Truth can’t be wished away

July 13, 2013


EVEN when you are thousands of miles away from home like the prime minister was earlier this week reminders of the stark reality that is home can never be far.

As the prime minister, his eloquent younger brother and entourage were hurtling down at some 300 km per hour in safety aboard the Beijing-Shanghai bullet train, at home a much slower train embarked on a journey which was to prove lethal. It was to plough into a rickshaw packed with passengers on an ‘unmanned’ crossing.

Nawaz Sharif, who likes high-profile mega projects, seems to have his heart set on giving his country and the Pakistan Railways’ distraught passengers a bullet train run from Lahore or even further north to Karachi. What is not clear is who’ll pick up the tab, said to be some $20 million per kilometre.

But a far more fundamental question is who will console the families, particularly the parents, of the children among the 14 people who had their life smashed out of them when the locomotive ploughed into their stalled, overcrowded rickshaw at a level crossing near Sheikhupura.

We’ll hopefully embark on such mega projects only when we can afford them. What we cannot afford as we speak is the ‘worthless’ price tag pinned to our citizens’ lives. Really. The Sheikhupura tragedy underlined how valued is a life in our blighted land.

This particular incident, like the wholly avoidable explosion and fire in a school van in Gujrat that killed 16 schoolchildren, cannot be blamed on terrorism in the country. It was the result of ignorance, apathy towards the peril everyday life has become in our motherland.

Look at our reaction to runaway terrorism rooted in religious intolerance in the country. We keep scheduling and then postponing top-level political consultation on how to deal with the crisis, as we seem scared of acknowledging home-grown truths. The threat can’t and won’t be wished away.

The economy is a priority without doubt and linked to that the energy shortfall and, therefore, both seem to be receiving due attention but the government seems to be procrastinating over evolving and executing a counterterrorism policy.

Although there are many examples around us all the time, a TV show a few evenings back again helped bring into sharp focus the centrality of the issue. Whether one agrees with the contention in the programme that terrorism in Pakistan is also ‘externally backed’ its statistics were irrefutable.

The programme reminded the prime minister that in barely over a month since he took office on June 5 there had been 32 terror attacks in the country in which 216 people had been killed and that these attacks were against carefully selected targets and not randomly chosen ones.

These targets included the Ziarat Residency which was gutted, a women’s university coach which left a number of students dead in Quetta, a Frontier constabulary convoy that was bombed by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and an FC post near Peshawar that is said to have been attacked by hordes of militants.

Against this backdrop, the first hint of the cancellation of the all-party conference (APC) on terrorism scheduled for July 11-12 came when it emerged that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan was leaving for London in order to keep a consultant’s appointment.

His party said he had to leave since he had waited two months for the appointment and it couldn’t be rescheduled. Other PTI leaders clarified they could attend the conference on his behalf as they were authorised to take decisions by the party chief.

This focus on the APC, however, appeared a tad misplaced simply because the last elections were open to, and contested by, all political parties so they are represented in parliament unlike the 2008 polls which saw parties like the PTI and Mahmood Khan Achakzai’s Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party sit out the exercise in protest.

Shouldn’t then parliament be the right forum for discussing and evolving a counterterrorism policy? In fact, did anyone call for an APC on the equally critical economy and the disaster called the energy policy? The answer is an emphatic no.

And rightly so as the government belongs to the party which demonstrably enjoys the support of the majority in parliament and has been given the mandate to address the many, many crises confronting the country.

So, how should one see the move to convene the APC even though it has now been postponed to an unspecified date; as mere dillydallying, as an attempt to not confront a tricky situation which is calling for some tough decisions on an urgent basis?

If you look at the fairly damning findings of the leaked ‘draft’ of the Abbottabad Commission, the contempt of the former ISI chief Lt-Gen Shuja Pasha for the civilian leaders notwithstanding, he made a serious allegation that Punjab did nothing to arrest those responsible for the attack on the Ahmadis.

In fact, in his testimony the general also alleged that Punjab directed the militants to the hospital where some of the injured were being treated. Gen Pasha’s views and personality would make the subject matter of a book.

This isn’t an attempt to legitimise his over-the-top assertions regarding civilians simply because as the person primarily responsible for intelligence to thwart foreign attacks what else would he say.

Equally, it is incumbent on the Punjab government to first and foremost forcefully refute his assertion. Silence on its part would confirm the worst fears that it cut deals with the TTP and the sectarian murderers allied to it to leave the province alone in return for safe passage.

Then, it should bring a draft of its own counterterrorism policy to parliament for discussion and approval. Once it’s done so, it can rightfully claim that it is keen to rid the country of terrorism. Otherwise its words will ring hollow.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.