Tuesday January 18, 2022

The scolding

November 12, 2021

A well-deserved scolding. The Supreme Court summoned Prime Minister Imran Khan in the ongoing case on the Army Public School massacre. In 2014, terrorists of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) massacred a large number of children in the Army Public School in Peshawar. It was one of the saddest events in Pakistan’s chequered history.

The army did chase the terrorists for a while and caught some and even hanged them but that did little to assuage the grief of the parents. That grief still persists – and not only amongst the parents but in a large part of the population for we are all parents and have a fairly good idea of how those poor parents must be feeling. Tears are not enough for they dry up. Then they fall within – until the grief-stricken feel that life is not worth living. No amount of punishment or compensation will ever bring their children back. All we can do is join them in their grief.

But we are people. What about the state? The state is in effect not some amorphous entity devoid of all emotion. It is the sum total of the people that inhabit it. And to be sure a lot of compassionate people outside the state in other countries also join us in our grief.

The government as usual set up enquiry committees and demanded reports, which it duly got. Fingers were pointed. People and entities were named but really the government didn’t have its heart in it and so the thing lingered.

When Imran Khan became prime minister, we thought things would change but people’s conscience woke up when he declared that he would negotiate with the terrorists and come to an agreement that would prevent such a massacre again. They reacted, especially the parents.

The Supreme Court, already cognizant with the case, ordered Prime Minister Imran Khan to appear before it on November 10 within a few hours. Imran acted maturely and did appear before the Supreme Court to answer their questions, which was a very good thing. He gave the Supreme Court the respect that it deserved.

But then the way the Supreme Court conducted itself was a major revolution for Pakistan. It asked the prime minister why he had not acted after becoming prime minister and was even now inviting the terrorists to the table to negotiate a deal. An intrepid judge remarked caustically, “Are we going to surrender once again?” – taking our minds back to an earlier surrender.

The second thing is that the school belonged to the army and the children there were mostly army children. It is not a question of one chief, it is a question of the entire high command of the institution.

The provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa did everything in its power at that time but that was nowhere near enough. Brushing difficult things under the carpet has been turned into an art form by the governments of Pakistan. Sadly, we cannot court-martial the entire country. Because one would have expected a bigger and longer hue and cry than transpired. So, let’s get real. One should ask the Supreme Court to tell Pakistani society to be ashamed of itself for letting such an important issue get caught up in the doldrums. They should drag it out and throw it in the middle of a perfect storm so that something substantive comes out of it even if it means the ship sinking.

In fact, the Supreme Court was on trial too and so far it is coming out with flying colours. Truth to tell, Imran Khan is on trial as well and he will be judged by what he does and not what he says. One should not talk too much about compensation for there is no compensation for the murder of a child. What price a precious human life? After the massacre, a part of all the parents must have died too.

What is the compensation for that? Let’s not talk about this compensation nonsense and do whatever we can to make it easy for the parents to go on living and the nation to live with its grief and yes, institutions to take full and active responsibility for protecting the people in them. A judge also remarked that it was a failure of intelligence.

The Supreme Court should be congratulated; it retrieved a great deal of its reputation and re-instilled the people’s respect for it. One does not want to embarrass Imran Khan and his government, but one hopes he will learn the lesson of not becoming complacent. He should also rethink his idea of negotiating with terrorists who have the blood of thousands of Pakistanis on their hands. They will never ever stop their terrorism. Especially now after the conquest of Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban, they are emboldened and feel that they can repeat this in Pakistan.

We are in an increasingly dangerous time. And we must act sensibly and realistically with a view to finishing this demon once and for all.

The writer is a veteran journalist, political analyst and author.