There is a famous Urdu saying “Har Firon ke liye aik Moosa hota hai” meaning by ‘for every problem, there is a solution’. This is also mentioned by Allah in the Qur’aan. It is for us, “the people of thought” or the “Ahl-e-Aql”, as God repeatedly calls us, to use our intellect (aql) to work out those solutions (and I use the word “work” intentionally because it comes with, and not without, effort and labour).
The attack on the students of Army Public School in Peshawar was particularly heartbreaking for me (as it has been for all Pakistanis) because I grew up not very far from this very school. I recall my happy childhood in Peshawar when my parents would take me for long walks in a stroller in the beautiful cantonment with its flower-filled gardens. It saddens me to know that same Peshawar now has become a battleground for the future of Pakistan. Who could be so cruel as to kill the children and take the lives of others, and then their own. I wept once again for my nation. I asked myself, what could we do to prevent such extreme violence and hatred in the future?
When nations are seen to be weak and divided, everyone suffers especially the vulnerable children. The Prophet (PBUH), who loved children, forbade men to do any harm to children and women in war. Yet children are killed through violence in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Gambia, and in so many other parts of today’s turbulent world. This practice is a heavy burden on the conscience of humanity and the guilt will always haunt the perpetrators.
A unanimous voice would decree; let children live – both literally and metaphorically by allowing them to grow in their minds, ideas, and creativity. To explore the heights of knowledge without hunger, pain or loss of family and life! The challenges for Pakistan are no exception. They can be tackled through effective planning, insight, and must be solved with foresight in the light of current world events. Thus in this article, I would suggest few ideas as a solution to the problem. Ilm, Adab aur Insaaniat Courses: Fighting this War with the Tools of Knowledge
The Center for Dialogue and Action (CD&A), which I have the privilege of heading at The Forman Christian College University (FCCU) in Lahore, aims to benefit institutions in the armed forces and civil services by creating opportunities for learning and growth. There is a general lack of understanding and ambiguity in Pakistan in relation to the subject of Pakistan’s diversity, its religions, culture, ethnic history, and gender. If we can open the minds of the young generation to ideas of acceptance and compassion, we can successfully challenge the hatred that engendered this violence in Peshawar.
The foundation of any debate on defining our national identity and ways forward must look to a class on the vision of its founding fathers: Quaid-i-Azam who strove for human rights and justice, Sir Syed who encouraged open mindedness and knowledge, and Allama Muhammad Iqbal who inspired passion for learning and hard work through knowledge of our own rich history. In this context, we must examine the challenges of today’s Pakistan and the opportunities ahead.
Another class focuses on what Islam is about and the early inclusive and tolerant Islamic attitudes towards the others. In yet another session, a study of Andalusia in Spain and Sicily in Italy are essential to see how people can co-exist. I have been to both places over the last few months with the research project “Journey into Europe — Islam, Immigration and Empire” accompanying my father, Professor Akbar S. Ahmed, and his team. The knowledge we gained and the people we met have been an eye-opener and a healer. We need to be aware about a past where we were creative, productive, and tolerant. From these cultures, everyone all over the world benefitted and continues to benefit, until today. The first man who flew was the Andalusian Ibn al Firnas, the astrolabe who gave direction that led to compass invention, and which is a gift to the world from Sicily and so on and so forth. Diversity is one of Pakistan’s key strength. The study of diversity can inspire our youth to become better citizens who respect cultural and religious differences. The study of diversity explores differences and commonalities, and provides tools to equip us to play a positive role in transforming negative attitudes, perceptions, and behaviours. Despite being unique individuals i.e. belonging to different communities, at the end of the day we are all connected through our shared values.
