THE New Year has begun on a dark and ominous note for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, much like the last year ended. The killing of seven people, including six women, associated with an NGO operating in Swabi, is doubly confounding because it is not clear as yet why they were specifically targeted. Was it because the dead women were NGO workers or school teachers or because the organisation they were working for has been part of the effort to eradicate the polio virus in Pakistan? Such is the nature of the war against modernity by the militants that it is difficult to know, even after the event, why certain targets are selected. What it is, though, is frightening and almost certainly linked to an understanding of psychological warfare by the militants. When blowing up schools loses its shock value, they turn on teachers; when killing teachers loses its shock value, they turn on women. Much the same has happened with the attacks against polio vaccinators, where publicised threats have given way to murderous attacks on women. The louder the crime is amplified in the media, the better it suits the militants’ purpose.
The answer, though, is not to discourage publicity of the militants’ crimes against society but for society to respond in greater measure. Where is the outrage and anger against the militants? Where is the pressure on the state to reverse the decline of the public’s safety and security? A terrified but confused society has still not been able to generate from within the pressure that can help wilt the militant threat. Contrast this with the response to the Delhi gang rape victim: protests across India, a society responding to outrage at the sickness within and a government scrambling to respond to citizen outrage. Here in Pakistan, it is the state that has in large part been responsible for the rise of militancy and the decline of security of the average individual. But powerful as the state may be, its raison d’être is to provide a better life for its citizenry. Civil society, and women’s groups in particular, must rise to confront the latest threat.