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Opinion

February 15, 2015

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Bowled on a sectarian pitch

On this Sunday, a spell is cast on our country. We are playing cricket with India in this initial round of the World Cup that will keep us excited in the coming weeks. All cricketing nations are in the fray. An encounter between India and Pakistan, however, arouses a kind of patriotic rage. As if a victory would atone for so many of our losses.
But how much does it matter that this One Day is being played under the shadow of Friday’s attack on an Imambargah in Peshawar? Yes, the sectarian terror in which at least 20 lives were lost is the banner headline in all newspapers as I write these words on Saturday morning. It dominated the coverage of the news channels soon after a group of suicide bombers invaded the Shia mosque during the Friday prayers. It may survive, as a reference, in the opinion pieces for a few days.
It is understandable that the cricket match, after a massive build-up, will momentarily push other national concerns in the background. The human dimension of such events is huge because they affect the mood of ordinary citizens. Competitive sport in which nations participate has become an extension of politics.
This, though, does not mean that Friday’s sectarian atrocity would have remained the focus of national attention for a stretch of time if the ICC World Cup 2015 had not intervened. We have a habit of forgetting most of our disasters, particularly the ones that demand painful reflection and hard resolutions. Sectarian terrorism has, for so many years, been a challenge that our rulers have simply refused to recognise.
In fact, that stock expression of burying your head in the sand is truly applicable in this case. Or is it a sense of guilt that has kept our rulers from fighting the surge in sectarianism because it is the consequence of their own national security policies? Be that as it may, what happened in Peshawar on Friday is one more reminder of the deep roots that sectarianism, directed mainly against Shias, has dug into

our national existence.
Ah, but one may argue that everything has changed after December 16, 2014 and the National Action Plan is a measure of how our military and civilian leadership has finally resolved to defeat terrorism in all its manifestation. There was this reassurance that the distinction between the good and the bad Taliban had been erased. This could be taken as a confession of the establishment’s past sins.
This is not to belittle, in any way, the resolve and achievements of the ongoing military operation. We would also like to believe that the old mindset is changing vis-à-vis the Taliban. It is encouraging to hear Gen Raheel Sharif’s repeated reference to ‘extremism’ with terrorism. This should allow the establishment to seriously ponder the strategy of the war that is to be fought in the minds of men.
On Thursday, Maj-Gen Asim Bajwa, DG of the ISPR, told the media that the group involved in the attack on the Army Pubic School, Peshawar, had been identified. The details he provided indicated that the investigations had been thorough and that the army has the resources to be able to unravel the working of an entire network. We will need a similar and possibly a larger effort to trace the sources and principal perpetrators of the sectarian terrorism.
While our understanding of the army’s thinking and strategy is bound to be limited, the civilian leadership is obliged to share its thoughts with the nation in a candid discourse that takes into account the collective will and aspirations of the people. As far as the National Action Plan is concerned, the formulation is very reassuring. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has spoken about sectarian violence and about militancy that is based in Punjab. He has also referred to the Hazara community of Quetta. These are hints that he is aware of the challenge that his administration must ultimately meet.
Unfortunately, there are still some doubts about the commitment of some key officials of the present government in the context of the message that is conveyed by the National Action Plan. We may recall the eagerness of the Nawaz camp to talk to the Taliban in the summer of last year when the option for a military operation was seen to be unavoidable. Some key members, in their pronouncements, clearly betrayed sympathy for the Taliban’s cause. They are still there and no one has offered any sincere apology for their previous stance.
It is instructive that the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack on the Shia community in Peshawar. Now, this attack was obviously a plan that involved some specific operational activities. Why was such an action possible in a city that has been at the heart of our security campaign in the wake of the December 16 massacre?
What makes Friday’s attack so scary is that it has come exactly two weeks after the Shikarpur explosion in which over 60 persons lost their lives. The target, again, was an Imambargah and the explosion took place during Friday prayers. Earlier, there had been a similar attack in Rawalpindi. Hence, we have seen three major acts of sectarian terrorism after the massacre of our schoolchildren in Peshawar.
Incidentally, Imran Khan visited Shikarpur on Thursday and in his press conference in Sukkur he claimed the Shikarpur Imambargah blast was the result of criminal negligence and incapability of the police department. He insists that the police in Sindh and Punjab had been politicised, unlike the police in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where his own party in power. So, how would he explain the more organised Taliban attack in Peshawar?
Talking about terrorism, Imran Khan noted that it had different shades in different places. He also said that we cannot win our war against terrorism without finding its root causes. This is a sane observation. But Imran himself has earned a reputation of being a Taliban sympathiser. If that phase is over, we need more concrete evidence of his change of mind.
Finally, it is sectarian terrorism and its root causes that we must contend with in a forthright manner. We are aware of the high cost that the nation had to pay in delaying action against the Taliban and other allied terrorists. The price of delaying action against elements that have fostered sectarianism in our polity could be more horrendous. That our rulers have not been attending to this threat all these years boggles the mind. Will they wake up now?
The writer is a staff member.
Email: [email protected]m

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