Learning Lessons from the Glory of Andalusia and the Gore of Srebrenica I spent this summer doing fieldwork with ‘Journey into Europe’ (JIE) team in the South of Spain at Andalusia – the jewel in the crown of civilization. It made me realize how important it is to strive for peace, creativity, and open mindedness to overcome a closed and static mindset. At its height, Andalusia was a period when Muslims, Christians and Jews under Islamic rule, lived together producing the knowledge from which the world benefits today (clocks, watches, carpets, shampoo, coffee, algebra, medicine, flight, cleanliness, and so forth). However, when Muslims and Jews were forced to leave Spain in 1492, by the decree of Isabella and Ferdinand, the dark age of the inquisition began when terror and violence reigned for Muslims and other minorities – people’s property and lives were no longer sacred. Muslims were given two harsh choices – convert or leave Spain – those who left had to make a choice harder than death. They had to leave behind all their property and their children!
In European Bosnia, Srebrenica, which I visited with JIE team in summer 2014, Muslim men, women and children were brutally killed 20 years ago. The Bosnian war saw over 200,000 people massacred and more than 70,000 women raped. The stories of the survivors were truly heartbreaking. Khadijah whom I interviewed in the mass graveyard of Srebrenica, lost 50 male family members.
Recently, when I visited National University of Science and Technology (NUST) in Islamabad to teach a class to PhD students on peace building, I was also asked to give a talk to a hall full of army men and women in uniform – the majority of whom were from the Pakistan Army and a small number from nine other countries. My message to these brave soldiers was that they have tremendous strength and resources but the value of strength is when we use it to maintain peace. The war worth fighting was the one to keep the peace and harmony so that our children could grow up in a safe and calm country. Andalusia teaches us that when we live in harmony together through the exploration of knowledge, there is space for growth of that civilization itself as well as for the generations to come like ripples in water, and the effects are far and wide. European enlightenment comes out of Andalusia through the spread of knowledge. Today’s Europe and the West, it has been argued by many scholars, has progressed on the basis of Andalusian civilization – you’ll be surprised at how many things you use today or encounter thinking these are Western marvels, actually originated in Andalusia from Muslim-Christian-Jewish coexistence!
Srebrenica teaches us to be strong, never to be weak, undivided, or unaware – to play the game of survival, but always keep out of troubled waters. Negotiation and wit are far better than rushing into problematic areas like quicksand. Revenge never gets us anywhere. Srebrenica teaches us to walk the rope of life in a balanced way with our neighbours – again negotiating, building relations, building trust, and above all building strength of one’s country, which must always be above one’s personal interests.
Let’s Work to Build Our Nation, Not Just Our Own House The experiences from this journey, my interviews with hundreds of Pakistanis abroad, the backdrop of the current media constantly chipping away at the image of Pakistan, had made me realize how valuable Pakistan is to us Pakistanis – both at home and abroad. At home, Pakistan gives us a place to live how we choose, and abroad it gives us a place of belonging, to which we hope to one day return. Pakistan is home; it is the source of our identity. It is worth the effort to save, to keep, and to work for with all our might and intellect to make Pakistan a good home for us all.
We often think that our house is our home – we keep it tidy, buy beautiful things for it, decorate it, and sometimes dump our rubbish on the streets outside it. However, our focus needs to change. Our country is our home and we must endeavour to beautify its landscape, preserve its natural beauties and not misuse them (the waters that flow from the mountains in Islamabad are polluted with sewage and rubbish as they come down from sector to sector – this can be improved by stopping this, starting with the sectors occupied by the forces); we must not misuse our national funds (what belongs to the state is not our personal fund – every penny misused is taking a bite out of the mouth of a starving person – so many parents with their children have committed suicide because of hunger in Pakistan); and we must work hard (every day, every hour of our lives counts).
Most importantly, we must be positive. Saying Pakistan will survive and making it happen is possible – it is a self fulfilling prophecy – if we want something to happen, it will. If we want it to exist and be prosperous, it will: but we must put in the effort, we must be united (Pathans, Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochis, and many others in Pakistan are part of the rich landscape – they are our strength not weakness but only wish to be heard and wish to be given due acknowledgement, voice and leadership roles) and we must be loyal to Pakistan (above our loyalty to our tribes, political affiliations and ourselves). Our little personal gains are not worth the cost of chipping at our mother nation. Without the nation, there is no house, no dignity, no ownership, no home, and no identity.
