A slippery slope

Published December 21, 2014
Supporters of Pakistan's Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) political party hold signs to condemn the Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, during national solidarity rally Karachi December 19, 2014. At least 132 students and nine staff members were killed on Tuesday when Taliban gunmen broke into the school and opened fire, witnesses said, in the bloodiest massacre the country has seen for years. REUTERS/Athar Hussain (PAKISTAN - Tags: CRIME LAW EDUCATION CIVIL UNREST)
Supporters of Pakistan's Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) political party hold signs to condemn the Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, during national solidarity rally Karachi December 19, 2014. At least 132 students and nine staff members were killed on Tuesday when Taliban gunmen broke into the school and opened fire, witnesses said, in the bloodiest massacre the country has seen for years. REUTERS/Athar Hussain (PAKISTAN - Tags: CRIME LAW EDUCATION CIVIL UNREST)

Deeply problematic as the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty is, yet more troubling is a country seeking public executions and calling the massacre in Peshawar to be quickly and immediately avenged by deaths of militants, wherever and whenever.

Disturbing too is the role that sections of the media have been playing, acting as cheerleaders for executions, demanding more and lobbying for executions to be broadcast or even carried out in public arenas.

Read: Militant siege of Peshawar school ends, 141 killed

What can really be said about a society that appears to want to descend to the level of the Taliban in order to fight them?

It is a sad indictment of Pakistan that citizens now want the equivalent of a ‘khooni chowk’, a bloody square, that Mullah Fazlullah and his militants made notorious in Swat at the height of their insurgency.

Surely, the violence of the battlefield should not be replicated by the state under public demand in the form of public executions, whether televised or in front of a cheering crowd.

Also read: Nawaz removes moratorium on death penalty

That would not just be the start of a slippery slope, it could spell the end of the hope for a civilised, rules-based society where rights are paramount and laws carefully and honourably implemented.

Is the spirit of revenge being so brutally projected in the media and in conversations across the country simply because of fear or is it a sign of some deeper malaise that afflicts Pakistan?

At the very least, it appears that neither state nor society, neither the country’s leadership nor the average citizen, appears willing to reflect on what has gone wrong and how to find a way back towards a stable and secure Pakistan.

Consider that appalling as the Peshawar massacre was, it did not come out of nowhere nor do the perpetrators reflect a mindset that is not reflected in other, dark corners of this country.

Furthermore, while the problems of extremism and militancy are not one and the same, just how much of an enabling environment has been created over the years by militant apologists, preachers of hate and even the toxic ideas that pass as mainstream views via textbooks across the country.

Also read: 20 questions we should be asking after the Peshawar massacre

Can militancy really be eradicated root and branch if the infrastructure of jihad — the mosque, madressah and welfare network created and sustained by groups espousing violence against Pakistan’s purported enemies — is not also rolled up? The military and political leadership has talked about ending the distinction between good and bad militants, but has it even an idea about how to progressively eliminate the environment that makes any kind of militant possible? The media too must surely shoulder some of the blame. Focusing on the here and now, avenging the sense of grief and loss after Peshawar, instead of asking the tough questions and holding rulers to account will do little more than ease the path to the next terrible atrocity.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2014

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