In 2014, it is a futile discussion to say that western powers in the 1980s helped in creating jihadi monsters. The principle is simple: even when the fondest pet goes wild one has to put it to rest
Dr Haider Shah
My hometown is red again. As 2014 slowly steps towards the exit gate it takes happy and cheerful children along without asking the shattered parents even once. Numerous tragedies in the past have failed to make terrorism an important frontline national priority. The brutal carnage in the Army Public School (APS), Peshawar, seems to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Suddenly terrorism has become an imminent existential threat that has caught the attention of our public policymakers.
Before the national elections I had reviewed the new manifesto of the PML-N. As Nawaz Sharif had then declared in a public meeting that his government’s programme would be based on “three Es” — energy, economy and education — I raised my concern that the most important E — extremism — was conspicuously missing from the agenda. Not only that, security of life and property is the basis of the social contract between the state and its citizens, but one may ask if a thriving economy can ever coexist with the menace of extremism?
Once sworn in as the Prime Minister (PM), Nawaz Sharif embarked upon plans to resolve the energy crisis. Announcements for physical infrastructure projects of transportation were also loudly made. As anti-terrorism sounded very feeble in the official discourse, I wrote in this paper even then whether Nawaz could find the missing E. I had hoped that the new government would lift the ban on YouTube. Instead of doing that, when the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) instead banned progressive websites, I had to share my frustration by writing a piece titled, ‘Al Qaeda seizes Pakistan Telecommunications Authority’ (Daily Times, June 7, 2014). We have long been pleading for a paradigm shift in our national thinking on both foreign and internal policies. We were largely ignored. Imran Khan went to the extent of calling us scum and a liberal elite who were just indulging in propaganda to please the US. The new national discourse after the APS attack, however, suggests that what we were consistently arguing, in Faiz’s words, “Ab wohi harf-e-junun sab ki zuban thahri hai” (What was our crazy discourse has now become the popular narrative).
Chronic ailments are seldom remedied by treating the symptoms alone. We have to deal with the root cause of the spread of extremism. We have to humbly acknowledge that our obsession with controlling the affairs of Afghanistan and imposing a solution on the Kashmir issue is a major factor in giving rise to various forms of extremism in the country. We promoted a jihadi discourse in schools’ syllabi and the media and provided training facilities so that militants become an arm of our foreign policy. In 2014, it is a futile discussion to say that western powers in the 1980s helped in creating jihadi monsters. The principle is simple: even when the fondest pet goes wild one has to put it to rest. It, however, amounts to adding insult to injury to discover that Maulana Abdul Aziz, who is using a mosque right in the centre of the federal capital to openly challenge our national sentiment by supporting Taliban militants, is a government employee. What we now need is a comprehensive anti-extremism strategy that does not rest on any ideological beliefs or preconceived notions.
Religion-inspired insurgency is complex as it has the ingredients of anti-US jihadi warriors, sectarian killers and idealist obscurantists who wish to first destroy the existing state along anarchist lines and then establish their imagined idealist society. There should be one cardinal principle that should inform the anti-extremism strategy: nothing is holier than the life of any Pakistani citizen. Only the state has the authority to deprive any citizen of life under due process of law or inflict any other injury. No one, under any pretext, can assume this authority. And anyone, whether a Talib, a Sipah-e-Sahaba follower or Mumtaz Qadri, who exercises this authority to kill others for their faith, is a terrorist and the law should not differentiate between any of these. The Pakistani Taliban and sectarian hatemongers have been offered many chances to return to mainstream civil society but the offer was never availed.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah promised in his maiden speech in the Constituent Assembly that Pakistanis would enjoy religious freedom in a progressive and thriving Pakistan. Can Nawaz Sharif prove himself a genuine successor of Jinnah? We want to be an emerging economic tiger like India and Brazil. In order to attain that desired ideal we need to have an anti-extremism policy that encompasses all spheres of our socio-economic life. The syllabi of mainstream and religious institutions will have to be purged of any extremist content. Media and educational institutions need to discourage the unbridled discourse of hate and should instead promote critical, rationalist thinking. Those who challenge the writ of the state should be summarily taken out of business. Like energy, extremism can also not be defeated with a business-as-usual approach. One hopes that Nawaz has finally found the missing ‘E’ and that the national war will be waged not just against FATA-based militants but also against all those who promote the Taliban way of thinking in society.