The difficulties and harshness of being a musafir (traveller) on my field trip to Europe, interviewing hundreds of people, and listening to the mosaic of voices that talked to me of pain and loss, made me constantly think of the value of my home, Pakistan. I hear so and so leader has so many houses abroad and so much money in this and that Swiss bank. The reality is that no amount of houses abroad or money in banks can replace your dignity of belonging to a country that is your own. God blessed Pakistanis with a miracle against all odds – He gave us one of the biggest nations on earth (Pakistan is the second largest Muslim nation on planet earth – in size we are bigger than UK, Denmark, etc). So let us cherish this land, value it, love it, and work hard to build it up again. I am reminded of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If” which my father read to me again and again in my childhood and its strong message of the will to survive against all odds, some lines of which I want to share with you:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
“Positive Attitude” is Essential: Counting Our Blessings The first main step to improve our country is challenging the negative propaganda against Pakistan. Our own media must work with us, not against us, to put out ideas that Pakistan is indeed a great country worth fighting for. We must work together to improve it in education, in ideas, and in progress. If we spit out negativity all the time we will do nothing to improve because we will feel it is a lost case. Instead, if we say we are fed up of all the negative headlines on Pakistan and say let me change this, it will change – the positive attitude will uplift people and make them work hard to build the nation.
Adopting a positive attitude, therefore, is absolutely essential. Let us create a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’, as it is called in Sociology. If I tell a particular child or the children of my nation that they can do it, they will have hope and they will do everything to get to that point of success. If I tell them constantly that you are worthless and you cannot make it, they will subsequently give up hope and will not make it. There is nothing that can prevent the success of our nation, but ourselves. I am confident that we can make this nation great as envisioned by its founding fathers. Let us look, for a moment, at all the stunning things we have to give us hope and reasons to survive and thrive. A Very Rich History. Our country is the cradle of civilization. Though many people outside Pakistan and inside may not fully appreciate or realize this – the oldest civilization in the world is not Ancient Egypt (3000 BC) and Ancient Greece as is taught in many schools around the world. It is our own Mehrgarh (7000 BC) located in present day Balochistan. This is a stunning fact, which gives us, as a collective people, deep roots – we are not a new civilization. Taxila is another example of having one of the most important education centres in the world (people from other parts of the world came to study here just as today they strive to go to Oxford and Cambridge in the UK). A branch of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and other religions were born here in present day Pakistan. This land has seen many strong, tolerant, and creative leaders, for example, the great Mughals, the Sufi saints, and so forth. This is the rich historical and cultural inheritance of the people of Pakistan.
The People of Pakistan. With their hospitality and resilience in the face of all troubles, the people of Pakistan are survivors. “Some of the most brilliant people I have met,” a senior European academic I interacted recently told me, “are from Pakistan.” Geographic Bliss. A stunningly beautiful vast land from the north to the south with access to water and the most breathtaking and highest mountains in the world “Mashah-Allah”! In size, we are bigger than most European countries.
Fabulous Weather. Sunny most of the time – the word ‘sad’ is from Seasonally Affected Disorder – indeed while I was in the UK, people moaned about the weather all the time. They would die to have this weather which can make us happy medically. Faith. Lastly, faith is very important and the key anchor – faith in the idea of hope and survival, faith in our nation, and faith in God. I have seen reflections of these in members of the army, civil services, educational experts and in ordinary people for whom the services strive, through the course of their lives, to make a better nation for all.
