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Never again


January 21, 2016

We promised ourselves ‘never again’ but remained apathetic to terrorist attacks which we were disconnected from owing to lack of proximity. As a society, we constantly refer to ourselves as ‘resilient’ and ‘brave’.

We condemn terrorist attacks but glorify violence when it is committed by the state. We take pride in the fact that school-going children are ‘martyrs’ who sacrificed themselves for some greater good we can’t even identify. Indeed, Pakistan and Pakistanis are full of contradictions – and it is these contradictions that fuel violence and extremism.

It takes three seconds after a terrorist attack for the entire country to jump up and scream: ‘We will crush these terrorists’ and ‘The sacrifices of our martyrs will never be forgotten’. However, we do forget – and our will is faltering.

As long as those sitting in Islamabad are least bothered about the persecution of the Baloch people at the hands of the state, this country will continue to be embroiled in endless bloodshed. As long as those sitting in Lahore are unaffected by visuals of people being shot at and hospitalised in Charsadda, the radicalisation of those we are disconnected from will continue.

When the time comes for a military operation, all those questioning how successful it will be are labelled ‘traitors’ and ‘anti-state’ (sometimes even ‘CIA-funded’ or ‘Indian agents’). What we fail to realise is that identifying and accepting our mistakes is stage one in the process of rectifying them. Indeed, our soldiers have lost their lives. Indeed, our country has suffered worse than others in the fight against terrorism. None of this, however, means that we should continue to support heavy-handed operations against our own citizens, a minority of whom are terrorists.

Military operations are definitely one important part of a counterterrorism strategy, but they will be rendered counter-productive if they are not backed by political will and presence. Once terrorists (and many civilians) are out of the picture, and the army withdraws, there is no political setup and absolutely no provision of basic services to the population that has just witnessed immense conflict. Without psychological counselling or the provision of basic education, health and employment services, do we not realise that we are allowing radicalisation to increase? It is radicalisation that breeds terrorism – terrorists are not born terrorists.

Similarly, while the need of the hour was military courts, the civilian government has absolved itself of responsibility for reforming the criminal justice system. As per the sunset clause in the 21st Amendment, military courts are time-bound – they are neither a permanent nor viable alternative to an effective criminal justice system.

In fact, our failure to live up to our international obligations, particularly under UN Security Council resolutions 1373 and 1267, resulted in the need for military courts. Had our criminal justice system been able to prosecute and convict terrorists, we may never have needed the 21st Amendment. Instead of realising this fact and rectifying it, the civilian government has leaned on the military to do its job.

All is not lost and much can be done to rectify the situation – but the essential ingredient of political will and determination cannot be emphasized enough. The responsibility may rest with the government but it is also one that society must undertake. Our foolishness in constantly falling for propaganda has led to massive polarisation, which results in radicalising a large segment of our society.

We have liberals and conservatives but the middle-ground is fast shrinking. It is society’s responsibility to set itself up as a bridge rather than a chasm.

The writer is a lawyer.

Email: [email protected]



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