The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
Here’s an old Punjabi joke. A farmer was watching a fellow farmer plough his farm. After a while they had a little conversation. Farmer 1 (the bystander) to Farmer 2, casually: your ploughshare isn’t running straight and you’re messing things up. Farmer 2 to Farmer 1, tauntingly: what are you talking about? Your sister eloped with the Chaudhry’s son. Farmer 1, bewildered: What does that have to do with anything? Farmer 2, logically: (with the apology that no language can do justice to a Punjabi punchline) gallan tau gal nikaldi ai (one conversation leads to another). This exchange nails our logic on terror: it’s all because of the drones!
Last year we saw special efforts made in Lahore under the Shahbaz Sharif government to add to Pakistan’s credit a few records in the Guinness Book of World Records. We probably also qualify for another record: the only country in the world that has witnessed almost 50,000 of its citizens and state functionaries killed and yet it is not angry at those who are doing the killing and proudly claiming to be doing it. The US might be a wicked-imperialist-empire state, but it has waged two unpopular wars over the last decade to ensure that those who are attacking its citizens are denied the ability and the sanctuary to do so.
And how are we reacting to those who are killing innocent Pakistani citizens, targeting state officials, fighting our army and killing our soldiers? We are apologising for their actions. We are confused about these killing machines. That TTP/LeJ/LeT are an evil that must be eradicated is not part of this confusion. What we can’t figure out is whether these terrorists are enemy agents whose strings are pulled from foreign lands or whether they are good Muslims, just angry because the state has lost its way. Either way, we are firm in our belief that if the foreign strings are severed or the state cleans up, these gold-hearted folk will settle back into selling fruits and vegetables.
As part of the Muslim world, there is a huge disconnect between our self-perception or self-worth and our reality. As Muslims we are convinced that we are destined for greatness. And yet we find ourselves lagging behind everyone else in all realms. Our reaction isn’t introspective. We declare that it is all a conspiracy. The entire world has ganged up against us. And so we shouldn’t play by their rules. This sense of rebellion is then supplemented by our sense of disempowerment as citizens. Our colonial overhang, combined with our chequered political history, has nurtured a conspiratorial sense that we are just not in control of our decisions and fate.
We have thus lost our sense of human agency and autonomy. We don’t believe in free will. We don’t believe our choices are our own. If you say or do anything that is against established state narrative, you’ve either been brainwashed by the enemy or you are on his pay. And we’re projecting the same thinking in reflecting on our home born-and-bred terrorists. For the apologists, they’ve either been brainwashed or are being paid by enemies and, consequently, it is not a case of Pakistanis killing Pakistanis. For the justifiers, there’s an evil world out there scheming against Muslims; more power to the religion-inspired terrorists for sticking it to the world.
A new security policy and sacking officials after each new attack won’t treat the cancer that afflicts us. To begin with we need conceptual clarity in our worldview, our sense of purpose as a nation and state and the role of religion within the state. Is the primary purpose of the Pakistani state in the 21st century to build the glory of the Muslim Ummah and take on the imperialists who run the world? Or is the primary object of the state more restricted and focused on the life, security, prosperity and everyday needs of its citizens?
If it is the latter, can we protect and promote the interests of Pakistani citizens by emulating examples of rebel or rogue states – North Korea, Communist Cuba, Taliban-led Afghanistan? Are we better off being a responsible member of the international community that is singularly focused on the well-being of its citizens as opposed to punching above its weight and arrogating to itself the task of taking on global bullies? If we wish to be responsible members of the international community, can such object cohere with a view of national security that still doesn’t consider the existence or use of non-state actors an absolute illegitimacy?
If we accept the contemporary nation-state system and the concepts of state sovereignty and territorial integrity that it is built upon, can we demand our rights under such a system without discharging the obligations that come along? How long can we continue to tell the world that it should respect our sovereignty while throwing our hands up and blaming non-state actors when terror plots being executed in sovereign lands find their strings being pulled from our badlands? Can a functional state coexist while large swathes of our territory are under occupation of non-state terror groups who use it to plan and execute terror attacks across the country?
In terror attacks against Hazaras, Shias, foreign mountaineers, schoolgirls, judges, prosecutors, police officials, army bases and soldiers, and even apologist politicos is evident the unravelling of the state and its authority. We can keep pointing fingers at the Afghan jihad, Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation, the west’s hypocrisy and fight over the primary and tertiary causes of terror. But none of that will stop our home born-and-bred terrorists from eating the flesh of their fellow citizens and chipping off the authority, credibility and functionality of the state. An effective anti-terror policy will need to be founded on bitter admissions.
We’ll have to admit that, despite being under attack itself, our army is still willing to tolerate the presence of terror groups in our midst. We’ll have to admit that the state has done nothing to address the demand or supply side of terror. We’ll have to acknowledge that our national security apparatus still doesn’t see non-state actors as the single largest threat to Pakistani citizens; that our national security mindset has still not rid itself of the illogical belief that religion-inspired hatemongering non-state actors can be harnessed and used in pursuit of national security goals; that what it perceives as an implementation issue is a design fault.
We’ll have to admit that our society has become radicalised overtime. No matter how loudly we yell that we are a peace-loving lot and that no true Muslim can ever wish to kill a fellow Muslim, we have a growing number amongst us who believe that it is all right to kill those who we believe are wrong or evil on the basis of our personal understanding of religion and, further, that such killers should also go scot-free. The PTI MP seeking an honourable release for Mumtaz Qadri only exposed the tip of this iceberg. The problem of reform in a society that has systematically been radicalised by the state is that it needs clear-thinking resolute leaders. Do we have any?
We know our state’s authority and ability stands corroded and needs to be rebuilt. We know our state functionaries are less powerful, resourceful and protected than the terrorist trying to get them. We know our problems range from dysfunctional CCTV cameras in Karachi and a moth-eaten criminal justice system to tribal agencies where well-funded terrorists are fighting pitched battles against the world’s sixth largest army. But to change any of this we need political leaders who are clear-headed about the type of country we wish Pakistan to be, and whether befriending terrorists or eradicating them will move us in that direction.
At this time shaking the resolve of this nation by pointing fingers elsewhere when the problem lies within is not just reckless but outright criminal.
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