Saturday, January 3, 2015
It struck you in the pit of your stomach. The pain was gut-wrenching. You felt as if the ground beneath your feet had parted. Your mind was blown into a million little pieces. How do you cope with the images of schoolchildren, some as young as 11 and 12, their school uniforms drenched in blood, their faces peering out of coffins? Mothers wailing inconsolably, fathers with a vacant stare in their eyes; eyes that looked like dried-up wells in the middle of a parched desert. Mirrors to souls wounded so deeply that life itself had ceased to have any meaning.
The massacre of 141 people, including 133 children, at Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014, was, at first, beyond comprehension. The grief and pain of the parents and siblings, many of whom had just managed to escape the orgy of killing at the school, defies rendering in ordinary language.
The initial shock soon gave way to an all-consuming rage. Pakistan’s military and civilian leadership, which had hitherto been unable to see eye to eye on how to deal with the Taliban, met in Peshawar and declared to the citizens of their beleaguered country that ‘enough was enough’. Significantly, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, flanked by opposition leaders, including erstwhile cricketer Imran Khan — known to be a Taliban apologist — told newsmen that there would be no distinction made any more between ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad ones’.
Surely, moral outrage and anger are all too natural in the face of such a gruesome incident. If calculated murder of over 10 dozen children does not make us angry, perhaps nothing will. However, anger also blunts your capacity to see things in perspective. It engenders a tunnel-vision manifested in the punitive overdrive the Pakistan government went into immediately after the Peshawar massacre. The unofficial moratorium on the death penalty, which had been in place since 2008, was lifted. The hangmen were called up and at least six convicted terrorists were executed by December 21, 2014, despite urgings by international human rights groups to the contrary.
Almost everyone in Pakistan today is saying they want to stand true to the memory of children slaughtered in Peshawar. That seems to be the least common denominator across the political and societal divide. Exceptions are rare. These include increasingly jittery Taliban supporters, such as Maulana Abdul Aziz, the head Imam of the Red Mosque in Islamabad that was stormed by the Pakistan Army in 2008 following a prolonged standoff. Underneath this common resolve, however, lie fundamentally divergent worldviews and ideologies, currently concealed by shared grief and anger.
The struggle of man against power, wrote Milan Kundera, is the struggle of memory against forgetting. The key question today is what is it that you decide to remember and how? You could view Peshawar as an isolated incident, a total aberration in an otherwise acceptable state of affairs. Or, you could see it as the extreme end of a spectrum of violence that defines contemporary religious terrorism. The conceptual choice has significant consequences for how the public thinks about an event like this and how policymakers respond to it.
What happened in Peshawar has no exact parallels. Yet, children falling prey to terrorism and violence is now so common — and in such a wide variety of contexts — that it hardly strikes you as something unusual. Violence against children is now part of what Hannah Ardent memorably called the ‘banality of evil’.
The Taliban, for one, have made a career out of blowing up schools on both sides of Durand Line, the official border dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan. Children, let us not forget, also find themselves within the ranks of suicide-outfits from Boko Haram in Nigeria to the Taliban in Pakistan. Some of these children themselves witnessed extremes of physical violence before being duped or coerced into becoming soldiers of jihadist Islam.
Malala Yusufzai, mature beyond her years, nailed it when she said recently: “I tell my story, not because it is unique, but because it is not.” To transcend your own suffering and to connect it with that of others is indeed a sign of a beautiful mind and a spacious soul.
Now that we have decided to remember, let us also remember that, as Malala fought for her life after being shot in her school van, many in Pakistan had the temerity of calling her a Western stooge. She had herself shot to gain popularity and find herself a foreign passport. So went a shamelessly repeated conspiracy theory. How is that for denial and moral depravity?
In her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Malala remembered schoolchildren killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan — children who in official accounts in Pakistan are dry statistics, if anything at all. The truth is, children caught in violence, children blown up in suicide attacks, as well as children orphaned by acts of terrorism are all victims. Seldom do we pause to think that children within the folds of the Taliban, who blow themselves up having been brainwashed into believing that it is the shortest route to paradise, are victims too. So are Afghan refugee children in Jolazai and Mosazai camps at the outskirts of Peshawar, whose only fault is that they were born on the wrong side of the border. Yet, as Pakistan mourns the Peshawar massacre, many hyper-patriotic politicians and TV anchors are demonising refugees and demanding that they be driven out supposedly because refugee camps serve as sanctuaries for the Taliban.
Consider also the suffering of Esha, 14, who has problems walking and speaking, and Esham, 13. They are the children of Asiya Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who has now spent four years on death row for allegedly insulting the prophet of Islam. She was framed and convicted — as the standard practice goes, on instigation by local extremists — under Pakistan’s notorious Blasphemy law bequeathed to the nation by dictator Zia-ul-Haq. In the apparently evolving consensus against the Taliban in Pakistan, no one has dared to openly suggest the following: Let us now repeal this draconian and blatantly discriminatory law. Enough is enough.
