Pakistan under attack

Pakistan under attack

As Pakistan mourns the horrific killings of 148 — 133 of them children — there is an almost discernible sense of outrage throughout the country. Candlelight vigils, protests and special prayers mark the melancholic mood of Pakistan, which has been stunned into grief after the Peshawar attack of December 16, 2014. And this is a nation that has buried more than its 60,000 in myriad acts of terrorism throughout Pakistan. But the massacre of 132 schoolchildren in the Army Public School, Peshawar, has broken Pakistan’s heart. There’s no other way to enunciate the sorrow that has permeated Pakistan as it mourns with the 148 families in Peshawar.

Never has been a single tragedy so tremendous in its range of damage; never has been the expression of grief clearer; and never has the nation come united like it has after 16/12. Pakistan under attack is Pakistan united.

What happens next is the true test of a country under attack, as it begins with the statement of action, without any ifs and buts: enough is enough. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, after the Peshawar attack, stated that there would be absolutely no tolerance of terrorism, leniency to any perpetrators, or any distinction between the “good” and “bad” Taleban. Imran Khan, in the spirit of national solidarity, ended his 100-plus day sit-in against the government, and along with the leadership of other parties joined hands with the government to present a united front to fight terrorism, which has unleashed one of its worst acts in recent history in Peshawar.

As Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif flew to Afghanistan (where Mullah Fazlullah is said to be hiding) to have a meeting with the Afghan leadership, and army launched a series of attacks on numerous militant hideouts on both sides of the border, Prime Minister Sharif lifted the six-year-old moratorium on capital punishment. Two hangings of convicted criminals so far — condemned by some human rights organisations, and termed as a “knee-jerk reaction” by some — are an indication that some immediate action had to be taken to provide a sense of justice to the suffering families in Peshawar, as well as the innumerable victims of terrorism all across Pakistan. But the act of hanging convicted terrorists would only go that far. Pakistan needs to do much more, and the sooner the better.

The long-term goal must be the decrease, if not elimination, of the poison that works as the erosion of our collective wellbeing: indoctrination. It starts at the madrassa (18,000-24,000 registered, countless unregistered), where children from low-income backgrounds are enrolled in pursuit of education, and many end up learning much that has nothing to do with science, mathematics and the real teachings of Islam, but bigotry and hatred for different religious and ideological structures. The so-called “mullah” is not an authentic teacher of the glorious tenets of Islam, which are distorted to suit the myriad hegemonic agendas of the clergy to manipulate the population.

Many mosques are instruments of dissemination of hate and incitement of violence to those who follow sects of Islam distasteful to the clergy. Rallies are held to preach a distorted version of “jihad”, with little or no resemblance to the teachings of the Holy Quran. The seed of hatred thus born gives way to an endorsement of violence not just for the “undesirable” Hindus and the West, but also for most schools of thought in opposition to the ones endorsed by the clergy. Hate literature proliferates, the affect of which is unaccounted for on malleable minds of children and young people. Until the indoctrinion of intolerance is removed from our society, no step of counter-terrorism will work on a long-term basis.

A cohesive counter-terrorism strategy, the existing form of which has proven its redundancy time and again, is the prerequisite to fight the menace of terrorism that does not have any consistent form, operation, or face. The interrelatedness of intelligence, information-sharing, arrests, building of foolproof cases, strong courts, and secure jails will form a bedrock of resistance against terrorism. The courts must be provided the optimum security as many accused go scot-free in the absence of witnesses (who disappear for different reasons) and evidence collected as per the protocol of investigating agencies globally. Jails for lifers and death-row convicts must be maintained with the state-of-the-art security systems to deter prison-breaks and attacks.

Most importantly, there must be no ambiguity in the narrative. The political and military leadership has to let go of the compartmentalisation of the Taleban/terrorists into “good” and “bad”. All acts of terrorism must be condemned without any justification or pretext. Terrorism of one narrative is not to be justified while heaping condemnation on the other. The glorification of jihad on the “infidels” has acted as a catalyst for the unmentionable horrors that Muslims have unleashed on Muslims, under the pretext of revenge, different belief systems, persecution, and hegemony.

Terrorism is terrorism. Period. And nothing will change; there will be no justice for the victims and their families, and no one will be safe until this simple truth becomes the stimulus for change. We owe this to the 148 families in Peshawar; we owe it all victims of terror.