In the annals of bravery this must rank very high: brainwashing virtual kids into strapping suicide vests around their bodies and blowing them up as per the directions of their handlers. The boy caught two to three days ago in Peshawar wearing a suicide vest was a 13-year-old. His handler caught with him was 20-21.
It can be guessed that they thought they were on their way to instant paradise, the incense of martyrdom in their nostrils, convinced that houris of unimaginable beauty impatiently awaited their arrival. With my own sinful ears I have heard preachers advertising the delights of the Elysian Fields. Their recital of the rivers of milk and honey is relatively tepid. But when it comes to the accomplishments of the immortal virgins a kind of rapture comes over them.
What refined callousness to trick gullible youngsters into the dark world of suicide bombing? No shortage of this quality among the extreme devotees of the faith wearing the righteous badge of the Tehreek-e-Taliban. But impressive as their dreadful courage is I would be slightly more impressed if the vice chancellors of the suicide factories were to send their own kith and kin – why not their own kids? – into divine battle.
Why are the vice chancellors always picking on impressionable youngsters, most of them coming from backgrounds of extreme poverty? Why not let the incense of martyrdom come closer home?
One thing I have never been able to understand. Our bravery is pegged to the prospect of instant or eventual reward in heaven. That is the promise. When the votaries of one sect kill members of another sect, when the Taliban send suicide missions, when our own soldiers go into battle, sustaining their courage is the belief that their reward is permanent rest in the ever-green fields.
How many Germans died in the Second World War? How many Russians? In the uncounted millions. The Germans at least were Christians, some picture of the hereafter a part of their religious beliefs. But the Red Army was a heathen army, according to our way of reckoning these things. The faith of its soldiers was buttressed by no certainty of heavenly recompense. How they fought, both sides, their courage indomitable. So which is the more impressive courage?
What about Ajmal Kasab, of backwater Faridkot, another product of our jihad factories? Involved as he was in a heinous act of terrorism my heart still went out to him when I heard the news of his hanging. I need hardly say, not out of any sympathy for the deed of which he was a part but because of his extreme vulnerability...which made him such an easy target for his handlers, those who picked him up and trained him and sent him on his desperate mission.
This mentally half-formed kid, with little knowledge of the outside world, how easily brainwashed. What picture of a make-believe world must have been fed to him. Spies, espionage agents, commandos go on dangerous missions, not knowing whether they would return, but fully aware of the risks. The burden they carry is that of the profession of arms. There is something magnificent in this.
Hezbollah fighters coming close to Israeli Merkava tanks, as in the 2006 war, and using anti-tank missiles against them...this is true heroism again. But where’s the nobility in turning kids into suicide bombers? All you have is defenceless kids and extremely clever instructors. The devil would be proud of such cleverness.
And mark the caution of the divine brigade. From its loudspeakers will issue all kinds of fatwas on every subject under the sun but about the evil of child or juvenile bombers not a word. Look at Qazi Hussain Ahmed, targeted in the tribal areas by a female bomber and declaring instantly that this was not the work of the Taliban – perish the very thought – but of the Indo-Jewish-American lobby. Marvel at the reach of this lobby which can enter where our own soldiers are cautious to tread.
A special kind of bravery is also involved in the attacks on imambargahs and Shia processions we are witnessing this Muharram. Do the suicide bombers understand the complications of the web in which they are caught? They deserve pity and understanding. But what about their masterminds? What are they aiming at? Isn’t there enough disorder in the country already? Or is it the greater glory of their own particular sect that they seek? If this, then it is a demented frame of mind which finds glory in acts so despicable.
There are warriors of the faith, greatly respected in their own communities, who proclaim it their life-mission to eliminate sectarian enemies. Forgive my vague terminology but with fires burning all around us we have to be careful. And because they think that their mission is divinely-ordained they feel no qualms in stopping people, checking their identities and, if they happen to be on the wrong side of the sectarian divide, shooting them in cold blood. And this Muharram, just as it has started, Shia places of worship – in Karachi, in ‘Pindi and elsewhere – have been attacked. And all that the authorities can do is mount more police marches, which terrify no one, and issue meaningless statements.
Don’t discount conspiracy theorists who will say that this is the work of the agencies. And don’t discount the Qazi Hussain school of thought whose knights with solemn face will again draw attention to the Indo-Jewish lobby...everyone to blame except our own failings.
What are we coming to? No...what have we come to is more like it. The wages of what jihad are we earning? Seeking influence in Afghanistan, liberating Kashmir and setting our own house on fire in the process is the sum-total of our strategic brilliance. The grandmasters who gave us this philosophy deserve an extended stay in a correction centre.
But the past is the past; the future beckons. Discipline, even a modicum of it, has fled from our national life. Disorder is spreading and since we are not Maoists, nor ever were meant to be, we can’t say that the resultant situation is excellent. The litany of despair is long and familiar. No need to go over it again. But consider one thing: if even loudspeakers are out of control, how on earth do we go about fixing other things?
Milk adulterated, other foodstuffs adulterated, clean drinking water hard to come by, we all understand. But the call to prayer adulterated? Go to any town or village in Pakistan and listen to the tamasha made of the morning call to prayers: something added before the azaan and something added afterwards, and even when the azaan is done preachers making a nuisance of themselves, and the authorities helpless as ever.
Whether a political schemer of the first rank or not, Manzoor Wattoo as Punjab chief minister forbade the misuse of mosque loudspeakers and saw to it that his orders were implemented. For this one act of kindness his other sins can be forgiven.
Loudspeakers, however, can be controlled, as can the traffic on the roads. The tax collection machinery can be improved and the police reformed, although it will take more than pious statements of intent to bring this about. But looking at the craziness taking hold across the country our basic problem seems a bit different. It is the national psyche and our modes of thinking which seem to be out of order: the computer wiring gone all wrong. Is there any other explanation for juvenile suicide bombers and imambargah bombings?