Written By: Rasul Bakhsh Rais
December 16, 2014 will be remembered as the blackest days in Pakistan’s history, both for the tragedy of East Pakistan, and, for the massacre of our children that the Taliban terrorists committed at the Army Public School in Peshawar. Tragedies, sorrowful days and setbacks are part of every national history; some end up having more of them than others. No nation state, particularly in a challenging security environment of multiple wars and globalization of terrorism can expect to live in an ideal paradise. Ours is one of the most insecure region with internal and external states and non-state actors playing dangerous games. Afghanistan is and has been the epicenter of so many ‘great’ and not so great games. The state and security vacuum of Afghanistan for decades and its internal wars and external interventions have gravely impacted on Pakistan’s national security conditions, both internally as well as in relations to other countries. The Taliban terrorism is born out of these conditions and supported by powers and forces with ill intentions of weakening and destabilizing Pakistan.
We should have realized the challenge of Taliban terrorism much earlier, before what happened in Swat, the moment they began to group and raise militia to destabilize the political and social order of FATA. Sadly, there was ambiguity, ambivalence in thinking of some of the religious and mainstream political parties. The religious parties belonging to the same sectarian denomination as the Taliban defended them tooth and nail, in the media and in the public rallies. All such movements either create political fronts of their own or have some tacit alliances. Few religious parties tacitly or out of their own religious and political convictions gave too much of support to them by deflecting criticism on the Taliban and justifying what they were doing to the Pakistani society. They were however not alone. A good number of media persons made sure that those who defended the Taliban and terrorists from Lal Masjid episode to all other ugly incidents were represented in their shows. Nation as a whole was divided and the governments kept vexing eloquence in making distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban.
The media at large and the indecision of the then Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) and federal government in a crucial phase when this monster was raising its ugly head kept the nation confused, disunited and indifferent when a branch of Taliban had taken over Swat. It was a video of public flogging of a girl that awakened the nation to the danger of extremism and terrorism. The population of Swat paid a heavy price for liberation of their region, and so did the security forces and the nation.
Once again, we see the Pakistani nation standing together against the Taliban terrorism. The ultimate sacrifice of our children has touched every soul in this country and every human in the larger world who values human life and has love for children. What this unity should mean and where we go from here? The national solidarity against terrorism means that government has full support of the nation to take every measure that it deems necessary to end terrorism in the country. Without doing this, stability, prosperity and improving Pakistan’s global image will remain a distant dream. There is no room for wavering in resolve or losing the target, which is ending terrorism from every group disregarding its motivation or geographic location. As to where we go from here, three things are of crucial importance for Pakistan in this defining moment in our history. First, we must rethink of the national narrative—what kind of Pakistan we want. We have deviated far too long from the vision of our founders, which was a democratic, moderate, liberal, pluralistic Pakistan, integrated with the world community on the basis of mutual interest. In a globalized world, isolation is a curse that our external enemies, terrorists and their ideological warriors wish to impose on us. A country which is secure for every citizen no matter what his ethnicity, faith, or particular religious pursuits are and in which every citizen of Pakistan has an opportunity to grow, prosper and realize his or her dreams. Pakistan must be conceived as a nation state which is pluralistic in its composition and its basis is citizenship – all are equal. Redefining Pakistan is a monumental task which cannot be done in short time but what is important is a resolute determination and its pursuit no matter who governs the country. A modernist vision and a true interpretation about the creation of Pakistan, which undoubtedly was for advancing and protecting the political and economic interests of the Muslims must get the space in our curriculum design for the educational institutions, social and political discourses in the media and must be the mark of every public policy. Without changing narrative about the vision of Pakistan we may not be able to recover the real Pakistan – the Pakistan our founders had imagined and struggled for.
The second important task before the governments, both provincial and federal, is to start reform programme of every institution where public money is spent. State institutions have been on decline for decades. They are not delivering the services and goods that they are intended for. Among them public utilities, development agencies and public entities like Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) must be restructured, reformed, and better off-loaded from the back of the government. Where in the world a public or a serious government that is committed to public interests would allow hundreds of billions of wastage every year for which the public has paid for. More important are reforms of the legal and judicial system that fails to punish the criminals from those robbing public exchequer to murdering our citizens. Laws against hate speech are of immense importance to control sectarianism. Largely, it is collapse of the institutional power of the state in some of these critical areas that has created social conditions for militant minds.
Thirdly, we must educate our children, provide professional skills to our youth and give them hope that Pakistan is the place where they can grow, develop and find opportunity. An atmosphere of hopelessness and lack of educational opportunities pushes young people into the fold of terrorist organizations.
Fourthly, we must be tough with the countries that are providing sanctuaries to the terrorists or those providing funds to the organizations for development or religious education. We have been too soft, too porous and too relaxed about what other countries do inside our society and in our proximate neighbourhood. Peshawar and the Army Public School will not be the same. The lesson of this tragedy is that Pakistan should not be the same. Must it revert back to the founding vision.
Finally, the task of defeating the extremist mindset and terror networks with global links, cannot and shouldn’t be left to one institution. It is a shared national responsibility of the society at large, the state, all state institutions, political parties and the media. The practical meanings of national solidarity against terrorism is that every one of us and every institutions of the state from the Parliament to executive, judicial branch and the social forces play a role in recovering Pakistan from the hold of extremist ideas and defeating every militant force in the country that has taken up arms against the state.