OVER A COFFEE : Attacking Malala: the soul of Pakistan — Dr Haider Shah
There is a dire need for putting all ifs and buts on one side and going after this most menacing danger to our national security with one voice
Contrary to his claims, there appears to be no love lost between Imran Khan, the dharna (sit-in) and marches specialist, and his imaginary friends, the Taliban. Last time when the clueless leader wanted media attention for his carefully orchestrated dharna against NATO supplies in Karachi, the Taliban militants blew the whole show apart by staging a daredevil attack on the Mehran base. This time, with an olive branch in his hands, no sooner had he returned from his truncated march to Waziristan, the implacable Taliban exploded the drama by attacking a girl who symbolised the soul of Pakistan. With friends like these who needs enemies?
When a farmer finds out his sheep were attacked by a wolf he seldom engages in discussions on the motives of the wolf or sins of his livestock. He also does not sit on a mat praying for the safety of his cattle but rather fetches his gun and hunts the wolf down. When even domestic pets go wild and start biting your children, the only option left is to put them down. In the UK, there are strict laws forbidding cruelty to animals, but when in 1980-90 cows developed BSE disease and a few associated human deaths were reported, millions of cows were killed to deal with the situation. Procrastination in dealing with menacing situations is a recipe for disaster, whatever the source of the menace may be.
The sight of common people coming together to express their shared anguish and offering prayers for Malala lifted my sagging spirit to some extent. However, an accompanying fear is that these ritualistic communal prayers may amount to abdication of our duty in the face of a most deplorable act of war by a determined enemy. It is no time for lending our ears to the ‘ifs and buts’ of the apologists of the Taliban. More than mad cows, humans are very dangerous when they lose sanity and carry guns and bombs. The state’s response must therefore be swifter and more resolute. The only other course of action is to treat such persons in mental hospitals if that is a possibility. Holding negotiations with deranged criminals is, however, never an option.
I am not arguing that negotiations can never help in resolving deadly conflicts, but there are at least two important requirements for that to happen. One, the leaders of all parties to the conflict should be identifiable and second, they must show readiness to acknowledge the authority of the state. In my previous piece, I had called for a peaceful resolution of the Balochistan imbroglio because the Baloch leaders have shown readiness to negotiate peace within the constitutional framework of Pakistan. In the case of religious extremists, both requirements are conspicuously missing. The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) of 1998, which heralded a new era of peaceful coexistence in the troubled Northern Ireland region, is a very good example of resolving historical conflicts through negotiations. The spirit of the negotiations is best captured by the following clause of the agreement: “The tragedies of the past have left a deep and profoundly regrettable legacy of suffering. We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families. But we can best honour them through a fresh start, in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance, and mutual trust, and to the protection and vindication of the human rights of all.” If the extremist groups reciprocate a similar spirit on the part of the state, then I fully endorse any move for holding negotiations with the Taliban leaders. They will have to agree to the vital clause of the GFA, “All participants accordingly reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations.” If the extremists agree to return to the democratic process and opt for peace and development in place of arms and ammunition, we should be ready to facilitate their rehabilitation. If they think that by dint of fear alone they would impose their view of the world and their lifestyle upon 180 million Pakistanis, they must then clearly be shown how sadly mistaken they were all along.
In the dark clouds of despondency, the only silver lining is the emerging chorus of outright denunciation of the Taliban and their perverted ideology. The anarchists of 18th and 19th century Europe also imagined that by sheer use of violence they would make everyone submit to their flawed ideology. Today, they are languishing in the dustbin of history. The same fate awaits these self-proclaimed jihadis if we all show strategic consensus over the issue of terrorism. The leaders of all mainstream political parties have increasingly been heard denouncing the ideology of the Taliban and their sympathisers. Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has also issued a very clear condemnation of the ideology of the attackers. All Pakistanis want elimination of the outfits that carried out the act. Perhaps this is the time we move beyond words and aspirations. Let us rethink our whole security paradigm and identify our friends and foes afresh. There is a dire need for putting all ifs and buts on one side and going after this most menacing danger to our national security with one voice. We had been helping Sri Lanka win its war against terrorism. Why can’t we help ourselves?
Badshah Khan, the legendary leader of Pakhtunkhwa, after observing the active role of Indian women in the struggle for independence, had called upon Pashtun women to break free from social taboos and join their menfolk in developing their nation. The greatest tribute to Malala would be to revive that message and to see every Pashtun girl turn into Malala.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org