“You” are a Role Model Peace Builder: Embodying the Messages of Great Leaders The message for us in today’s Pakistan from the Holy Prophet of Islam (PBUH) is to build our own great internal strength – faith is an important component in driving us forward and the message of God is the key to survival – to fight for peace, not war, but to defend ourselves and our national interests with great wit, and the tools of knowledge and wisdom. It is worth reminding ourselves that the Prophet (PBUH) came to Arab society in a very difficult time to challenge Jahilya (violent ignorance) when people killed children and disrespected humanity. He came as a Messenger from God, the Cherisher of Humanity, to remind people of the ideals of justice, humanity and compassion. That is why the title of the leader of the Muslim Army, the Prophet (PBUH), was “Rehmat al Alamin.” The beauty of his character that made his role a success was precisely his great strength of standing firmly for what is right and protecting his ummah firmly within the balance of justice and compassion, while being a leader, a father, a husband, and a general. It is for this reason that we are told repeatedly by the God in the Qur’aan that the best role model for us is the Prophet of Islam. However, we can only really “know” the Prophet (PBUH) if we study his life by reading about him.
The Quaid-i-Azam – our special Baba-e-Quom, is another outstanding role model for us. In the December 2014 issue of the Hilal Magazine, the message of the Quaid was loud and clear – of progress and humanity, of justice and compassion written by Professor Akbar S. Ahmed. In his character, in his manners, in his struggle for Pakistan and its survival, the Quaid is a brilliant star. Being himself an outstanding professional lawyer from a minority community, he fought for the rights of all people, especially the most vulnerable – women and those who were from the minority communities. He fought throughout his life till last breath to give us this nation with the help of God. It is now up to us to make it, to build it, to value it and to protect it.
This land has had many other outstanding leaders – some of whose lives have been forgotten and remain unexplored today but are a treasure for the students and teachers of courses such as ‘ilm, adab aur insaaniat’ to slowly uncover one by one and explore as we are beginning to do so. These examples give us, and our children, hope. They show us how to survive as these great leaders did in the face of all odds and adversity and to make the world we live in a better and more peaceful place. Conclusion
After travelling for months on the research project, across Europe and earlier the Muslim world (on “Journey into Islam” – a book by Prof Akbar S. Ahmed, which was the first part of the four part project, “Journey into Europe”) and hearing the stories of immigrants losing their homes, their countries in wars, the plane I arrive in touches the soil of Pakistan and I am grateful to be back “home”. I say a prayer, a ‘sajdah to Rabbee’ for blessing us with this home – a place better than thousand palaces. I come back enthusiastic and wanting to contribute to building this nation into a beautiful, strong and united country. I pray for all those who have worked towards peace in Pakistan and in the wider region, for the sacrifices they have made, to make a stronger, peaceful world community.
Our progress will start with the building blocks and tools of knowledge and strategy. We will celebrate and be proud of Pakistan just as our neighbour, India, celebrates themselves (you may remember the widespread ads, “Made in India”, “Fabulous India,” etc). We will build on our own knowledge through courses like ‘Ilm, Adab aur Insaaniat,’ by exploring our shared rich heritage (South Asia, Islamic, Andalusian and world debates on Dialogue of Civilizations), which will give us the confidence to propel us forward. We will begin to read up on our own history and polish up our knowledge on the Qur’aan, on the Prophet of Islam, on the Caliphs, on the Quaid-i-Azam and so forth. This will help us understand the balance of justice, rights and respect for others and ourselves and will help us understand the balance of cause and effect. Our minorities must feel a part of, not apart from Pakistan – they must not feel as being on the periphery but included in the centre. Finally, we must acknowledge, value and protect what we have as our strengths.
Drawing inspiration from my father’s great relative, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan; my maternal grandfather the Wali of Swat, Miangul Jahanzeb, who built universities and education centres in Aligarh and Swat where the creators of Pakistan on the one hand, and on the other girls like Malala Yusufzai comes out of a system of education which is local (not Oxford or Cambridge); and my husband, Arsallah Khan’s grandfather, Sir Akbar Khan of Hoti, who is said to have built and collected the largest library in South Asia, I am personally convinced that knowledge, and especially “Peace Building Education”, is the key to strengthening and creating a progressive and successful Pakistan. That is why both my husband and I left Cambridge where I had a permanent job as Director of the first centre on peace studies and chose to come to Pakistan, like so many other Pakistanis who came “home”, to help build our valuable homeland and contribute whatever little we have here with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm.
