Though extremely tragic, the Peshawar incident managed to do something that national tragedies like death of Benazir Bhutto, siege of Mehran Base and many suicide attacks couldn’t do. It made people question many long held beliefs and there emerged some dissenting voices which are questioning the way things have been run so far. It is not much, but it is encouraging. If we really want to address the issue of terrorism that is plaguing the country for a good quarter of a century, we will not only need to revamp our policies and strategies but will also have to let go of long held ideologies.
For starters, the people of Pakistan in general and the armed forces in particular need to understand that Pakistan does not face an existential threat from India. There are other smaller countries neighbouring India and they are surviving all right. Former East Pakistan and India’s eastern neighbour Bangladesh is doing extremely well despite being a much smaller Muslim country (In comparison with India) in the sub-continent. In fact, Bangladesh is outperforming Pakistan in key indicators of education, women’s contribution in GDP, maternal and child health, and value added exports. It is about time that we also divert out attention and resources from seeing India as a menace to our survival and pursue a policy of economic cooperation which will benefit everyone. Cold War real politics and support of Western allies allowed Pakistan an artificial parity with India. But the story of 21stcentury is very different. India is an economic and political power with the highest growth rate in the region. Its defence budget is three times that of Pakistan and as soon as Pakistani military understands its status and place in the new regional dynamics, the better it would be for both the region and the country.
As a country, we need to let go of our collective religious and nationalist denial. To say that Pakistanis and Muslims cannot commit such heinous acts is the denial of highest order. Musilms have a long history of turning against each other. Yazid’s army that attacked Imam Hussain’s family was Muslim, and so were Mughals who fought against Delhi Sultanate. Closer to home, the army that killed many Bangladeshi civilians in 1971 was financed out of that taxes paid by those very civilians. Why do we make this exception for Taliban and try to come up with clues that perpetrators of suicide bombings were either Indian or Israeli agents even Taliban openly admit it that they have committed those crimes and their dead bodies get buried in Bonir and Kahuta! This denial does not offer way out of the quagmire we have dug ourselves in, it only make us look moronic in front of the world.
Military power is not the only way to strengthen a country, investing in its people is the way to go in the modern world and Pakistan – with its youth boom – would do well in diverting resources towards building that future instead of fortifying its geographical boundaries against dormant threats. It must be noted that it could not keep those boundaries intact even during the cold war era.
With the formation of European Union, it has been established that we are living in a post nation state society where most threats to a country are non-national. Clinging to 1980s notion of strategic depth has brought too much grief to the country. It is about time that this idea is put to rest once and for all and a more stringent counter terrorism policy is devised against all the groups that has the capacity and inclination to use force against the country. You do not only need expensive and modern hardware to survive in 21st century, you need an understanding of changing patterns of modern society and willingness to take measures to address those new problems.
Pakistan army needs to get rid of its slogan of ‘Jihad fi Sabeel Allah’. No other Muslim country’s army has that slogan because the army’s allegiance should not be to a religion but to the country and its tax paying population. Army’s first and foremost duty is the defence of its people – both at the borders and within the country – and not the safety and security of the militant groups that are used to create ruckus in neighbouring countries.
The world thinks of Pakistan as Jihad Central. Not only Pakistan trained jihadis are fighting in Afghanistan, they are also waging the “Holy war” in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria and elsewhere. It is in Pakistan’s national interest that we distance ourselves from this policy of jihad and concentrate on reclaiming and rebuilding the country because if we continue the way we are going, we may not even have a country to save after a while. Pakistani army has created the militant groups that are either active in other countries or are preparing themselves for acts of terrorism. The problem with these groups is that they modify and mutate with the passage of time and change of leadership, even if they were loyal to the state at one point, it is quite obvious that many of them have gone rogue and need to be dealt with as a national priority.
Wars between countries cannot be fought by ideology driven groups. States traditionally have gone to war for something tangible and then have achieved peace through dialogue and bargaining. Unfortunately, there is no bargaining with the religious ideologue. It is their way or the highway.
Take the case of extremist groups in Pakistan. They all want their version of Shariah implemented in the country and would not stop at anything else. Even when the majority of the population does not agree with their version of Islam, there is no room for dialogue or bargaining because they genuinely believe their version is unassailable and supreme and if the state opposes their decree, they go to war with the state.
One such example of the difference between a state ordered responsibility and an ideologue’s action is that of the murder of Salmaan Taseer. Former governor of Punjab was murdered by the police constable who was supposed to guard him. His official duty was to save Salmaan Taseer against any probable attacks but his personal ideology propelled him to disregard his official orders and murder the man he was sworn to protect. It means that when ideology trumps state’s official business, chaos ensues.
Most of us who raised voice against extremist right wing forces in the country have been labelled unpatriotic liberal fascists in the past. Some of us were killed or attacked or have received threats to life for our nonconformist views. Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were murdered in broad day light, Raza Rumi was attacked and driven out of the country and the rest of us have been threatened to keep quiet by someone or the other. It is about time the national narrative embrace the moderate and dissenting voices and involve them in dialogue which is most necessary for a healthy society. Pakistan have been poorer for drowning down those voices in the past, it should not repeat that mistake.
Originally written for The Nation
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