistence, and be vocal against the capture of the state by civil and military establishments. Unforgivable crimes, really. I warned Raza days before his attack and his response was, ‘Look who’s talking!’

If this attack tells us something, it is that the Punjab has also gone to the sweet will of terrorist outfits despite its chief executive begging for relief from them. I shuddered when I heard that a law-enforcing agency’s official had already told Raza that the terrorists would come back to complete their unfinished work and that the police could provide guards but couldn’t guarantee his safety. This is not because the police are inefficient. This is because the freedom available to terrorists is not in their control. The decision comes from somewhere else.

So, when the key decision has been made for providing them the license to work freely, it is ensured that these organizations open offices in public places and manage their fund raising as openly as possible. It is allowed by the government in lieu of an assurance that general peace and order is not disturbed. “You don’t touch us, we won’t touch you,” is the principle applied.

When you make such generous allowances, a few things must be remembered: what, after all, are the terrorists getting training for? Why would they amass weapons if they won’t use them? Why would they amass wealth if not to spend it? Why would they spare anyone who speaks against them? How did you assume that the people of Pakistan are homogenous and that none of them would ever stand up against these sanctioned terrorists? And if you knew that they would, then you tacitly sanctioned the killings of dissenters. If you sanctioned attacks against us, how can you protect us? Why are the civilian law enforcing agencies not being tarnished for inefficiency? These are but decisions to put dissenting voices as bait before the terrorists, while regurgitating the mantra of ‘talks’ and ‘negotiations’ for ‘peace.’

Those responsible for sanctioning this include the national security elite from the military establishment, sections of media and political leaders who keep humanizing the terrorists, trumpeting about how America has created them. You can fight with an oppressive government and a manipulative state but you cant fight with a suicidal society. In Kabul after the attack on Serena recently, many journalists boycotted covering the Taliban. Here in our land of the pure, we are witnessing an insensitive, badly divisive and fractured media that keeps dissing every victim of terror coming from dissenting quarters.

So Raza my friend, behave yourself and keep quiet. This country still needs people like you. Kindly consider fighting another day and living now.

n    The writer is an Islamabad based campaigner for human rights and works on parliamentary strengthening and democratic governance.