A voyage around the TTP

January 08, 2023

At this time, when the new year has launched its promises and its threats against the backdrop of a wasted year, a great confusion is rising about the national sense of direction. Apart from the rigours of making ends meet for most people, everyone is fearful of the impending breakdown of social order.

And so, in this situation, what ideas and principles guide the policies and purposes of our rulers? Ostensibly, this is what they would be concerned about when they sit together on the table of authority. Also, one would expect them to be armed with all the relevant information and expert analyses of specific developments and challenges.

But where is the evidence that they are willing to learn their lessons from their past experience and embark on a new path that takes the nation away from its present crisis? Where are the hints of a new beginning? There is bound to be some doubt about the possibility of a decisive change in direction because the fundamental ruling ideas have not yet been effectively questioned.

We are aware of what these ideas are and how they have been executed. One is how religion has been invested in politics. We may call it the Islamization of Pakistan and it is possible to argue that the rise of extremism was partly its consequence. For many years, we have suffered the wounds inflicted by religious extremism, terrorism, intolerance of all shades and violent resistance to modern ideas of freedom, democracy and emancipation of women.

This week, the focus is largely on the rise of militancy in many parts of the country. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is seen to be mobilizing its forces to attack the state of Pakistan. There have been some significant incidents, including the murder of two senior intelligence officers in Khanewal on Tuesday, the responsibility of which was claimed by the TTP and Lashkar-e-Khorasan.

The National Security Committee (NSC), the highest civil-military forum for taking decisions on matters of national security, met for two days and reiterated that there cannot be any compromise on the nation’s security and “the full writ of the state will be maintained on every inch of Pakistan’s territory”. It vowed to crush terrorist groups with full force.

On Thursday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said that there would be no talks with militants responsible for the resurgence of terrorism across the country. A day earlier, he had remarked that the offer of talks with militants was still valid if they agreed to lay down arms. On the same day, security forces killed 11 militants, including a key commander of the TTP, in a raid in South Waziristan.

One measure of how defiant the TTP is becoming is that on Wednesday it issued a statement to say that it is considering taking concrete steps against the PPP and PML-N, the leading parties of the ruling coalition. The statement added that if these parties remained firm in their position and continued to support the army then action would be taken against their leading people. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari were particularly named.

The battlelines, thus, are clearly being drawn and we can expect a lot of action in the coming days in this confrontation between the TTP and the state of Pakistan. But is there any realization about the iceberg of which the TTP may only be the tip? What are actually the sources of the violent extremism that has destroyed the equilibrium of Pakistani society?

One important anniversary of this first week of January is that of the assassination of Salmaan Taseer on January 4, 2011. The meaning of what it was and how it portrayed the tragedy of Pakistan is hard to comprehend. Imagine the allegorical implication of a person being murdered by his own bodyguard as a result of religious passion.

Salmaan Taseer was then governor of Punjab, and he was murdered because of his criticism of the blasphemy law and how it was used. It is something that no one can still deal with. I shudder to recall those days that followed when the entire country was on edge. And then there were such other instances of infamy as the lynching of Mashal Khan at, of all places, the campus of a university. Mashal was brutally murdered by his own fellow students because something he had posted on social media was interpreted as blasphemous.

There are many other and different ways of invoking religion that have no bearing on the divine spirit of piety. Look at how politicians have consistently played with it to cater to popular emotions. Parvaiz Elahi, chief minister of Punjab, has boasted about the change that he ordered in the nikahnama, investing funds in advertising it in the media.

An interesting moment was captured on the tape when Imran Khan’s long march was aborted in Islamabad on May 25, 2002. When the PTI leader was about to make a statement, Qasim Suri whispered in his ear: “Sir, thora Islamic touch de den”. Imran Khan did so with an assertion of his religiosity.

The point is that religion is used in all circumstances, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Religion certainly is an integral part of our individual lives and it is meant to make us better human beings. It should create a sense of unity and social harmony. But look at what Pakistani society is like. The Hazara community of Quetta can give some insight into it.

Finally, if those in power are seriously set to confront the TTP, they will have to be mindful of the reservoirs of sympathy for the Taliban mindset that exist in many sectors of society. And for that, they will have to revise the ideas that have governed their motives and their behaviour. The goal is to heal the nation and make it capable of a better performance.

Otherwise, we will continue to wander in this wilderness, with extremists lurking in the shadows.

The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at: ghazi_salahuddin hotmail.com