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Opinion

May 18, 2017

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Raising national conscience

Raising national conscience

What will it take to raise our conscience and our understanding that there are things that need to be remedied urgently in our country? There is no sign that this change in thinking is coming about.

After that horrendous attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014 in which at least 140 people – almost all of them children – were literally butchered in their own classrooms, there was much talk about the change this would have on the nation’s psyche and mindset. While paying moving tributes to the children and labelling them as martyrs, the army pressed for an operation against terrorism and an all-out effort to crush it. The National Action Plan was launched and for many months we saw great fervour, but at the end of all this we have no actual semblance of change.

Terrorist attacks continue to occur as they did at Sehwan Sharif and militant leaders such as Ehsanullah Ehsan are suddenly being labelled as people who can in some way help the country. The question of punishment for the crime they have openly confessed to doing does not come up in these discussions.

Just over a month ago we had another incident that could have possibly brought about national change. The killing of Mashal Khan at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan truly shocked many. It showed people that mob mentality can run wild given the absence of state mechanisms to control it or civilisation that normally exists within developed societies. We once had this civilisation – indeed in our region of the world it existed in many forms long before it was introduced in Europe and other parts of the world. The advance of the mob and the age of brutality when nothing, including human life, seems to matter is a relatively recent development. In the death of Mashal Khan there is no evidence of any direct involvement by an organised outfit – only of rage and uncontrolled insanity from the students’ own fears.

It had been thought that the video footage of the killing and the events that followed would move the government to make policy decisions or take action. Events of this kind after all signal catastrophe for a nation. Most leaders with any vision would recognise this and at least discuss the ways to resolve the problem in parliament. The sporadic taking of human life is increasingly becoming a norm in our nation and those who engage in such acts such as Mumtaz Qadri are being portrayed as heroes. Something has gone very wrong with our basic sense of justice and humanity. Life, it appears, has no meaning.

The signs of limited protests and attempts to bring change seen after the murder of Mashal in mid-April have now evaporated. While at least five people have been arrested, including the man the police say shot the young student, there can be no certainty that these people – if they are indeed the true culprits – will be brought to justice or that measures to prevent other mobs from acting in a similar fashion will be put in place. We have seen so many brutal incidents that it appears none of them move us very much any longer. The expectations that a change would arise on its own, as a reaction to the killings and brutalities we have seen, has not transpired. The state has not lived up to its responsibilities – a fact that Mashal Khan’s father has with enormous dignity pointed out again and again.

His words have not been heeded. The pain of that family continues even when we as a nation turn to other events and developments. The media appears to have virtually forgotten the incident in Mardan. Occasionally, images of Mashal’s abandoned room at home with the trophies and medals he had won for excellence in various spheres appear on social media. But these pictures can really do very little except invite a sudden spate of comments and expressions of concern. Beyond this, nothing really happens.

Not far from Mardan, the same holds true. In Peshawar, families of the children who died at the Army Public School have indeed been provided support from the military and in some cases voluntary bodies. But the parents state that all they seek is an end to the environment that puts an end to the lives of children in a similar fashion. Fathers and mothers have come together on platforms and have bravely said that while they have learnt to suffer the unending pain of their own child’s death, they cannot live in peace until those who carried out the killings are punished or greater safety is ensured for people everywhere, whether they live in Parachinar, Karachi, Lahore, Mastung or other places that have been torn apart by internal war.

This is a war that does not involve weapons alone. Most of all, it involves thinking and the apparent loss of reason. Reason is a very difficult entity to fathom or to piece together. There has been much conjecture and analysis as to how this reason was lost and why we have descended into a current state of anarchy. Taking a deeper look at this issue is important. Piecemeal solutions will not work. It is pointless to try and remedy only one symptom at a time. Yes, efforts have been made to tackle some terrorist outfits. Others however have been left intact. This duality in policies has been a problem for a very long time and appears to be continuing today. Indeed it has grown worse from one year to the next.

We already know that there are no easy answers. Long- and short-term solutions – beginning with eradicating intolerance to changing school curriculum – have all been discussed in detail. But at the moment our biggest fight is against time. Do we have enough time to save our country before it is completely torn apart by hatred and uncontrolled rage that emanate from a lack of knowledge and dearth of people’s ability to empathise and live alongside other citizens as equals? Recreating this is perhaps the most urgent task before us.

Emergency measures are required. These will need to include making some effort to restrain our media which has embarked along a highly dangerous path and has had a damaging influence on millions. In addition, we need to ensure that our centres of learning – whether at the school or university levels – truly impart the training necessary to create sensitive citizens who can understand the problems of others and comprehend that violence will only make matters worse. Precisely how this task is to be achieved is not something that can be answered easily.

Most important of all, we need to find the will and commitment to work on the task at hand rather than pretending that it simply does not exist. If we fail to do this, we will allow the most heinous of crimes to be covered up under the guise of inquiries and other events that form a part of our disunited political reality will wipe out major matters that come and go, leaving behind nothing that resembles true change or true remorse.

 

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: [email protected]

 

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