FEW incidents of terrorism have caused such large-scale outpouring of grief, anger and shame as the massacre in the Peshawar church last Sunday. But will this outrage awaken the Pakistani people to the urgency of dealing with the cancerous growth in their body politic of which the attack on the old church was only a symptom?
As has often happened in such situations, various parties are busy denying responsibility for mass murder in the church. The Taliban say they are not involved and they do not believe in killing innocent people.
The Muslim ulema argue that no true Muslim can commit such horrible excesses. For one thing, the people know better. And for another, considerable confusion has been created by those who own their black deeds and those who always deny them. If these denials are taken seriously even the most efficient detectives might fail to track down the culprits. In any case the search is unnecessary as the list of suspects is quite short.
First, it is impossible to completely delink the Peshawar incident from the ongoing debate on parleys with the militants besieging the state of Pakistan.
Apart from the many unarmed citizens who oppose talks with the militants on the latter’s terms, there are elements in Pakistan, many of them occupying key positions in the country’s politico-religious parties, that would wish the position of the government of Pakistan to be weakened further so that the challengers’ ideological victory can be guaranteed.
At the same time, there may be elements in the militants’ ranks who would like to delay the talks with Islamabad till its surrender becomes irreversible.
Then, the possibility of factional tussle within the pro-negotiation camps on both sides cannot be ruled out. Who should have the decisive voice in the negotiating teams on either side and who should be recognised as the best interlocutors on the other side are issues that can cause serious conflicts. Such wrangling could torpedo the talks altogether.
Any of the elements identified could have launched the assault on the church.
Secondly, there is reason to suspect the sectarian terrorists who have been targeting both non-Muslim communities and minority Muslim sects for quite some time and who seem determined to convert the entire population to their exclusivist creed.
Some of these elements have been on the security forces’ radar for a pretty long time and the latter’s disinclination to proceed against them is one of Pakistan’s most painful enigmas.
Both the militants operating in the northern parts and the sectarian terrorists operating practically throughout the country derive strength from the theocratic assumptions with which the original ideals of Pakistan are being replaced.
Their shared objective is to pull down the state’s democratic structure, its judicial order, its education system and install in their place devices and values of their own choice. There should be no mistake about the identity and objectives of these elements — they are not fighting the state of Pakistan for any of their rights, they want to usurp the right of the entire people of Pakistan to choose their institutions of governance through democratic means.
More dangerous than terrorist attacks is the systematic exploitation of the people’s religious sentiments for instigating violence and hatred against the minorities. The militants have been using the religious card with considerable skill. The result is the creation of an environment that is becoming increasingly hostile to the religious minorities and smaller Muslim sects.
Everybody knows of the migration of hard-pressed non-Muslim Pakistanis from Balochistan and the Sindhi non-Muslims’ grievances regarding abduction and forced conversion of their girls, and kidnappings for ransom.
In Punjab, especially Lahore, new groups of professional Ahmadi-baiters have emerged over the past few months. They are instituting all kinds of cases against the Ahmadis, encouraging land grabbers to seize their property and pushing policemen to demolish structures resembling minarets at Ahmadi prayer houses.
The number of Ahmadi victims of targeted killing is on the rise. Some loose talk in a TV show is enough to petrify the powerful Punjab government and persuade it to malign and strangulate a widely respected school for including a book on comparative religion in its courses.
The main source of strength for both categories of the anti-state bands is their (and their political patrons’) success in presenting themselves as soldiers of Islam.
The people have been divided between those who are fighting alongside the US-Nato forces and those who are defending Islam. Maulana Sherani who heads the Council of Islamic Ideology has just proclaimed that those who support Nato may go on (unsuccessfully) fighting the Taliban.
What he means is that anyone who opposes the killers of Pakistani soldiers and generals and the organisers of suicide bombing missions is a stooge of Nato.
It is this pernicious stereotyping of the militants/terrorists and the defenders of the Pakistani citizens’ right to democratic governance and rule of law that paralyses the custodians of power in Islamabad. They may have recognised the seriousness of the threat militant extremists pose to them but they are yet to draw up a strategy to counter religious militancy and abuse of the Islamic concept of jihad.
The all-party conference that was staged in Islamabad did not even scratch the core issue — the use of religious slogans to justify murder of Muslims and non-Muslim alike and to spare neither mosques nor churches.
What the government must realise is that every concession they offer the militants will worsen the plight of the religious minorities, with women and democratic-minded citizens not far behind them. Pakistan will never be able to protect its integrity and defend its citizens’ lives and properties unless it begins to tame the monster of intolerance it has so thoughtlessly reared.