Finally, all of us should remember the message of the Prophet (PBUH) that scholarship is more important than anything else – it is the bright light of hope and of progress. Indeed, there is a famous saying of the Prophet (PBUH): “The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.” I urge you to think hard about this – if God in the Qur’aan gave the highest darja – or status to the martyr why is then the ink of the scholar more sacred than the blood of the martyr? It is because with scholarship comes understanding and with deeper understanding comes respect and with that, steps to peace are possible. Again, I go back to the example of the best general in any army of all time, the Prophet of Islam, who valued the tools of knowledge to fight all forms of jahilya (violent ignorance).
I want to leave you with the thought that “nothing is impossible” for us: we “can” soar to the highest of heights. We only need the will and mental strength to fly high. When I look at the young generations, I think that with their enthusiasm, great heights are certainly possible. For all those who serve Pakistan in their varied ways, remember Allama Iqbal’s words, “Tu Shaheen hai, bassera kar pahaaron kee chattaanon par”!
The author is a PhD Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge. Presently she is Director at Centre for Dialogue and Action.
The history of religious extremism in Pakistan does not go back very far but rather is a recent phenomenon. It can be traced back to Soviet invasion of Afghanistan when under the patronage of USA and its lead intelligence agency; the CIA, Jihad was waged against occupation forces in Afghanistan through a network of Mujahideen coming from all over the Muslim world.
Massive recruitment drive for Mujahideen was launched through print, electronic media, religious clerics and other related segments of the society. A Large number of individuals from Pakistan and other Muslim countries especially Arabs / Middle Eastern countries, participated in the Jihad with financial and material support mainly from the West with USA having lead role owing to its regional and global interests. Although the Soviets were finally defeated and Jihad in Afghanistan came to a logical conclusion but most of these Mujahideen including foreign individuals never went back. They got settled in bordering areas of Pakistan-Afghanistan, married there and permanently settled down. When these individuals had nothing to do, they started participating in local wars of influence under different war lords and started living in strong groups with affiliated sectarian groups.
War of influence in these bordering areas continued with Taliban emerging as a strong force and finally getting control of majority of Afghanistan with their affiliates also having influence in KPK / FATA. They started practicing their own type of Islamic ideology with extremist thinking / tendencies with no, or very little, room for other sects of Islam. This battle of influence caused the unleashing of sectarianism and religious intolerance in Pakistan.
Sectarianism is a byproduct of religious extremism. This battle of influence continued and got expanded to other areas of Pakistan. In order to get support, most of the sectarian groups started looking towards foreign countries; consequently heavy funding started pouring into Pakistan. A large number of Madaris belonging to different sects were established. Lots of hate material was distributed to malign other sects and preach about own beliefs. This battle resulted into creation of armed wings, resultant killings and sectarian bloodshed, especially 1990s onward. Then came 9/11 and the world witnessed the US forces occupying Afghanistan (along with their regional and global interests) to fight Al Qaeda and Taliban. Pakistan was again used as a front line state in the so called GWOT (Global War on Terrorism). This war has proved devastating for Pakistan politically, economically, militarily and on aspects of sectarian harmony and religious tolerance. This period has seen emergence of different militant sectarian groups which are receiving huge funding from within the country and from foreign countries unchecked. This has made them strong and owing to divergent views / beliefs about certain portion / history of Islam, tolerance for one another has declined sharply. It resulted into religious / sectarian polarization, intolerance and so called “Religious Extremism” for which Pakistan is being propagated as one of the dangerous places by the West. This threat is growing rampantly across the whole country. It has the potential to destroy the very fabric of our society. The solutions to this problem must come with no waste of time. It is time to take various measures which if implemented in true spirit, may control this menace. These include:-
• The federal and provincial governments should make efforts to revisit syllabus of education institutions and Madaris to eradicate hate material and modify subjects with divergent views of sects. The syllabus must promote harmony rather than creating dissensions. Moreover, reforms introduced from time to time for Madaris must be implemented in letter and spirit. The unchecked spread of Madaris must not be allowed. A system may be evolved to monitor all Madaris for above mentioned aspects. For this purpose, Ministry of Religious Affairs can take lead in coordination with the Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs). Those institutions found involved in spreading extremism must be banned and their organizers punished.
