We forget that the state has already set a precedent. If a man with a gun can hold the capital hostage and a criminal gang can terrorise the whole country into obedience, why should others with grievances not follow suit?
First, the ceasefire announcement by the Taliban provided television commentators with cause for celebration. Then, the sixes of Shahid Afridi electrified the nation starved for happy news and glory. However, soon we realised that darker realities do not go away by sleeping over them, and that the quicksand we are dancing over is swallowing us all. While we were busy with aerial firing over defeating India, shooters of another sort were also busy in their brisk trade. This time it was the judiciary, which paid the price in blood for the collective inaction of the nation against an imminent threat.
What Imran Khan and Munawar Hussain said after the recent incidents of terrorism can be excused because the method in their madness is clear and consistent. However, I am less inclined to take a lenient view of the conduct of our interior minister. His discourse is confused, self-contradictory and directionless. At times, he looks like a mirror image of Imran Khan, except that he is in the PML-N. The two gentlemen share a few more credentials as well. Both give out faith-coated statements frequently and are good at the business of producing anti-west tirades. The children of Imran Khan go to posh schools in the UK while Chaudhry Nisar’s family has US passports. This fact, on its own, is neither objectionable nor condemnable. However, this hypocrisy becomes painful when the two are heard pleading to impose the Taliban upon Pakistani children. A booklet on security policy cannot be an alternative to the clear resolve of eradicating the menace of militant extremism in the country. Some PML-N leaders have been much clearer than the interior minister when discussing our security situation. In the case of the sensitive area of law and order, the ‘right man for the right job’ rule seems to be seriously compromised.
The situation today reminds me of a column by Ataul Haq Qasmi. Commenting upon the trend of gratefulness, he narrates that once he offered condolences to someone over the death of a relative in a road accident. The person replied, “Thanks to Allah that, though the man died, both his eyes are safe.” Perhaps we are trying to find similar sparks of optimism in the ongoing negotiations with the militants. Those who are inspired by the ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ principle quickly tell us that the Taliban did not claim responsibility for the terror attack or that groups such as Ahrarul Hind are no more part of the TTP. We forget that the state has already set a precedent. If a man with a gun can hold the capital hostage and a criminal gang can terrorise the whole country into obedience, why should others with grievances not follow suit? Those who have been slaughtering captives have become celebrities for both the government and media. After becoming mujahideen (holy warriors) and fidayeen, drivers, cleaners and other written off members of society attain the status of a ‘stakeholder’ to whom appeals for mercy are made by religious scholars.
Whether it was the Roman empire or Persian empire, once barbarians sensed weakness they made relentless attacks. In Pakistan, the state has paraded its weakness to the whole world. Terrorism has been accepted as a way of according legitimacy to militant groups. The Taliban do not approve of our relations with the US. Another group will frown over our relations with Iran or Saudi Arabia. We succumb to one — we succumb to all. It hardly matters to those who are killed in a terrorist attack whether the perpetrators are members of the TTP or belong to any other little known group.
I have regularly been advocating a comprehensive strategy to deal with the problem of extremism in the country. No doubt, a long-term strategy needs to be pursued to phase out extremism from society. However, in the long run, we are all dead. When a fire breaks out in the kitchen, the first thing to do is extinguish the fire and then think about long-term security solutions. The country is under attack by modern day barbarians. While there are safe havens in the country, groups with all kinds of funny names will thrive in these ungoverned spaces. A military operation will not end terrorist acts but the state will reassert the principle that there cannot be safe havens in the country.
Led by the optimism of Taliban apologists, if we anticipate a peaceful end to the protracted insurgency, we might be heading towards a pyrrhic victory. If peace with the Taliban is purchased with a general amnesty, underground pro-Taliban groups will launch their next phase of ‘jihad’. We will see the flourishing of TTP cells in all towns and villages. Five times a day they will gather in mosques and work relentlessly to make a social space by propagating the ‘amr bil maroof wa nahi un al munkir’ doctrine. How they penetrated the Swat valley through the TSNM door will be the model they will use all over the country. Once they have fully penetrated society, they will resume their jihad with new vigour and tenacity.
Do we want to be blown to pieces after giving a hug to a suicide bomber or embrace martyrdom while protecting the country from savage assailants? Perhaps the time has come to make a choice.