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Our fleeting resolve

February 09, 2015


The writer is a lawyer.
The writer is a lawyer.

“IT’S easier to convince people of something, but hard to keep them convinced … the crowd is won over by appearances and final results … and the world is a crowd,” Machiavelli had counselled. Let’s not hold our breath for final results because if appearances after Shikarpur are anything to go by, our post-Peshawar moment of hope and resolve has dissipated. It is becoming evident that our civil-military elite hasn’t given up its policy of prevarication on terror, ie some manifestations of it, like Shikarpur, are acceptable and others, like Peshawar, are not.

The cruel and inhuman nature of the Peshawar attack made it shocking and revolting. Who would be heartless enough not to empathise with parents of innocent children? But what about the children who died in Shikarpur or the Hazara kids who keep dying in Quetta? Is terror less heinous if innocent kids die alongside innocent parents? Is violence less loathsome if motivated by biases of faith or when victims are identified as the ‘other’ on grounds of faith? Whatever the reason, the shameful fact is that dead Shias don’t bother us all that much.

Does the victim’s identity shape our perception about the wickedness of a terrorist? What if exactly the same incident that transpired in Army Public School had happened in an Ahmadi Public School? Would the ‘A’ in APS then help or hinder the emergence of a national resolve against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)? What if, hypothetically, the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) or Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) had claimed the attack in response to any change in our national security or foreign policy that they disagreed with? Would the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) and Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) then be allowed to take out rallies on Kashmir Day?

Who will build resolve, consensus and a narrative against non-TTP terror in Pakistan?

Some power-wielders within the state have a greater ability to shape national resolve than others. Would we have a resolve against the TTP had it not been for the army? The military had been fighting TTP for a while and TTP had crossed the line before (severing heads of soldiers, claiming the life of a serving GoC). But tormenting soldiers’ children was beyond the pale even in wartime. Led by Gen Raheel Sharif, it was the army that built a resolve against the TTP. Left to civilian leaders we would still be mollycoddling our ‘misguided brethren’.

The army chief showed up in Peshawar while the attack was under way. He was in Afghanistan in the evening, condoling with victims’ families during the next week and at APS receiving kids on the day it reopened. The prime minister was prodded into action as well. Political leaders, like Imran Khan, who didn’t exhibit the requisite sensitivity, were publicly embarrassed. After Peshawar, our civilian political elite felt the army’s seething anger and quickly fell in line to provide the tools demanded to punish the TTP, including military courts.

The point here is that the TTP and the army have declared war on one another and we have a national consensus against TTP. All credit to the army for forging this required consensus. But what about the terror groups who haven’t declared war on the army? Who will build resolve, consensus and a narrative against non-TTP terror in Pakistan?

Fast forward to Shikarpur. Did the army chief give any hint that the war against those slaughtering Shias is as much our war as that against TTP? Did the prime minister?

Ayaz Amir is right. Our problem is not a divide between a bigoted right and a tolerant left. Our problem is that we no longer have a sizable tolerant segment within our society, on the left, right or centre. The Qadri case or Shia killings or bigotry in general can’t be understood in terms of a right-left divide or a privileged vs deprived class struggle. The bigotry we sport has permeated across our divides. We are a hopeless lot for no class, institution or party seems anguished enough by bigotry and extremism to emerge as an agent of change.

At the time of Qadri’s trial, an affable senior bureaucrat who had some jurisdiction over the Taseer murder case, explained over a late night drinks session how courageous Qadri was, how meticulously he had chosen the time to kill Taseer to avoid harming another believing Muslim, and how he had refused to dilute his ‘noble deed’ by taking up defences being suggested by state officials. The conversation climaxed when the bureaucrat, uninhibited at the end of the evening, proclaimed that even he could have killed Taseer with his own gun.

Justice Khawaja Sharif, Qadri’s defence counsel (and a friend of my deceased father), who is very close to the Sharif brothers and was appointed advocate general and then judge by the Sharif government in 1998, explained while arguing Qadri’s appeal that those who killed Charlie Hebdo’s employees are our heroes. Having retired as chief justice of Lahore High Court, justice Sharif certainly doesn’t belong to the deprived part of our society.

Likewise, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, former federal minister and member KP Assembly, is as financially and politically privileged as one gets in Pakistan. This follower of Bacha Khan and member of the liberal left-wing ANP has announced a reward of $200,000 for anyone who kills Charlie Hebdo’s owner.

And who hasn’t seen Gen Hameed Gul and Hafiz Saeed pontificating on Pakistan’s India policy in the same talk show? Both have a significant public following. While Gul headed our powerful ISI, Hafiz Saeed heads JuD, which we’ve reportedly declared a proscribed organisation (or so we tell the world), as part of our resolve to weed out terror. Why label JuD and ASWJ as proscribed organisations if no consequences whatsoever flow from such declaration?

The cancer of extremism has spread all over. For a moment after Peshawar it seemed like we might just get slapped out of our complicity and complacency, acquire the ability to connect the dots and understand that TTP, LeT/JuD, LJ/ASWJ, Kouachi brothers and Mumtaz Qadri all drink from the same fountain of faith-inspired intolerance. Our well-fed nurturers of extremism, defensive there for a moment, are crawling out of the woodwork again. We might not have good and bad Taliban anymore. But good and bad terrorists are another story.

The writer is a lawyer.

Twitter: @babar_sattar

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2015

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