The gut-wrenching massacre in Peshawar’s Army Public School has left Pakistan aghast and sickened. All political leaders have called for unity against terrorism. But this is no watershed event that can bridge the deep divides within. In another few days this episode of 134 dead children will become one like any other.
All tragedies provoke emotional exhortations. But nothing changed after Lakki Marwat when 105 spectators of a volleyball match were killed by a suicide bomber in a pickup truck. Or, when 96 Hazaras in a snooker club died in a double suicide attack. The 127 dead in the All Saints Church bombing in Peshawar, or the 90 Ahmadis killed while in prayer, are now dry statistics. In 2012, men in military uniforms stopped four buses bound from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, demanding that all 117 persons alight and show their national identification cards. Those with typical Shia names, like Abbas and Jafri, were separated. Minutes later corpses lay on the ground.
If Pakistan had a collective conscience, just one single fact could have woken it up: the murder of nearly 60 polio workers — women and men who work to save children from a crippling disease — at the hands of the fanatics.
Hence the horrible inevitability: from time to time, Pakistan shall continue to witness more such catastrophes. No security measures can ever prevent attacks on soft targets. The only possible solution is to change mindsets. For this we must grapple with three hard facts.
First, let’s openly admit that the killers are not outsiders or infidels. Instead, they are fighting a war for the reason Boko Haram fights in Nigeria, IS in Iraq and Syria, Al Shabab in Kenya, etc. The men who slaughtered our children are fighting for a dream — to destroy Pakistan as a Muslim state and recreate it as an Islamic state. This is why they also attack airports and shoot at PIA planes. They see these as necessary steps towards their utopia.
Let’s openly admit that the killers are not outsiders or infidels.
No one should speculate about the identity of the killers. Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani released pictures of the eight ‘martyrs’, justifying the killing of minors with reference to Hadith (a horrific perversion, of course). Dizzied by religious passions, the men roamed the school searching for children hiding under desks and shouted “Allah-o-Akbar” before opening fire. Shot in both legs, Shahrukh Khan, 16, says he survived by playing dead. Another surviving student, Aamir Ali, says that two clean-shaven gunmen told students to recite the kalima before shooting them multiple times.
Second, Pakistan must scorn and punish those who either support terrorism publicly or lie to us about the identity of terrorists. Television anchors and political personalities have made their fortunes and careers by fabricating wild theories. For example, retired Gen Hamid Gul and his son Abdullah Gul have adamantly insisted multiple times on TV that suicide attackers were not circumcised and hence not Muslim. Though body parts are plentifully available for inspection these days, they have not retracted earlier claims.
Those on the state’s payroll that encourage violence against the state must be dismissed. Maulana Abdul Aziz of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid — a government mosque — led an insurrection in 2007 against the Pakistani state. He flatly refuses to condemn the Peshawar massacre. Other state employees have called upon all to not pray for army soldiers killed in action. At another level is Jamaatud Dawa’s supremo, Hafiz Saeed. He blames India for the Peshawar massacre and, ignoring ironclad evidence, misguides Pakistanis about the identity of the enemy.
Among political leaders, none is more blameworthy than Imran Khan, the icon of millions of immature minds. He has never named the Taliban as terrorists even when they claimed responsibility for various atrocities. That the TTP may be involved in the Peshawar massacre is the first exception, but this is contained only in a tweet. For a man who uses the strongest language against political opponents and has hogged TV channels for months, he has yet to condemn TTP before a national audience. Why the reticence?
It was even worse earlier. In 2009, as the Taliban took over Swat, on Hamid Mir’s Capital Talk he claimed that the Swat Taliban were fighting a war of liberation against the Americans. When I asked why they were fighting in Pakistan and killing our policemen and soldiers, he accused me of being an American agent and then, later, attempted to physically attack me. Readers can google this video.
Third, if Pakistan is to be at peace with itself then it must seek peace with its neighbours and begin disassembling the apparatus of jihad. The bitter truth is that you reap what you sow. Today, massive militant establishments hold the Pakistani state hostage. They run their own training centres, hospitals, and disaster relief programmes. When Sartaj Aziz, adviser to the prime minister on foreign affairs, said that Pakistan was not going to target militant groups which “did not pose a threat to the state”, he accidentally spilled the beans. In fact he was merely restating Pakistan’s well-known zero-sum paradigm — we live to hurt others, not to better ourselves.
While bewailing the murder of our children, let us acknowledge that Pakistan’s soil has been used time and again for inflicting grief and sorrow across the world. Today it is not just India and Afghanistan who accuse us, but also China and Iran.
By launching Zarb-i-Azb, Gen Raheel Sharif has broken with his timid predecessor, Gen Kayani. North Waziristan should never have become the epicentre of terrorism. He has done well to meet President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul and demand the extradition of TTP’s Mullah Fazlullah, now ensconced on the Afghan side. But what of Mullah Omar? The Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban are two sides of the same coin. I wonder if President Ghani asked General Sharif to help extradite Mullah Omar for facing justice before the Afghan people.