Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

December 20, 2015

Those who must be named


December 20, 2015

It is now a year since 144 children and teachers of APS Peshawar were gunned down. One year later, we are now familiar with their faces. There are billboards up which feature row upon row of ID card pictures. We are also familiar somewhat with their lives. Their grieving parents have been repeatedly interviewed, and lengthy tributes have been penned.

All of this is necessary. It is our obligation to honour the dead, to mourn for those who gave their lives, to bow our heads in remembrance. But it is not enough.

One year later, we do not really know much of the people who attacked our children. Who were they? Where did they come from? Why did they hate us so?

The identity of the attackers is important because our children did not die from an act of God. They did not perish in an earthquake or an inexplicable accident. The earth did not open up and swallow them. Instead, they were killed by men with hate in their hearts, people who planned mass murder in cold blood and who then executed that plan professionally. But nobody talks about the killers.

Let’s summarise what we do know about them. According to one report, the leader of the six was a Chechen called Abu Shamil. The remaining five included two Afghans, a Moroccan, an Egyptian and what Wikipedia calls “an Arab of unknown nationality”. These six were sent on their mission by Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. He has publicly boasted of the mission and taken full responsibility for ordering it.

In the last one year, how much have we been told about Fazlullah and the TTP? The answer: not very much. Nobody discusses the fact that Fazlullah has been leading a revolt against the state since 2002. Nobody discusses the fact that the state of Pakistan once handed over Swat to Fazlullah and his father-in-law. Nobody discusses the fact that the TTP is a direct offshoot of the Afghan Taliban which we helped to create.

Part of the reason we ignore the antecedents of Maulana Fazlullah comes from an April 2015 interview of former DG ISI, Lt-Gen (r) Asad Durrani with Al Jazeera. That interview became notorious because Gen Durrani stated that it was more probable than not that the ISI had actually known of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. General Durrani was also asked in that interview about the APS Massacre. His response was to dismiss it as “collateral damage”, the price that one pays for national security. Or to use his exact words: “There is a price to be paid for this game. It is a high-stakes game.”

In his famous class on the law of torts, Guido Calabresi used to pose a hypothetical to his students. Imagine, he would say, an evil deity. That deity offers you a bargain. On the one hand, the deity offers you a revolution, a technology which will radically change your society, which will allow you to travel easily from place to place and which will make people’s lives healthier, safer, and more vibrant. On the other hand, the deity says it wants blood. It will take, at random, the lives of thousands.

Invariably, the students would denounce the bargain. None of them would parley on such terms. After all, every life is sacred. Who could make such a trade-off?

At this point, Dean Calabresi would spring his surprise and reveal the identity of the evil deity as the motorcar – a revolutionary technology for sure, but also a killer of thousands. And now the students would stumble. How do you live without cars? And yet, how do you justify the toll taken by cars, the thousands killed in accidents every year?

The pursuit of regional influence through fanatic proxies has been our evil deity. On December 16, 2014, we sacrificed 144 lives to this evil deity. This fact needs to be acknowledged because we cannot simultaneously shout “never again” while continuing to worship at the same altar of the same evil deity. We need to either accept that we erred in our calculations. Or we need to accept that our own people will continue to die as an unfortunate consequence of our policy choices. I may not agree with Gen Durrani’s analysis. But at least that analysis is intellectually and historically coherent.

What we cannot do is to muddle along, to regard the APS massacre with horror, and yet not acknowledge our role in the creation of the people who murdered our children.

Why not, you may ask? After all, much has changed since December 16, 2014. Operation Zarb-e-Azb is being pursued with vigour. Every few days, the ISPR gives an update telling us how many militants have been killed or how many have been hanged. And every few days, we learn from social media that yet another young man has laid down his life for this country. Why then is it necessary to delve into the past? Is it not good enough that the military has seen the error of its ways?

Obviously, nobody wants to humiliate the armed forces. Lest we forget, it is ultimately the blood of our jawans that prevents maniacs like Maulana Fazlullah from running rampant. But the point here is not to humiliate anyone. The point is to avoid repetition of our mistakes.

Rewriting our history to suggest the TTP emerged fully formed in Swat, like Athena from the head of Zeus, does not do us any favours. Our ISI helped create these monsters. Our state nourished these monsters. Our politicians grovelled before these monsters. It was not just the army that helped to create the TTP: it was the entire country.

More importantly, Pakistanis are not stupid. We remember the times when the Taliban were our buddies. We remember the times when Imran Khan wanted to embrace them. If we ignore those facts, nobody will protest if some budding Napoleon decides again that it would be wonderful to use the TTP for purposes of strategic depth. You cannot learn from your mistakes if you do not first accept them as mistakes.

Perhaps you think I’m exaggerating. I say look around you. Barely a week ago, Imran Khan’s media advisor was wondering on Twitter as to what was really that bad about negotiating with the TTP. As I write this, today’s newspaper carries a report about how the wife of Maulana Abdul Aziz stood before the Supreme Court and demanded blood money for the people who died in the Lal Masjid operation. Note, not the soldiers who died in that operation but the ones who killed those soldiers. This is the same lady whose students recently posted a video of themselves swearing allegiance to Daesh and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This is the same Maulana Abdul Aziz who originally refused to condemn the Peshawar massacre.

At present, our leaders are like the characters of a Harry Potter novel who can only refer to their opponent as “He-who-must-not-be-named”. But to quote from those books themselves, “fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” And if there is any one thing that we owe to the memory of the 144 martyrs, it is to have the courage to name and shame their killers.

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Twitter: @laalshah

Topstory minus plus

Opinion minus plus

Newspost minus plus

Editorial minus plus

National minus plus

World minus plus

Sports minus plus

Business minus plus

Karachi minus plus

Lahore minus plus

Islamabad minus plus

Peshawar minus plus