To me, as a Pakistani and as someone who has worked with children across the country, including Peshawar, this is not the way to honour the memory of little souls butchered by the Taliban on December 16, 2014. Sure, responsibilities must be fixed. Those involved in planning and abetting the massacre must be caught and put on trial. Fixing individual criminal responsibility, however, does not imply that you can wriggle out of collective failures.
The ‘we shall not forget Peshawar’ pledge, ringing out across Pakistan today, must also encompass an acknowledgment of a million guises that violence parades in. We must also promise our children, all children, that militants will never be used as strategic assets. We must also acknowledge that teaching children to glorify wars and belittle those who do not happen to share their own faith or nationality is also a form of violence, albeit not as spectacular as the cold-blooded mass murder we witnessed in Peshawar. We have no choice but to become fully conscious of the brutalisation of children in conflict zones, on its peripheries, and in seemingly normal settings. Only then will we cease to pass on violence blindly to future generations.
2015 began with the same question that the sunrise of 2014 brought for Pakistani security establishment: If any action against the 10 percent pro-takfiri Deobandi-Wahhabi seminaries will be taken for their involvement in ongoing terrorism across Pakistan from FATA to Karachi.
This question was floated in the form of demand by Shia scholar Allama Shabbir Hassan Meesami and Sunni scholars at Amir Liaquat’s Morning Show in Geo TV channel. They asked federal interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ai Khan, to take due action against those (Deobandi-Wahhabi) religious seminaries immediately who, according t interior minister himself, have been and are involved in terrorism in Pakistan.
Chaudhry Nisar himself tried to downplay the terrorist threat that Deobandi-Wahhabi takfiri seminaries pose to Pakistan saying that only 10% of them were involved in terrorist attacks. Allama Shabbir Meesami, a leader of Shia Ulema Council, has questioned why action was not taken against those 10% if we believe in the statement of federal interior minister Chaudhry Nisar.
As a matter of fact, PMLN government of Pakistan’s interior minister tried to cover up the Saudi-funded CIA-trained terrorists by understating the involvement of takfiri clerics of Deobandi-Wahhabi seminaries. Intelligence and police investigators had named the Saudi-allied Deobandi seminaries of Pakistani capital city Islamabad and Rawalpindi, Garrison City of Pak Army’s GHQ, for sheltering terrorists and providing them logistic support for terrorist attacks.
But, surprisingly, they are free till now in January 2015 and they are invited by media people at talk shows and during news bulletins for their comments on terrorist attacks. Reports had it that fifth column within the security establishment have not abandoned their policy of patronizing the takfiris under the most-defeated and deleterious policy of “Strategic Depth” that made takfiris as strategic assets despite huge and colossal irreparable human and financial losses.
Pakistanis know that Asif Ali Zardari, now co-chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party, was portrayed as Mr. 10% during first government of his wife Benazir Bhutto in 1988 that was dislodged before completion of 5 years Constitutional term. Then, Mr. Zardari had spent almost 11 years behind the bar, the only politician of Pakistan who experienced such a long-term jailing.
He lost his wife Benazir Bhutto and then accepted as President of Pakistan, due to “compensation” for that loss and Mr. 10% who was defamed as Mr. cent percent by the pro-takfiris, proved the electoral power of relatively 3 smaller provinces of Pakistan who voted him as President. His government tried to change the course of strategic mindset of powers that be. Then Chief of Army Staff introduced a new military doctrine under which violent extremism (the coded name for takfiri ideology or Talibanisation) was also declared an internal threat alongside India as an external threat.
Under that, Pakistan began improving the relations with Russia, the remnant of fallen Soviet Empire, against who, Pakistan introduced the ideology of strategic depth and remained a staunch ally of the U.S.-led West and Saudi-Zionist included alliance. Last year too witnessed high-level foreign visits between Russia and Pakistan. Now, it comes quite clear that U.S.-led West and their Saudi-Zionist included alliance is engaged in upgraded phase of covert actions on the issue of Ukraine, remnants of model military dictator General Zia u Haq, have intensified their negative , immoral and illegal efforts, to protect their strategic efforts, may be this time, they argue they need them, in occupied Kashmir.
Whatever their empty and hollow arguments, so-called strategic assets, had never been assets but they had been liabilities since the day one. Pakistan failed to win all wars in which these “assets” were frontline allies. Neither their unschooled illiterate Mulla Omar nor semi-illiterate other clerics could win any guerilla war on their own. They brought humiliating defeat even at Kargil for entire Pakistani nation. Architects of strategic policy should not waste time on oft-repeated anti-people, inhumane policy of strategic assets in which ferocious butchers of human flesh always made historic records, one after one. Nation knows they are not 10% now but nearly cent percent, but the question and demand has become an acid test of sincerity of behind-the-scene-real-rulers of Pakistan if 10 percent of the said Deobandi-takfiri seminaries and their clerics are crushed.
The past few weeks have seen a strong narrative being built against terrorism; from the top military and civilian brass to the civil society, people have come out to express their unwavering resolve to tackle terrorists, their support structures and apologists. The state has made some headway on the first count, although it still has difficulty defining the word terrorist. Yet, what about the terms ‘support structures’ and ‘apologist?’ how do we define such terms? How do we proceed to tackle them?