• The government should acquire information on domestic and foreign funding of all religious organizations / institutions. After consensus of all stakeholders, this funding must be channelized / brought under scrutiny. All concerned should declare the source of funding and their expenditures to bring transparency in the system, and also to deny use of this money for anti-social / anti-state activities. It is also important to ban hate speech for which strict laws be introduced and violators be dealt with severely. The government may also enforce ban on use of loudspeakers by all mosques / Madaris except for “Azan”.
• The next step for the government should be to ensure complete crackdown on those individuals and organizations responsible for creating / spreading extremist tendencies and hate towards other sects / school of thoughts. This is seriously affecting our national unity and ultimately national security. In this regard, the government can chalk out strategy for use of media; both print and electronic in order to preach tolerance amongst all segments of society. Articles, programmes and talk shows can be arranged to curb extremist tendencies. All those found involved in propagating extremism must be banned to appear on TV screens, radio talk and newspapers’ headlines.
• Together with these measures, the government must ensure provision of speedy and fair justice as this would address public grievances and would help reduce extremist tendencies in the society. Also, more jobs can be created to ensure keeping majority committed, reducing unemployment and thereby making less number of people available to extremists for motivation / utilization.
• Another important step is that appropriate Cyber laws be made / implemented against propagating religious extremism. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in coordination with other LEAs can track down individuals involved in these crimes. The criminals then should be dealt through speedy justice and punished. This will serve as a deterrence for others to stop using the web for promoting sectarianism.
• Appropriate percentage of budget should be allocated for education sector to increase literacy in our society. Modern and balanced religious education will help in reducing and then eradicating extremism, and also will pave way for our economic development. We have examples of many countries where religious extremism has not been allowed to take roots.
Malaysia, Turkey, UAE etc are better examples. We must learn from their experiences and implement policies in line with their laws.
• In this regard, “Ulema and Citizen Councils” down to sub-tehsil levels may be formulated having full support from LEAs in order to investigate and prosecute violators. Individuals with extremist tendencies must be identified and isolated at all levels. There is an urgent need to be proactive in our approach / fight against religious extremism and sectarianism. We must not wait for “miracles” to happen and should rather curb these tendencies with iron hand. If we are sincere with our country and want to develop, live honourably in the comity of nations, we should not waste more time and start implementing corrective measures. Any lapse would not be forgiven by either history, and our future generations.
Whether or not a global clash of civilizations, a la Huntington, is likely, we in Pakistan, seem to be in the throes of something similar. Currently, the cause for which so many gave their lives... a democratic Pakistan comprising free elections, an independent judiciary, a free press, guarantee of individual rights and equal status of minorities... is pitted against the Taliban's version of the Sharia imposed by force. In other words, Taliban, who believe the prevalent (Western) system of government is a sort of an infection and the cause of the nation's ills are battling against those, who believe in the constitution, democracy and freedom. Few leaders in the past had also attempted a similar 'top-down state sponsored Islamization' that surely caused negative consequences for the state and society.
This fight has divided the country and fuelled the visceral loathing the protagonists have for each other and, what is worse, has also dangerously exacerbated shia- sunni differences.
