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A response to apologists

October 23, 2012

After the cowardly attack on Malala Yousufzai, the drums of war have begun beating once again, with pressure seeming to mount for the need for a military operation against militants in North Waziristan. While an operation in North Waziristan may not bring us justice against Malala’s attackers in the Swat Valley, the cold blooded attempt to kill an innocent schoolgirl should remind us of the freedoms we hold dear as a people and the price we have to pay to safeguard those freedoms against extremists.

While the two situations are obviously far from similar, I can’t help but ask myself why we’re so willing to devote blood and tears in an attempt to safeguard the political rights of the people of Kashmir, but are willing to mutely acquiesce to oppression of fellow Pakistanis on our own soil. If as a nation we stand boldly on principle for freedom and justice for the oppressed people of Kashmir, why are we so willing to turn a blind eye to the murder, torture and terror committed on the people of northwestern Pakistan by militants there? Does a young girl growing up in Mingora not have the same right to live a life free of fear as a young girl in Srinagar?

Before the inevitable accusations of being an American agent or CIA plant, let me clarify – it is counterproductive and disingenuous to assume that anyone supporting action against militants is also secretly dreaming of drone strikes raining down across the country. Indeed, the false dichotomy created by both liberals and reactionaries in this country that criticising militants makes you a liberal and criticising America makes you a fundamentalist does nothing but stifle debate and prevent a discussion on the very serious issues our country faces. Indeed, to counter that anyone condemning the senseless and bloody violence perpetrated by militants is being biased by not discussing drone strikes, as so many right-wing apologists of militancy are fond of doing, is essentially saying that it’s justified to condemn one group of people who are killing innocent people, but not another group that mercilessly kills.

Drone attacks do violate Pakistani sovereignty, kill innocents and add fuel to the long-burning fire of resentment and anger towards the Pakistani state and our alliance with America. That said, when children have been injured in drone strikes, I don’t recall Leon Panetta ever vowing that they’d be back to finish off the job as the TTP spokesperson gleefully did after the tragic attack on Malala. The death of innocent people is deplorable and sickening – it’s against the very compact between the citizenry and our state to allow other actors to exercise violence and terrorise the populace.

The fundamental goal of the state, above all else, has historically been to provide a degree of security to its subjects. When someone threatens this security, the state has every right, some may even say an imperative, to restore its writ and confront those seeking to undermine it. While the Pakistani state may have failed to fulfill this promise, that’s no justification for allowing militancy to continue unabated. While militants may be motivated – or say they are – by anger against the state and our foreign policy that too is no justification for allowing these murders to continue. Regardless of whether some may feel their grievances are justified, or may feel unhappy with our government and its foreign policies, that’s no justification for killing innocent people. Granted, there is limited space in the political sphere to express these grievances, but in what little space our democracy has had, religio-political parties have always been soundly beaten. When the TTP took over Swat, they too were roundly rejected by the populace as cruel and petty.

To put it plainly, for all those apologists that continue attempting to justify militancy and murder, including more than a few national politicians, the time for equivocation is over. As a nation, we must realise now what the people of Swat and Fata have long since realised, what Malala Yousufzai and her family has realised and fought for and what countless Pakistani soldiers, policemen and civilians have given their lives fighting for. The ideology and motivations for militancy and extremism are hollow and bloody and the means used to achieve these aims barbaric. If we desire, as I’m sure all proud and patriotic Pakistanis do, a homeland that is peaceful and prosperous, a homeland that allows all its children – whether a girl in Swat or a boy in Karachi – to achieve their dreams for a better tomorrow, we must unite to reject both the monstrous acts of militants and the petty politicking of those that attempt to justify it.


Faris Islam studied Political Science and History at Tufts University. He is based in Karachi, where he works in the development sector.



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.