This is our moment of reckoning. Or it’s supposed to be. We had been waiting for this for such a long time now. The war that ends all wars. The ‘consensus’ that defeats all ideas.
The more you think about it the more this consensus looks like a bear we have been trying to put to sleep. “Hush now, don’t question it.” Otherwise, the consensus will wake up and won’t look like one anymore. And it will run amok, destroying everything that we hold dear. Or the consensus looks like one big bomb – the bomb that blows all ideologies to smithereens.
Have you ever wondered why our visions of this ‘consensus’ or ‘the final fight’ are so apocalyptic? It’s almost like the Second Coming or like the great Mahdi army that will wage one final battle to end all wars and usher in peace. One final massive use of force that will end all terrorists. We destroy ideologies one bomb at a time – and with several hundred thousand internally displaced persons.
But we have been here before. Six times at least. Or five. Does it matter? Why does living in this country feel so much like moving in circles? We are all stuck on a merry-go-round that never stops. And now it is making our heads spin. Even if it stops that feeling won’t go away. Circles, going round and round. Everything spinning out of control. Maybe that explains why we can’t stay focused on one issue.
I am not sure how to react when the red lines were crossed once again on December 16. I am not sure if I should start counting all the dead children in countless other attacks and weigh them with the ones who died on that fateful day. Which one should hurt me more? Which one should make me more resolute in the face of terror? I don’t know. I guess one can only feel shocked and grieved. It is easier, however, to comment on what has happened afterwards.
Once again we have been told that consensus has finally been reached. “This is the battle for the soul of Pakistan!”, thundered some general not too long ago.
It is another matter that we don’t let the soul know what is being done in its name in North Waziristan Agency. Once again we are hearing the usual cries; the militants must be defeated or our very way of life is under threat. We can’t let them win; they are the fascists. But our consensus has promised to deliver us military courts now; besides the moratorium lifted from the death penalty. Our reaction to carnage is to kill some more so that we can be at peace.
When the Indian Supreme Court had to hang Afzal Guru to satisfy the collective conscience of the society, we went mad on this side of the border. It wasn’t about whether Guru had actually committed the crimes he was accused of, it was about whether anybody can be killed to ‘satisfy the collective conscience’. What is this collective conscience anyway? If it is something that is broadcasted live from 7pm to midnight then it would take a lot more hangings to satisfy it than those that have already taken place by the time this goes to print. What can make us bay for blood like this? As if nothing else exists in the collective desires of society.
Is it about the children? Or the number of children? We need to think about this because our reaction – whether it’s the lifting of the moratorium on capital punishment or the military courts – seems to suggest that the only reason we haven’t been able to defeat terrorism is because we haven’t killed enough people. If we kill all of them or maybe enough then that will solve the problem. So military courts will dispense with the ‘jet black’ terrorists in the shortest possible time. As if the only problem in punishing the terrorists is that the military does not act as judge, jury, and prosecution.
Maybe I shouldn’t react this way. I should join the consensus. But I am also wary of the state and its institutions. The Taliban have always been very consistent in proving their inhumanity. They don’t really subscribe to logic other than violence. The state is different – or ought to be. When it wants to behave the same way like the fascists destroying ‘our way of life’ then one must become wary. So military courts should be a cause to worry lest they shatter our faith in the state rather than restore it.
The problem is not that the military courts will be unable to punish the miscreants or may be used by the military to victimise democratic voices opposing its influence over politics. The military courts at the end of the day will neither be about punishment nor justice. They will only be about re-establishing the hegemony of an institution that believes its power is waning since 2008 and that it must reassert itself to take charge. The fact that a popularly elected democratic government is willing to become the institution’s mouthpiece is even more troublesome.
Pakistan’s fight against religious militancy will not be won by weakening democracy but by strengthening it and having an open and transparent government rather than one that lives in the shadows.
The writer is assistant professor of SocialDevelopment and Policy at the Habib
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