The reader may say we know all this, so why repeat it? The answer is because few believe we will be able to find a compromise... the usual fudge... between two very contrasting beliefs and somehow muddle through. Well, we won't. There is no possibility of communication and accommodation between them because the values, concepts and principles they embrace are profoundly different. Their respective national visions which were always irreconcilable have become unbridgeable with the addition of violence to the lethal brew which already divides them. Anyway, to try and persuade the opposing sides to agree to democratic rules of political participation, or to get the Taliban to commit to pluralism and respect for equal rights for all, must fail as they are contrary to the Taliban's version of the Sharia. In any case, the Taliban (and their sympathizers, too) often get divided by personal rivalries, ideological differences and disputes over turf and money. At the last count, there were over fifty different militant groups in the country and not all know what they want.
There is little point in trying to retrace our steps and ask why or what went wrong; and certainly none in assigning blame. Such a debate will only intensify feelings of frustration, resentment and victimization. But, alas, to some extent that's unavoidable or else confusion, already rife, will become rampant and deplete our fighting morale.
If the Taliban were an organization bent only on robbing and killing for money by now they would have provoked a wave of resentment in the populace and been destroyed. But that's not the case. In some parts of the country, the Taliban are viewed by the poor and disaffected populace as the panacea for decades of misrule. Many are happy to accept the Taliban's offer of prompt, albeit, rough justice in return for obedience. Hence, the challenge that the Taliban pose to the state is more compelling, and the danger they pose greater than that offered by a mafia-like organization or local warlords.
The Taliban is a formidable foe with an extensive local and regional intelligence network. Its followers have penetrated just about every segment of the society and even in few cases, the state. That was evident in the attacks on Pakistan Army, Pak Navy and Pakistan Air Force installations and Headquarters. The assassination attempts on former President Musharraf; Mehran Base; GHQ, Kamra Base, Benazir Bhutto's murder and most recently that of SP Chaudhry Aslam are but few examples. In each case intelligence was crucial to the success or near success of the attacks by the terrorists and their abettors.
It's no secret that few men of the Taliban's ilk, and of the same political and religious persuasions as them, are to be found in every nook and corner. Therefore, the battle against them would not be won unless they are ferreted out, with the verve, gusto, determination and spirit the venture requires; a premonition bolstered by the faltering Karachi operation.
If that was not bad enough, what's infinitely worse is that in the victims' eyes, the state is viewed by few as not a credible deterrent. An anemic, ineffective response; far too few enemy corpses have all demonstrated that though the rhetoric may be loud, the bite is somewhat toothless. So much so that in the minds of the Taliban, the state hardly possesses a deterrent.
As a society, we have overdone the appeasement. We have bent over backwards to accommodate the extremists; we have allowed them to flourish and expand, and given it virtually free access to the media. Those militants sentenced to death are not being executed although the TTP continues their killings of our armed forces personnel without any similar self imposed restraint. Worse, the apathy in effective response led to an easy and merry-making escape of Taliban terrorists from Bannu and DIK jails. Earlier we appeased the Taliban by not only adopting their version of the sharia in Swat, but allowed them to take control of daily administrative functions.
There was, in truth, only one option for the country and that was for the political leadership, the Army and various Governments in the provinces to stick together and resist this extremist religious zealotry by extending as much modern-ization, democratic rights and fruits of economic development as they could to the people of the FATA. That was always a far preferable option to an annihilating military response.
In case of dialogues or operation, we will have to achieve a definitive edge; and one that is clear to the world and is irrefutably so in the minds of the enemy. The fact is that we must leave the enemy in no doubt about the heavy cost it would pay for hosting our enemies, let alone killing our soldiers. Once this lesson has been learnt, talks are likely to produce the results each sides can live with.
In the inheritance in our possession... Pakistan... we have a great treasure to guard and which represents nearly a hundred years of sacrifice both on and off the battlefields. We not only have a great treasure, we have a great cause. And now, surely, the time has come to ask ourselves: Are we taking every measure within our power to defend that cause?
Are we? I am sure a true answer would not appear far fetched! We must protect our country, our people, our values and our future.
