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Opinion

January 13, 2015

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The only way forward

I don’t know where and how he articulated it exactly, but Milan Kundera has described the singularly human capacity to overcome grief as the art of forgetting and living. It is a good thing. It makes living possible.
In another place, almost as a corollary, Kundera cautions: “we must never allow the future to collapse under the burden of memory”. And so, even as we take the first steps into 2015, nervous, fatigued and wounded, with all the turmoil and terror of the passing year weighing heavy on our national psyche and conscience, the process of healing has gradually begun.
In the context of a tragedy like Peshawar, the pace of such healing can only be hastened if the national response is perceived to be earnest and appropriate and its enforcement does not waver, with a demonstrable weakening of the enemy. For the victims of this atrocity, the healing may only present itself as an eventual state of numbness, a coexistence with the unending pain of personal loss and its related trauma; for those of us dissociated from the tragedy, the community by and large has to come to terms with the shock by understanding the true nature of the evil it is faced with. Then only will it be time to get on with the normal business of life and engage in external abstractions that will divert our attention from, and help us relegate Peshawar to, the comforting confines of our distant memory. That is fine.
As mentioned above it is only human to want to heal and to be able to do so. But in doing so, we as a nation must hearken also to what is our essential duty to the victims of the Peshawar tragedy: the manufacturing of a firm national consensus against the perpetrators of terror and their ideological kin – wolves in sheep’s clothing – who are already devising schemes to subvert counterstrategies that are yet to materialise. But, let me say this: consensus, or no consensus, it is the government’s prime duty to safeguard the life of the citizens; this is its

raison d’être if it prides itself as the elected legal government of the country. In this it cannot fail and in this it needs nobody’s approval or agreement.
The narratives we have promoted in the past – on terrorism, militancy and their enabling social, political and economic environment – need to be chucked out the window as a start. We have begun with some immediate responses to this end: a National Action Plan has been drawn up; the constitution has been amended; military courts have been hastily set up; and politicians and men in uniform have engaged in acts of televised bonhomie, with unanimous declarations to look terrorists in the eye and to cease from making distinctions between a ‘good’ domesticated variety of terrorist and the ‘evil’ foreign-manipulated one that we insist cannot be a Muslim, his claim that he is doing it all for Islam notwithstanding.
This is an about-turn for the Sharif government, which only a year ago was contemplating providing infrastructure and space to hold talks with the TTP. But even as we have commenced our first steps in what is going to be a long and arduous journey to root out religious militancy, various political parties have engaged in counter-progressive moves to throw a spanner in the works of the government. It should come as no surprise that the usual suspects are the religious parties that have taken a U-turn on the issue of madressah reform and accountability.
For the JUI-F and others, protecting the madressahs is a cornerstone of their strategy of political survival. These seminaries provide them with a ready and willing vote bank and act as sources and conduits of undocumented financial resources that are equally crucial in securing election victories as they are in sustaining these parties in political office.
In turn, it is known history that particularly since the time of the MMA’s coming into power during the Musharraf era, religious parties have not only channelled state funds into the task of concretising the infrastructure of religious seminaries but have also enabled the receipt of undocumented foreign funding into the bank accounts of banned sectarian militant outfits. Such tacit support has enabled the latter to simply reconfigure themselves into newer less militant sounding charitable organisations, working apparently for the welfare of marginalised groups.
Madressahs known to have militant ties and with a history of harbouring terrorists in times of a military or government crackdown form the interior minister’s ten percent. While statistical data in this regard is currently unavailable, security analysts and experts in the field of terrorism opine that once a thorough investigation is launched into the financial sources of madressahs (according to an estimate these run into several hundred billions given a minimum 100 rupees per talib per day for three million as claimed by madaris authorities) , the curriculum of their instruction, together with their past and current links with banned and functional sectarian and militant outfits, links to religious parties may also be tangibly established. In the current atmosphere in which the right side of the consensus demands the censure of terrorists, such an expose could be damning for any political party.
Aiding and abetting the move to stall the government’s efforts in targeting radical madressahs are those voices in the electronic media that have been entrusted with the task of muddying the national narrative against terrorism through absurd theories of foreign intervention. The height of lax editorial standards was witnessed recently when an anchor turned political commentator took to the air with the suggestion that neighbouring countries harbouring terrorists may be carpet bombed to safeguard Pakistan’s domestic security interests. To allow such irresponsible pseudo mediapersons any space on private television to manufacture such disingenuous and bogus narratives, only serves to confuse the public mind and discredit the government’s resolve to root out terrorism.
For the government the only way forward is to stay its course. The JUI-F and others are threatening another protest on D-Chowk and the Sharifs, who have only managed to catch their breath after the tumult of 2014, may be bullied into submission by the prospect of yet another political battle. This is a catch-22 situation for the government, as it will have to decide between taking up the political challenge – which may be complicated further as the Kaptaan also reconfigures his strategy to recapture lost political capital in the wake of the premature end of his dharna – and performing a disastrous about-face on its declared intentions for madressah reform that may annoy an already impatient military establishment.
But the task could be made easier if the Sharifs would only but hearken to the pain and suffering of the families of the Peshawar tragedy, who together with the people of Pakistan demand nothing less than the just and appropriate response from a government they have elected to do its constitutional duty.
The writer is a freelance columnist.
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @kmushir

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