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January 18, 2015

Will pain make us think?


January 18, 2015


On Friday the sixteenth of January, exactly one month after the Peshawar massacre of our schoolchildren, vigils were held by civil society activists in major cities. These sombre gatherings underlined the intensity of emotions that has not abated during this period. Indeed, we are a nation in bereavement and many of us still seem unable to come to terms with a tragedy that has touched every human heart. It is becoming difficult for time to heal our wounds.
This month, to be sure, has been eventful. What had happened in the Army Public School on a fateful day, a day of ignominy in our history, has the potential of changing Pakistan. There is some evidence that this change is happening. But is this truly a paradigm shift that is to be reflected in our ruling ideas? Will the war against terrorism and extremism be taken to its logical conclusion?
There may be some dispute about how the final goals of this war should be defined. At one level, the goal is a democratic dispensation in which the oppressed citizens of Pakistan are liberated and empowered. That would call for a meaningful social change. And to make that possible, all traces of militancy and intolerance will have to be removed from the deeper regions of a society that is afflicted with primitive passions.
During the past month, we have repeatedly been assured that the military operation is being conducted against good and bad Taliban. That means that the establishment is not playing both sides in the present encounter. This in itself is an encouraging sign. But there may still be some doubts about the prevalence of the national security policies that have nurtured the mind of our establishment.
It is good to know that the United States has welcomed the decision taken by Pakistan to ban the Haqqani Network and some other militant outfits and has called it an important step towards eliminating terrorism. A spokesperson of the State Department said in a news briefing in Washington that there was

“a huge focus” on counterterrorism measures during Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Islamabad last week. Pakistan is reported to have decided to ban 10 terror groups that target US and Afghan militaries in Afghanistan.
Reports from Washington say that these moves have led counterterrorism experts to perceive “a paradigm shift” in Pakistan’s security policy. However, the situation that exists on the ground in Pakistan is still somewhat vague. The forces that had been inspired by the strategic sense of direction of the establishment have become very powerful and have considerable popular support. Confronting them squarely would require a comprehensive plan that is drafted in a liberal and progressive context.
For this, our rulers will have to contend with ideas that are rooted in our historical experience and in our compulsion to find a place in the modern world. They will need the guidance of thinkers and social scientists to understand the dynamics of our society and how it can change. We have constantly been talking about corruption and inefficiency with reference to the quality of our governance. Even more detrimental are our intellectual and moral deficits.
We are aware of the feelings and thoughts that have been triggered by the brutal killing of more than 130 students in Peshawar on December 16. It is an experience that is bound to change many things. When civil society activists gathered on different locations on Friday, there was a sharing of pain and distress over what had happened one month ago and also of thoughts about what is happening to reclaim the nation from the dark powers of terror and religious extremism.
So, how determined is our present government in grasping this opportunity to change this entire scheme of things and make the country safe for peace and development? The problem, apparently, is that like the military, the civilian leadership also has a skeleton in the cupboard. Nawaz Sharif’s party stands firmly in the rightist corner and some of its leaders may have linkages with militant factions. They were negotiating with the Taliban until the launch of the operation in North Waziristan by the army.
Hence, in spite of the reach of the National Action Plan, the administration has not really generated a critical sense of movement on the various fronts identified by the plan. The initial focus on the constitutional amendment to establish military courts and to restore executions had, in a sense, camouflaged the actual campaign to go after terror outfits. For example, why couldn’t they arrest Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid when an FIR was lodged against him?
I feel personally agonised over an issue that may be deemed peripheral in the present scenario. It is the inability of this government to remove the ban on YouTube. I have been raising this subject with high officials, including the prime minister himself in one of his meetings with the media in Karachi. I have been writing about it. I cannot see the logic of this ban. For me, this attitude is symptomatic of the mindset that presides over the affairs of the state.
Incidentally, Friday was also a day of protests by religious parties against the publication of blasphemous caricatures by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. In the light of the terrorist attacks on the magazine and its aftermath, there is a serious debate on the limits of free speech on a global scale. Muslims should feel vindicated by remarks made by Pope Francis in Manila. He said that freedom of speech should be tempered by respect for faith. He condemned killings in God’s name but warned that religion could not be insulted.
In any case, protest rallies should not be allowed to indulge in violence. There was some violence in Karachi when demonstrators of Islami Jamiat-e-Talba clashed with police and a photojournalist was hit by a stray bullet. This was ominous and the authorities must deal carefully with this sensitive matter. Meanwhile, of course, the nation’s attention should not be diverted from its war of survival against terrorism and extremism.
In this war, religious parties sometimes locate themselves among the ranks of the enemy. A former head of the Jamaat-e-Islami had openly advocated a culture of jihad in Pakistan. There has been concern about the role a number of seminaries have played in promoting violent extremism and even training suicide bombers. The issue here is that the professed pursuit of a national consensus could damage or soften the resolve to decisively root out terrorism and extremism. This is the time to draw the lines and identify the enemy within.
The writer is a staff member.
Email: [email protected]




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