THE heart-wrenching, nerve-shattering attack in Peshawar’s Qissa Khwani Bazaar on Dec 22, must be a defining moment for the state of Pakistan, Pakistani and Pakhtun society and the democratic political process in Pakistan.

This attack killed Bashir Bilour, one of the daring voices of the Awami National Party and a proud son of Peshawar, along with others. More than three dozen people were injured.

Besides once again bringing to light the fact that the militant network, both ideological and strategic, is intact and that the ideological, strategic and tactical alliance of various militant groups has matured, the attack has also raised crucial questions in the minds of common Pakistanis, those belonging to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in particular.

The first set of questions is related to the state of Pakistan. Will the security state now shed the mantle of elitism, its centrist mindset and its colonial approach towards the common people of Pakistan? Will it now decide to build on the pluralist, indigenous legacy of the land or continue to maintain a colonial legacy by keeping people hostage to an imposed identity based on a parochial interpretation of religion?

Will the establishment decide to put a full stop to the geo-strategic paradigm that has cost thousands of lives? Will it ever allow elected parliaments to form foreign policy in consonance with the desires, aspirations and needs of the common people? Will it let civil society and the government machinery overhaul an education system that is spreading hate?

Answers to the above questions might lead towards ideological clarity with respect to religious militancy and terrorism that have endangered the state of Pakistan.

The majority of the people of Pakistan look at militant attacks with disgust and abhorrence. Not so the security state along with the rightist religio-political parties, that are in a minority. It is their mindset that has to be deconstructed as a first step towards defeating the menace of terrorism.

The menace is now well-entrenched both ideologically and strategically and is strong enough to strike at the vitals of the state.

Political parties, elected governments, civil society organisations, the military and intelligentsia have to take responsibility for deconstructing the militant ideology, decoding their strategies and defeating their tactics. Collective responsibility is to be taken for collective survival.

The second set of questions relates to Pakistani society in general and Pakhtun society in particular. Will the common masses allow their worldview and way of thinking and lifestyle to be hijacked by a handful of zealots?

Will Pakistani culture which is a repository of multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic values become hostage to the culture of violence inspired by Salafi jihadist ideology?

Will an identity based on indigenous historical continuity and diversity of worldviews, lifestyles and thoughts of 180 million people be stifled by groups of zealots who believe in a uni-dimensional reality?

Will these 180 million be pushed into a black hole cutting them off from modern human civilisation and cultural continuity by a minority?

In terms of Pakhtun society, will the Pakhtuns allow their music, aesthetics, folklore, poetry, history and culture to be demolished through a particular religious interpretation? Will they let themselves be deprived of the teachings of the humanist Rahman Baba and legends like Bayazid Ansari, Khushal Khan Khattak and Baacha Khan who preached human dignity, a pluralist democracy and an indigenous cultural identity linked with the values of modern civilisation?

The future of a harmonious Pakistani society in general and the Pakhtun society in particular will largely depend on the answers to the above questions. Civil society organisations, academia and professional organisations (consisting of lawyers, doctors and teachers etc) as well as youth networks have to reflect on this sliding of a pluralist society into the abyss of obscurantism and barbarity.

Their deliberations might lead them to leave their comfort zone and initiate an across-the-board dialogue among various segments of society. This in turn may lead to civil society asserting itself to help determine state policy and direct state machinery on the basis of a social contract between the state and its citizens.

The third set of questions is related to the future of a democratic and pro-people political process in Pakistan. The struggle of the ANP is a continuation of the Khudai Khidmatgar movement from the 1920s to the 1950s giving shape to the National Awami Party in the 1950s until the late 1970s.

At the core of its struggle professedly lie decolonisation, de-tribalisation and de-weaponisation. Its manifesto shows adherence to liberal democracy and the pro-people nature of the political process in Pakistan.

Besides some other liberal democratic nationalist political parties, the ANP has taken an unambiguous stand against militant ideology and state policies that promote it. In the process, the ANP has sacrificed more than 1,500 party cadres and four elected members besides sustaining losses to their land and property.

Militant ideology and tactics will not only target ANP workers and leaders. The space for a pro-democratic political process has been continuously shrinking for all political parties who adhere to constitutional democracy in Pakistan.

The PPP, ANP, PML-N and Q, the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, National Party, JUI-F and others have to put their heads together to develop a comprehensive, coordinated, objective and clear strategy for defeating militant ideology and militant tactics.

The writer is a political analyst.

Kahdimhussain@hotmail.com

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