New, resolute minority?

Published December 22, 2014
The writer is a lawyer.
The writer is a lawyer.

HISTORY tells us that it is not the majority but a resolute minority that brings change. Those pained by the existence of bigotry and violence in Pakistan often argue that it is a fanatical intolerant minority that is holding our country hostage, which otherwise comprises rational, tolerant and amiable people. Has the Peshawar catastrophe given birth to another minority capable of changing Pakistan, which is more resolute in ousting bigotry and extremism from Pakistan than the bigots are in keeping it alive?

Events as brutal and horrifying as the Peshawar massacre can do one of two things: it can permanently change the way we understand and approach the issue of terror, making 16/12 the day we carved in our consciousness that extremists and terrorists would no longer have any room in our midst; or it can keep us grief stricken and angry for a few days till a spate of revenge killings calm our rage and allow us to return to business-as-usual.

Terrorism has been born and bred by a diverse set of institutional and societal factors: the misconceived jihadi project and its use by our military for pursuit of national security goals; a criminal justice system too incompetent and corrupt to deter or curb terror; a political elite too timid and expedient to act against those aiding and abetting terror; a religious elite that is a direct beneficiary of the political economy of terror; and a society that under the banner of piety has developed a blind spot for all kinds of savagery unleashed in the name of God.


The test of our resolve to quit being a terror sanctuary will be tested on at least five fronts.


Has Peshawar shaken up our conscience enough to acknowledge and address these deep-rooted institutional and societal fixations that have made our collective national mindset a natural sanctuary for bigots and terrorists? Within the realm of evil is there something abnormal about those who brazenly kill children to pursue their political or ideological goals?

What sort of men kill the enemy’s children instead of the enemy to exact revenge? The kind that has no qualms about transforming impressionable children into suicide bombs? If the Taliban are loathsome, what about their aiders and abettors providing a steady supply of raw material for Taliban suicide factories? What about their relatively peaceful cousins in religious parties who endorse the Taliban objective of forcibly creating the state of Khorasan, even if they publicly don’t justify use of terror to realise the objective?

The mindset that apologises for the TTP being earnest but misunderstood, allows Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid to preach terror in the heart of Islamabad. It explains the hacking of a young couple by a mob before burning them alive in a brick kiln on allegations of blasphemy. It proclaims Mumtaz Qadri as a hero and requires the judge who sentenced him to death to leave Pakistan forever.

The mindset that justifies Salmaan Taseer’s murder is being logically consistent when it justifies the killing of Shias or Ahmadis because of their religious beliefs. If Muslims are ordained to conquer the world by force and it is all to start from Khorasan, what is so wrong about forcing Christians and Hindus within the to-be Khorasan to convert to Islam or have their places of worship burnt? And if the young can wage jihad in India or Afghanistan, what is repulsive about using them to wage jihad against the Pakistani state if it has become an agent of the infidel?

Those who induct youth to wage jihad to liberate Kashmir or make Khorasan a reality, who justify sectarian killings, who defend vigilante execution of alleged blasphemers and who justify evil means in the name of doing God’s work, all drink from the same fountain of misconceived religious righteousness that nurtures bigotry and obscurantism. And this fountain doesn’t dry up because the community at large is infected with the belief that its advantages outweigh its disadvantages — a belief entrenched by acts and omissions of the state.

Lifting the moratorium on the death penalty or conducting frenzied military strikes against the Taliban in Fata might be cathartic but is no evidence of our intent to quit being a terror sanctuary. We are a terror sanctuary because there is widespread and institutionalised support for the terror infrastructure within our state and societal institutions, defended in the name of religion or national security. We will begin winning the war against terrorism when resolute anti-terror minorities across these institutions begin to trump fellow terror apologists.

The test of our resolve to quit being a terror sanctuary will be tested on at least five fronts. One, will the khakis pull the plug on all jihadists and will the logic of not distinguishing good and bad terrorists on the western front be extended to the eastern front as well despite our enmity with India? Two, will our politicos be able to lead the drive to establish state control over madressahs despite religious parties opposing such move tooth and nail?

Three, will the maulvi’s self-proclaimed monopoly over interpretation of religious texts end along with his ability to sow hate in the name of religion? Four, will our criminal justice system be cured of its inability to convict terrorists and dispense justice? And five, will we rid ourselves of delusionary conspiracy theories and acknowledge that the fault is within us and not in our stars?

Is there a silver lining emerging from the fog of war? For the first time our military leadership seems to have resolved that there are no good Taliban. For the first time TTP apologists within the political arena and the media seem to be running out of oxygen. For the first time the chief justice has felt the need to publicly state that terror cases will have to be decided quickly. For the first time there has been a public protest against the vicious Abdul Aziz outside Lal Masjid.

Let us hope that we have resolved to make our country safe for our kids, not just by guarding them better but by eliminating the beasts amongst us whose presence threatens their lives and blights their future.

The writer is a lawyer.

sattar@post.harvard.edu

Twitter: @babar_sattar

Published in Dawn, December 22th, 2014

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