“IF you keep vipers in your garden,” goes the old proverb. “Don’t be surprised if you get bitten.”
After years of getting bitten regularly, we have developed an immunity to snake venom. But every once in a while, a particularly poisonous serpent can still inflict a lot of suffering. And then cries go up to clear the garden once and for all.
But soon, the pain subsides, and the soothing refrain goes up: they are our snakes, after all, and we can train them to behave better; they are only reacting to drone attacks; once the nasty Americans leave the neighbourhood, they will calm down; and we should not kill the snakes that only bite our neighbours.
So while all political parties have duly condemned the Taliban for the Peshawar massacre of schoolchildren, I fear it will soon be business as usual. And even after this chilling reminder of the inhumanity of the enemy we face, we can expect their sympathisers to crawl out of the woodwork before long. Already Hafiz Saeed, the jihadist leader with a $10 million bounty posted by the US, has said on TV that India is behind the Peshawar atrocity while defending the Taliban.
For years now, the assorted jihadi gangs we have allowed to proliferate have been attacking the state and its citizens with increasing brazenness. The immunity they enjoy can be judged by the fact that, according to a report in this newspaper, some 2,000 accused of terrorism have been freed by the courts in the last seven years.
In Rawalpindi, the two Anti-Terrorist Courts have convicted exactly 10 out of 207 suspected terrorists; but this is better than the zero conviction rate achieved by the Islamabad ATC. A Rawalpindi court acquitted Malik Ishaq, the feared chief of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi terror outfit in three cases. He is alleged to be behind the killing of 100 Shias, as well as the attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team in Lahore in 2010.
Seven days? We have had years to formulate a policy.
Whether this pathetic record is due to fear, sympathy or sheer incompetence, the fact is that hundreds of killers then go out to commit more mayhem. Our judiciary has still not been able to convict those accused of being behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
But jihadi poison is not limited to our courtrooms: it is present in many of our TV studios, newspapers, mosques, madressahs, as well our school textbooks and sections of our police, military and bureaucracy. Above all, our political class has many Taliban supporters within its ranks.
For years, politicians like Imran Khan have been making excuses for the Taliban; so much so that he has earned the nickname of Taliban Khan. His shrill rhetoric has made right-wing leaders like Nawaz Sharif shrink from tough action. We all remember the long drawn-out charade of talks with the Taliban last year.
The army has long been conflicted over its policy of distinguishing the ‘good Taliban’, ie, those that attack targets in Afghanistan and India, from those ‘bad Taliban’ who target the Pakistani state and its citizens. Finally, it seems to have abandoned these false distinctions, and has launched an operation against all militants in the tribal areas.
But obviously, it needs unwavering political backing. In other countries facing the threat of terrorism, the public and political parties are united in their resolve to eliminate the menace. Few countries have suffered as many terror attacks as we have, and yet we remain ambivalent about the existential nature of the threat.
It is no surprise that religious parties and the madressahs they operate provide volunteers and support for these jihadis. But for the rest of Pakistani society to be blind to the danger they pose is suicidal.
And while the military may succeed in destroying training camps and jihadi lairs in the tribal areas, they cannot drain the ideological swamp that sustains these killers. For this, a comprehensive policy supported by all the political parties is needed. The hate-filled sermons from our mosques and on TV religious programmes will have to be halted; the school curricula will have to be cleansed of their toxic, extremist content; and madressahs will have to be reformed, root and branch.
Nawaz Sharif could have placed this agenda before the politicians in Peshawar where he had convened an all-party conference. But he chose to kick the can down the road by announcing the formation of a committee to present its recommendations in seven days.
Seven days? We have had 25 years to formulate a policy. Endless conferences and committees have deliberated over the problem. There is currently a National Internal Security Policy before the government to act on. So why delay further?
The truth is that despite the Peshawar carnage, our political leadership still lacks the stomach for the hard decisions that are needed. Until it summons up the courage to act meaningfully, the Taliban will continue to slaughter the innocent.
Published in Dawn December 20th , 2014