The starting point for the first term would be to tackle madrassas and seminaries; institutes which are significant in creating brainwashed, radicalised and isolated students, following a one-track path to religious fundamentalism that has no place in the modern world. Qari Muhammad Hanif Jalandhari, the general secretary of both Ittehad-i-Tanzeemat-i-Madaris-i-Deenia (ITMD), an umbrella organisation of five main bodies representing seminaries from different schools of thought, and of Wafaq ul Madaris Al-Arabia, the organisation representing the seminaries of the Deobandi school of thought, on Thursday has come out vehemently defending the seminaries by quite simply negating that any link exists between seminaries and terrorism. Jalandhari demanded evidence from the state to prove that the two are related, while writing off the criticism of seminaries as propaganda campaigns by the West. While declaring the Peshawar Massacre a tragedy and offering support in action against institutes behind it, he threateningly – and ironically – said that any action against the wishes of ITMD will not be accepted.
Of course, this is hardly surprising. In his role, this is all he can do; the Madrassah system is, amongst other things, an enormous financial network with the stakes of many powerful men vested in their continuation. The state will have to deal with a lot more than the wrath of Jalhandhari if it truly wishes to dismantle the seminary system for good. This brings us to another problem; the problem of alternatives. As it stands, the state has been consistently unable to provide a counter-method of reasonable literacy or a counter narrative to its people. Madrassahs don’t only encourage fundamentalism, they also usually provide free meals to their students as well as shelter. Perhaps this is the most important point of all. It is one thing for the state and its technocrats to draw ideological links between madrassahs and violence, but there is another link almost as simple, between madrassahs and poverty. And between poverty and extremism.
As long as the state does not address that crucial link, and does not accept responsibility for its failure to provide alternative ways of life to the people enrolled in seminaries, it will remain the greatest apologist of all.
Former president and PPP Co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari emerged as the ruling party’s main benefactor on Friday. Indeed, it was he who tipped the scales in the PML-N’s favour by endorsing the demand to set up military courts by amending the constitution and ending debate on the subject.
Mr Zardari’s support for the amendment is doubly significant, because it means that the PPP, which effectively controls the Senate with 41 out of 104 seats, will not block passage of the amendment in the upper house.
According to a participant of the All-Party Conference held on Friday, the PPP co-chairman played his cards well by first allowing his party’s legal eagles to criticise the bill for calling for a constitutional amendment, then ended up acting as a patriot who gave his consent in the ‘greater national interest’.
Soon after the meeting formally opened, PPP senators Farooq Naek and Aitzaz Ahsan tore into the amendment bill. For Mr Ahsan, the proposed amendment was an anathema to established democratic norms and would therefore not be accepted by the legal fraternity. He warned all those present of a possible adverse reaction from the bar councils.
The leader of the opposition in the Senate, Mr Ahsan also reiterated his earlier stand that the required objective of establishing military courts could be achieved through changes in the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) of 1952.
Senator Naek, on the other hand, told those in attendance how, in the past, similar measures were used against politicians. “If something unusual happens tomorrow, as the country has witnessed in the past, the proposed law will remain active and can be used against politicians,” Mr Naek was quoted as saying.
However, defending the measure, Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt and Barrister Farogh Naseem of the MQM said that without constitutional cover, merely changing the PAA will not serve the purpose and could be struck down in no time.
The argument of both legal experts centred on the possibility that the proposed amendment may be challenged in the superior courts. Mr Butt said that because of existing Supreme Court judgments against military courts, changes in the PAA would not be able to withstand legal wrangling. For Mr Naseem, “If we all believe the country is facing unprecedented circumstances, there is no other option but to accept the constitutional amendment for two years.”
The first part of the over five-hour-long meeting was consumed by arguments over the legalities of the proposed amendment, whereas politicians gave their input later. However, after Mr Zardari said “we should carry on deliberating until the issue is resolved”, nobody from PPP said a word of opposition.
According to a participant, Mr Zardari said these were difficult times and all parties had to come together to take measures that the PPP had opposed in the past, simply to ensure the terrorists’ defeat.
The JUI-F chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, also expressed concern over “repeated usage” of the national action plan against religious extremism, saying: “It seems that the entire consensus is being built against madressahs.” The Maulana also sought assurances that the proposed changes in the constitution wouldn’t be used to target religious parties.
PML-Q leaders Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Senator Mushahid Hussain, in reaction to prolonged discussion among the lawyers—both for and against the amendment—said the meeting room was not a courtroom to decide legal issues. “If the entire political leadership is on the same page, there is nothing wrong with the proposed changes in the constitution,” Mr Hussain was quoted as saying.
Talking to Dawn, PTI leader Shafqat Mehmood said his party had supported the establishment of military courts to drive out terrorists from the country, but had opposed any changes in the Constitution. “The PTI was for the changes in the PAA as the party believed the desired results could be achieved that way.” However, having seen a broad agreement among all political parties over the bill for changes in the constitution, “we were left with no choice but to stand with everybody else”.