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January 7, 2015

The never-ending battle


January 7, 2015


Chaudhry Muhammad Aslam Khan, superintendent of police in the Sindh Police Department, is considered a hero by many. In many ways, rightfully so. His personal bravery is undeniable. He headed the Lyari Task Force, which played a leading role in tackling head-on the gangsters that had terrorised the locality.
Disregarding personal safety, he led dangerous and deadly raids on criminal thugs and was involved in many ‘shootouts’ with them in his attempts to clean up Lyari. He was then appointed as the head of the Investigation Wing of the Criminal Investigation Department, leading the anti-extremist cell. This role brought him in direct confrontation with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and brought its ire upon him.
In 2011, the TTP (it openly claimed responsibility for its actions) attacked his residence in order to eliminate the policeman; the assault resulted in the death of eight people. Aslam Khan survived but the threat to his life did not deter him and he loudly and bravely declared that he would continue to carry on his fight against extremists and extremism.
This was not the first attempt on his life. He had been shot five times in eight prior assassination attempts but this had not dissuaded him from continuing to wage war against criminals and extremists. The 2011 attack did not stop him either but his courage ultimately ended up costing him his life. On January 9, 2014, the Taliban finally succeeded in eliminating their enemy, killing Aslam Khan and two other policemen in a bomb attack on the Lyari expressway in Karachi.
Aslam Khan was a hero in many ways. But, in the aftermath of the 2011 deadly bomb attack on his house, when he had addressed the media and expressed his intention to continue his war on the TTP and other extremists, he expressed his defiance with words to this effect. “The Taliban are cowards. Their actions are not the actions of Muslims. They are not Muslims. They are even worse than Hindus.” He used these words not

just once but in a number of on-air television interviews. This from the man designated to lead the battle against extremism.
A few days after the deadly Peshawar attack of December 16, 2014, an emotional caller into an FM radio morning show was expressing her grief. Speaking in English she said that she had been weeping a lot since the Peshawar attack and wasn’t even able to explain to her young son why she was crying. She said that those who were guilty of this atrocity deserved no mercy and should be dealt with as severely as possible.
“They should be made an example,” she said. “They should be made an example like Hitler made an example of the Jews. They deserve no better.” This from a woman who is reasonably well-educated and comes from an army family background as she herself had informed the listeners. The RJ did not offer any words of contradiction.
This is the real battlefield. A call to arms is required when religious bigotry is condoned. When tolerance is pushed to the farthest reaches. When our appointed guardians against extremism can think of nothing worse than being a Hindu. When so-called educated people approve of the actions of a genocidal madman because they can think of nothing worse than the Jewish people. When the religiously motivated assassination of the governor of our most populated province is feted and the killer garlanded.
When no voices of protest are raised against the killings and burnings of our (so-called) minorities and the destruction of their places of worship. When televangelists are allowed to spew venom against certain communities without any repercussions. When priests are allowed to do the same from their pulpits and minarets, their poisonous words going unchallenged even as they twist the philosophy of what is essentially a peaceful, tolerant religion. When Isis and its abhorrent actions are able to find sympathisers within a society’s mainstream. When our history is rewritten and our textbooks encourage hatred and distrust of many communities and religions. When money is allowed to flow in unchecked to fund the proselytisation of a deadly, reactionary, doctrinaire version of Islam.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb is fine. It is needed at this stage. Tackling the Taliban and their ilk head-on is fine – it is the need of the hour. These enemies of the state have to be given no space to be allowed to operate (the use of military courts and summary executions, however, is debatable but that’s a subject to be discussed another day and in another column).
But the Taliban are only the outer manifestation of a much deeper malaise. They are only the symptoms of a far deadlier disease. The war that we really have to wage is against the poison of hate and exclusion and obscurantism that has invaded and conquered our hearts and minds and souls over the past 35 years or so. The majority of us are still not extremists in the mould of the Taliban. But the infection now lives in a major portion of our society, existing in many shapes and sizes, mutating as it goes along. It is this infection that allows the TTP and its offshoots and its like-minded allies room to manoeuvre and exist.
The poison tree that Ziaul Haq and his cohorts and protégés and disciples have sowed and cultivated since 1977 (not that the seeds weren’t present even before then) in a misguided understanding of their religion and the desire to use it for their own geo-political strategic ambitions, allowed them to distort the nature of an entire nation. The poison tree has taken such deep roots now that it will take a generation, if not two, to destroy it completely.
Killing extremists and terrorists is relatively easy. Changing hearts and minds extremely difficult. But it is not impossible. If it was done once it can be done again. It just needs a concerted will to do so and we have to begin here and now.
The writer is a freelance columnist.
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @KhusroMumtaz




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