Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

Dealing with extremist thugs, Daily Times, 23/2/13

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OVER A COFFEE : Dealing with extremist thugs — Dr Haider Shah

The carnage in Quetta is the deadly outcome of our glorification of violent extremism as an instrument of internal and external policies

As the election days are 
drawing closer, the national scene is getting murkier and bloodier. Without mincing any words, the ‘prophet of doom’ Mr Rehman Malik has issued a warning of more mayhem. Whether the sudden surge in violent attacks along sectarian lines is a string of unrelated incidents or part of well-planned conspiracy to derail the upcoming elections is anybody’s guess. The water tanker-led explosion is reverberating in the national discourse, rendering our social psyche extremely bruised. Last time the provincial government of Balochistan was sent packing in order to appease the grief-stricken and wailing relatives of the victims of a genocidal bomb attack on the Hazara community. I had then termed the move a Paracetamol tablet to soothe the pain on a very temporary basis. The demon of religious hatred has struck again with deadlier consequences. Now the leaders of the Hazara community have gone a step further, asking the army to take charge and provide them with security. It is a case of not seeing the wood for the trees. The carnage in Quetta is the deadly outcome of our glorification of violent extremism as an instrument of internal and external policies. What we see today has not happened overnight. It is the result of our gradual drift towards religious extremism. When heroin is puffed on for the first time, it brings ecstatic delight. The long-term consequences, however, soon come home to roost. 

In the wake of unrest and uproar over rising extremist attacks, there are three worrying strands of thinking that need to be addressed. First, the conspiracy theory lovers are again ducking the real problem and are laying the blame at the doorstep of international conspirators. Second, some commentators are treating the Hazara problem as a mere security lapse and are therefore looking for easy, surface level remedial measures. Third, there appears to be a complete lack of will on the part of various organs of the state on the question of developing a strategic response to the existentialist threat posed by extremist outfits. Let us consider these interrelated concerns one by one.

The condemnation of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) by Imran Khan after it accepted responsibility for the latest attack on the Shia community in Quetta came to me as a pleasant surprise. One however wishes he finds time to read Saleem Shahzad’s book, which details how extremist groups have developed a well-knit network through al Qaeda strategists. Condemning LeJ while refusing to acknowledge the dangers that the Taliban-led network poses to our internal security can at best be expressed as the state of confusion that characterises certain sections of our political leadership. The pleasant surprise over the naming of the LeJ also proved short-lived, as the very next day the ‘messiah’ of Pakistan was again blaming international players for the Quetta situation without naming any of these players.

Let us, for the sake of argument, accept that foreign powers are remote-controlling the extremist incidents. Why is that they are so successful in making us slit each other’s throats while they themselves live in peace and harmony? Why cannot we do the same in their countries and egg them on to have sectarian wars among various Christian groups? Perhaps we are an easy prey because we already have accumulated heaps of the ammunition of hate and animosity all around us. While stocking our houses with inflammable powder, we keep meddling in the affairs of other countries and then expect no reprisals at the same time. In our case it is known to all that merely a matchstick is required to set an Ojhri camp-style violence in motion. Violence is like a demon that resides inside our brains. It gets nourished and grows in size and power when we hate fellow countrymen on the basis of personal faith. Very early on in Pakistan’s history we began a violent hate-ridden campaign against one community on the basis of faith and took great happiness in vilifying it through our constitution and then sanctioning physical attacks on them. Encouraged by that success and glamorisation of violence, now the demon is stronger and attacking another faith community. As we remain silent, the demon will continue growing in size and vigour and in the end devour us all.

For considering the remaining two points, I would recall how the government of the East India Company (EIC) in the early 19th century dealt with a troubling source of the law and order problem in the then Indian society. The source of trouble was traced to the wandering groups known as ‘Thugs’ who operated as gangs of professional assassins. Disguised as travellers, these Thugs would befriend other travellers and after gaining confidence would strangle their hapless victims by tossing a handkerchief or noose around their necks. Like their Taliban counterparts, these Thugs also performed the killings for religious devotion, in honour of the Hindu goddess Kali. They worked so discreetly that the British rulers only became aware when some of their own men started disappearing without a trace. In those times, when no modern facilities of intelligence were available, the EIC administrators launched a successful operation with the help of specific Anti-Thuggery and Dacoity Laws and strict enforcement. William Bentinck is credited with eradicating the menace of the Thugs by relentless effort.

If the government and its intelligence and law-enforcement agencies are determined, I do not see any reason why we cannot eradicate the thugs of 21st century Pakistan.

Author: Dr. Haider Shah

Academic, Researcher and Writer

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