IT was nauseating to listen to some TV commentators ranting about a foreign hand behind the Kamra airbase attack. Some even found vindication of their insane conspiracy theories in a report in an American newspaper that claimed the base may be involved in Pakistan’s nuclear programme. They conveniently ignored the statement of a TTP spokesman claiming responsibility for the daring raid.
It is not just conspiratorial paranoia dominating this narrative; some of these analysts, mainly retired military officials who are now often seen on TV screens, sounded like outright apologists for militants. One retired general declared that after Pakistan’s decision to reopen Nato supply lines, militants might have felt justified under the Sharia in attacking military installations. Instead of condemning militancy, many political leaders joined the chorus of ‘this is not our war’.
What is most troubling is that we are still caught up in this inane discussion about whether it is our war while rising militancy and violent religious extremism are threatening the very existence of this country. These are militants who have declared a war against the state and its people. The only choice before us is to fight or to surrender to the armed marauders who seek to push Pakistan into the dark ages.
Gen Kayani in his Independence Day speech at Kakul was absolutely correct in declaring that the fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war and we are right in fighting it. One cannot agree with him more that no state can afford a parallel system or militant force. But the division among the people on the issue will push the country into civil war.
No state can maintain its sovereignty if it allows armed militias to impose their will on the people through brute force. The policy of appeasement has already cost the country hugely, both in terms of human casualties and its overall impact on society and the economy. Gen Kayani’s speech marked a fundamental change in the strategy for fighting militancy and extremism in the country.
Although security forces have been fighting the Taliban in the tribal territories and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the past several years, the army leadership had maintained a deliberate ambiguity about who the enemy was. Soldiers were motivated by the cant that they were fighting Indian and foreign agents. As Gen Kayani explained, it is the most difficult task for any army to fight against its own people.
Nevertheless, it is also imperative that the people, particularly soldiers, should know who they are fighting and for what. The enemy is from within our own society and not from outside. The fight against militancy and extremism is also an ideological battle, so it is important to shed this ambiguity about who the enemy is.
It is about time we came out of this dangerous delusion of being victims of some foreign conspiracy. These are our own people who are blowing up our schools, homes and religious places. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers have been killed battling the groups which were once developed as security assets. These groups have now turned to jihad inside. Defying the bans on them, they are not only still active, but have also expanded. They are certainly not outsiders but home-grown militants trying to impose their retrogressive worldview through force.
The attack on the base at Kamra showed that militants have regenerated and reorganised despite some setbacks after the military operations in Swat and South Waziristan, and their attacks have become more sophisticated. It is not only military installations that are under attack. Even mosques, shrines and other places of worship are not spared.
The country has virtually been turned into a killing field with thousands of people becoming victims of terrorism and sectarian and religion-based violence. More than two dozen members of the Shia community were pulled out from buses and gunned down in cold blood on the day the Kamra base came under attack.
Although no direct link between the two incidents could be established, the perpetrators seemed to be driven by the same ideological worldview. The sectarian massacre in Pakistan is not an isolated phenomenon. It is intertwined with the rise of the Taliban movement in the country.
More worrisome, however, is the abdication by the government of its responsibility to provide protection to its citizens. Some of the mainstream, moderate political parties have also joined the radical bandwagon, whipping up zealotry for their narrow political interests. Their refusal to support the battle against militancy has helped strengthen extremist forces. What the government and the opposition political parties do not realise is that by giving in to extremists they are digging their own graves. Militancy and extremism present the biggest threat to democracy.
Meanwhile, militants have succeeded in creating a sense of fear. With a weak administration giving in to their rhetoric, they seem to have gained far greater space than their actual public support would imply. They have also been helped by a section of the media to project their extremist narrative.
The continuing selective patronage by the security agencies of some militant factions has also been a major reason for the failure of the state to stem the tide. Gen Kayani has acknowledged that mistakes had been made by all state institutions, including the army, in realising the gravity of the threat to the country’s integrity that militancy poses. One hopes that those mistakes will not be repeated.
It is now a battle to save Pakistan that demands greater unity among the forces who want to revive the vision of Pakistan as a liberal democratic state. And this battle cannot be won through military means alone. It is imperative to defeat the forces of extremism politically and ideologically as well.
The writer is an author and journalist.