The writer is a former member of Pakistan Foreign Services and contributes regularly for print & electronic media. Besides his stint as an Ambassador, he remained Special Secretary to Prime Minister for foreign affairs and national defence.
“It has been eight years and I am still seeking justice for my husband’s killing,” says Hameeda Begum.
Her husband Abdul Majeed Khan was one of the 68 Pakistanis and Indians who were killed exactly eight years ago in the blasts in Samjhauta Express near Panipat on February 18, 2007. But Hameeda, like several other relatives of the victims, is still awaiting justice. “The government has forgotten us, no one talks about the terrorism that took away the father of my children. I spoke to Abdul when he was at Delhi station. He was excited about returning home and ‘meeting the kids but he never returned,” says Hameeda. Samjhauta Express or the Friendship Express, a weekly oldest train service between Delhi and Lahore was attacked at midnight and two carriages were set off after the train had passed Diwana station near the Indian city of Panipat. 68 people were killed, of which it was reported that 50 were Pakistani, while several were injured.
Today, as the families of the Samjhauta Express victims wait to see the perpetrators of the heinous incident brought to justice, in the last few years there hasn’t been any progress on the investigation of the case by the Indian Government. “Although, Samjhauta Express terrorist attack happened more than two years before Mumbai attack, it is very disappointing that India has not shared findings of Samjhauta Express terrorist attack investigations despite assurances at the highest level,” said Foreign Office spokesperson Tasneem Aslam at a press briefing last month.
Previously, in November 2008 it was reported that Indian officials suspected the attacks were linked to Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit, an Indian Army officer and member of Hindu nationalist group ‘Abhinav Bharat’. Purohit himself claimed that he had "infiltrated" the Abhinav Bharat and he was only doing his job. The Indian Government has always been critical of Pakistan for not doing enough against the alleged collaborators of 26/11. The recent case in argument was Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi’s bail from federal capital-based Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC). The ATC had granted bail to Lakhvi in Mumbai attacks case but the law enforcement agencies detained him in another case. Meanwhile, the question arises how the mastermind of Samjhauta Express, Swami Aseemanand, was granted bail in last August by the Punjab and Haryana High Court? Aseemanand had pointed to the involvement of the Indian military officers and some organizations linked to major political parties being part of the attack.
Yet, no uproar from the Indian media. According to the Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA), the continued attacks on temples across the country led Swami Aseemanand to promote “Bomb ka Badla", which led to the bombing of Samjhauta Express. The probe into the conspiracy of the explosion brought out a deadly plot that was inspired by "quite upset" attitude of Aseemanand with the terror strikes on temples like Akshardham in Gujarat, Raghunath Mandir in Jammu and Sankat Mochan Temple in Varanasi. This, according to the NIA charge sheet, built up deep vengeance against the minority community in the hearts and minds of Swami Aseemanand. Product of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), he is now accused number one in the Samjhauta train blasts; accused number three in a bombing at Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid that killed 11 people in May 2007; and accused number six in a blast at the dargah in Ajmer, Rajasthan, that killed three people, in October 2007. He is also named, but not yet charged, in two attacks in Malegaon, Maharashtra, in September 2006 and September 2008, that together took lives of 37 people.
India which complains that the trial against Lakhvi has intentionally been dragged over six years but with eight years passed by the case against Aseemanand is not going anywhere either. There has been no breakthrough in the Samjhauta case until now. And under the current BJP government led by Narendra Modi who has been an activist for the Hindu right-wing paramilitary RSS for his entire political career, the chances for a better equation blur. He remains committed to his ideology of Hindutva which says that India should be an exclusive Hindu nation state in which minorities are treated as second-class citizens or worse. The recent heat taken by the BJP-government over the issue of forced conversions is an example in itself and ideological manifestation of the new government. The challenge will always remain for Modi as Prime Minister of a secular state to focus areas that can boost confidence in bilateral ties with Pakistan. Not failing Pakistan at Samjhauta can well be the beginning.
The writer is a journalist based in Lahore. Twitter: @nailainayat