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A hostage nation

October 08, 2013


ONE wonders how many more deaths and how much more destruction will it take to arouse our national leadership from its slumber. Neither the mutilated bodies of 18 members of a family killed in the recent Peshawar market bombing nor the carnage of Christian worshippers at the All Saints Church has shaken them yet.

More than 200 people were killed in terrorist strikes in one week in Peshawar alone, but no one stirred beyond issuing routine messages of condolence.

Instead, the prime minister appreciated the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan for not claiming responsibility for those attacks and blamed a ‘foreign hand’ for subverting peace talks.

Ironically, days later a spokesman for the TTP justified the church attack saying it was in accordance with the Sharia, and was carried out by one of its subsidiaries. While militants continue with their macabre game of death, a spineless and frightened leadership keeps begging for Taliban mercy.

Such a meek and apologetic response from the prime minister is in marked contrast to the tough resolve shown by leaders of other nations when confronted with terrorist threats.

Take, for example, the comments of Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta after the four-day bloody siege at a shopping mall in Nairobi last month.

“These cowards will meet justice, as will their accomplices and patrons, wherever they are,” vowed Mr Kenyatta who himself oversaw the operation against the attackers.

“I promise that we shall have full accountability for the mindless destruction, death, pain, loss and suffering we all have undergone as a national family,” he declared.

Meanwhile, David Cameron, the British prime minister, rushed back home cutting short his official foreign visit because there were several British nationals among the hostages in the Nairobi mall.

But the blood of poor Pakistanis comes cheap. It certainly does not matter to our rulers even when hundreds of Pakistanis are slaughtered. As the death toll of the church attacks was being calculated, Imran Khan went one step further in placating the militants by suggesting that the TTP be allowed to open an office. He ignored the fact that the militant network is outlawed and allowing it to operate openly would legitimise terrorism.

When a bus full of provincial government employees was blown up, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief was calling for taking confidence-building measures to create a “conducive environment” for peace talks with the Taliban. His defence of the TTP has become more vociferous with each bloodbath.

In an article published recently in a national daily, Imran Khan equated the presence of the troops in KP and Fata to military action in former East Pakistan and the TTP to the Viet Cong who fought against the US forces in Vietnam. Such assertions cannot be dismissed as mere naivety; they are a reflection of a twisted mindset.

While our leaders were commending the TTP for distancing itself from the last two major terrorist strikes in Peshawar, the group released a gruesome videotape of the explosion in Dir that killed Maj-Gen Sanaullah Niazi along with two others. It declared the killing of the officers as a great victory in the war against Pakistani forces.

Even that blatant claim by the TTP of the attack on Pakistani forces did not move the federal and KP governments. Nothing can derail peace efforts was the response of the PTI and PML-N leaders.

It has been a month since the all-party conference mandated the federal government to initiate peace negotiations with the Taliban. But there has not been any success yet in getting the militants to the negotiating table. The reason is obvious. The three preconditions set by the TTP — the release of detained militants, withdrawal of troops from the tribal areas and a halt to US drone attacks — are hard to comply with. The prevailing ambivalence has already begun to cost the nation dearly.

It is apparent that the peace talks with the militants are a non- starter. But the government is still stuck to the mantra that talks are the only option. This dithering has already given a new lifeline to the Taliban who were on the retreat from most of the tribal agencies and Malakand, which they once controlled.

The TTP lost many of its senior commanders like Waliur Rehman and the network was fragmented into various factions. But now, the militants have found a new stridency, taking advantage of the weakness of the state. So fearful is the government that it has put on hold the execution of three convicted militants including the mastermind of the 2009 GHQ attack after threats from the Taliban.

Not only has the state failed to protect the lives of its citizens, it has also conceded to the extremist ideology on many policy issues. It is a disturbing reality that radical Islamic elements have as much if not more power over Pakistani society than the state. While the state has failed to develop a national narrative against militancy, an obscurantist ideology holds sway.

With the growing violence against religious minorities, vigilantism seems to have become an acceptable norm. The country has now become hostage to non-state actors forcing their way in through the barrel of the gun.

The authority of the state seems to have all but collapsed. It is not surprising that the courts free more than 90pc of militants allegedly involved in terrorism due to ‘lack of evidence’. It is mainly because the judges and witnesses are threatened and do not want to put their own and their family’s lives at risk when they know the state cannot protect them.

A culture of fear grips the nation as the state has abdicated all responsibility, leaving the people at the mercy of the terrorists. It gives the people little faith when their political leaders surrender to the militant narrative. n

The writer is an author and journalist.

Twitter: @hidhussain