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Osama’s or Obama’s Pakistan?

Updated May 11, 2011

In the aftermath of the American military action that killed Osama bin Laden, the debate in Pakistan has decisively shifted to the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty by the US, as was perhaps expected. The big question as to why the world’s most wanted terrorist was found here in the first place has all but disappeared from the national radar. Once again the nation is found dozing off at a time when hectic and earnest efforts are needed to inquire into the matter that can bring Pakistan to the centre stage of the US-led ‘war on terror’.

Let’s face it: it is less about our sovereignty and more about accountability to the people of Pakistan and to the international community. If we have terrorists with global linkages living in and working out of Pakistan unbeknown to our otherwise menacing security agencies and we don’t get on their trail, the US (and others) will. The outrage here should have been over the fact that bin Laden was living here for the past many years undetected, and not over who took him out with the least collateral damage caused to Pakistan in the process.

It is still not past the time when the war against terrorism should be owned and called our own battle. Terrorism has killed and maimed more Pakistanis than any other nation anywhere in the world since 9/11, but there isn’t much we done about it. For instance, how many terrorists are apprehended by our law enforcement agencies and brought to justice? Our security forces can find and kill an octogenarian Baloch leader hiding in a cave because he and a handful of his close associates had defied a general but they cannot be commissioned to nab the terrorists who have attacked the armed forces, the police and innocent citizens alike. They have not even spared our dead ones and attacked the shrines regularly. This is simply beyond comprehension.

Even in those rare cases when terrorists are apprehended, the police have failed to build a strong prosecution case against them and the courts have had to let them walk free for lack of evidence. Not only that, known and dreaded militants and hijackers wanted by India and others, the entire Islamabad Lal Masjid brigade and the likes, are free citizens who do not operate out of their mountain hideouts but are allowed to disseminate their hate-filled agenda in the cities and towns across the land.

Banning outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamaatud Dawa, Jandullah, Jaish-i-Mohammed, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and so many others, which openly brook sympathy for al Qaeda and its global terrorist agenda, has not made their leadership run for cover. Far from it. They are free to preach, train and plan attacks across Pakistan, and perhaps elsewhere. Does any other country provide hate-mongers such an open platform from which to operate?

Then, there are tiers of extremist elements that are well tolerated by the state. A majority of these comprise homegrown militants and not runaway fugitives from their home countries. It starts right there in our parliament where MPs belonging to rightwing parties derail all and any debate on curbing extremism. The PML-Q leaders protected the Lal Masjid militants after Musharraf’s action against them, and even announced lifetime scholarships for their upkeep; Mullah Fazlullah of Swat and his Taliban commanders are at large. The PML-N leaders have known allies among extremist elements in southern Punjab, the hotbed of Punjabi Taliban and the like. Both the parties deny the existence of Punjabi Taliban, thereby protecting such elements and their identities from public scrutiny. Imran Khan’s PTI disowns the ‘war on terror’ altogether, calling the tribal jihadists patriotic Pakistanis who have made many sacrifices in the past.

The presence of the religious parties and their stance in parliament is blatant. There are no subtleties involved in deciphering their views on the raging extremism. The JUI and the Jamaat-i-Islami vehemently demand that Pakistan opt out of the partnership with America in its fight against terrorism. The JUI MPs condemned the killing of bin Laden in most unequivocal terms and led protest rallies. Others offered funeral prayers for him in the streets of this country.

Rightist elements also man the airwaves of Pakistan’s independent media. Obscurantist talk show hosts and lecturers holding forth on geo-political affairs is the norm on TV. Over the years so much ground has been ceded to extremists that their spin doctoring of issues has now become the mainstream discourse in the media. It is an environment where global thought patterns in interpreting current affairs are rejected and logical debates and discourses snubbed. Xenophobia in regard to the rest of the world envelopes most national discourse. Issues are twisted beyond recognition, and imagination is allowed to run wild, which brings into spotlight nothing but Pakistan’s enemies surrounding it from all sides.

This victim mindset that we continue to nurture by evading the real problem of extremism and not doing anything about it, places us at the mercy of the Osamas and the Obamas of the world. It is a free country for either to beat down upon, as a meek government and a powerful military establishment look the other way.

Fortified and ensconced in the safety net of the security apparatus that both the civil and military leadership is, it is hard to understand why the leadership should not own and fight the war of Pakistan’s survival against extremism with full force of the state. Complacence is a respectable word for it implies that a conscious choice has been made; ‘free for all’ is more likely what is at work here.

The writer is a Dawn staffer

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.