By Shamila Mahmood
In Kabul, Afghanistan, Taliban attacks have increased. Shukria Barakzai, a female member of the recently formed Afghan Government is targeted by a suicide bomber; an attack during a school play leaves one dead and a dozen students injured; seven soldiers lose their lives after a suicide bomber targets a bus carrying them.
In Sydney Australia a lone terrorist takes siege of a cafe holding 17 people hostage. The almost seventeen hour ordeal is given live coverage by western media. Australia does well and responds swiftly in a manner befitting of a true democracy by detaching the heinous actions of a self professed muslim cleric from Islam. In Pakistan this is almost given a miss but for the cursory mention of the incident on the news strips running below the scenes of swelling crowds of PTI supporters being telecast ad infinitum as the day progresses. It’s all about the Imran Khan dharna in Lahore and oh wait a minute, now the harassment of a female news reporter belonging to a private TV channel. She sheds tears after verbal abuse and, apparently, an empty water bottle are hurled at her by the crowd. Come evening and as anticipated it is the hot topic of discussion on the talk shows with the partialities of various anchors and media houses for and against the PTI, PML-N and the PPP quite apparent along with our priorities – That democracy in Pakistan is under threat being the argumentum ad nauseam for the past few months now.
Back to Australia the siege comes to an end with two of the hostages dead along side Haron Monis, the hostage taker. The entire incident is hardly relevant in our self consumed environment hence the casual coverage in our print and electronic media.
One wonders what the world is coming to and then news of a calamity at home erupts. Virtual calm, at least since the start of operation Zarb e Azb, was broken on 2nd November this year when a Taliban suicide bomber killed 60 at the Wagah border outside Lahore. Now terrorists attack the Army Public school in Peshawar. The political point scoring begins as the enormity of the barbaric attack quickly unfolds before us on live television. 141, mostly school children including a two year old who happened to be there are massacred and 125 wounded by seven gunmen although the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claim they sent only six. Scenes of distraught parents and relatives outside the school and at the Lady Reading Hospital were heart wrenching and the more so for having lost the nearest thing I had to a daughter only two months ago. The TTP spokesman, Muhammed Khorasani is quick to claim responsibility for the sadistic strike on innocent and defenceless school children and their teachers. The utter brutality of the gunmen has drawn worldwide condemnation.
The habitual anchors and analysts hog airtime to impose their views upon us. Most of our security analysts are retired defence personnel. Not having charmed us with any efficacious game plan to counter the menace of terrorism while in service they’re hardly going to captivate us with their renditions now but we listen to them anyway. The blame game begins with the usual hollow rhetoric. The army points fingers at civilian institutions while the civilians dare not disagree but they do so in silence. Imran Khan was quick to accept that it is “the failure of all” without specifying who are included in “all”. The others in the “all” remain silent on responsibility. But it is in fact the collective failure of both civil and military institutions, the judiciary, and civil society.
The historical relationship between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Army and the ISI in particular was largely considered to be the main obstacle in tackling Taliban insurgency at home. America provided the “mujahideen” to fight Russia who transited through Pakistan developing their own connections and friendships here. America also provided funding and arms to the mujahideen and subsequently the Taliban mainly through the Pakistan Army. Post 9/11 that relationship along with loyalties have had to change. While our media has been rather reticent about operation Zarb-e-Azb, Western media has been graphic. The Army’s June operation in Waziristan was bound to trigger a reaction. And react they did with the revengeful killings of the children of military officers; the Army Public School being a soft and very obvious target. Such a security lapse and failure of the intelligence agencies is inexcusable considering Pakistan has been confronted with the challenge of extremism for well over a decade now and what to boast of the size of our armed forces and defence budget. Possible involvement of foreign agencies is an irrelevant argument when we can’t protect our own. According to news reports both Afghanistan and the US have also launched offensives against the TTP in Afghanistan. So why were our agencies caught unawares?
In addition to bad policies, decades of endemic corruption and nepotism has rendered us vulnerable to such attacks. Those appointed to head counter terror agencies are so appointed not for their skills in this field but for their personal relationships or loyalties with the political or military elite. Our judges too are novices in this science. Capacity building programmes are regarded as an all expenses paid holiday and there’s quite a fight to get selected on these foreign ‘trips’. Our counter terrorism policies have been copied from the best in the world as have our laws, but the problem with cut and paste is that one hardly reads the content therefore implementation becomes a problem. The Government’s decision to end the moratorium on the death penalty is a knee jerk reaction in the same vein. We must revisit our quick fix policy, it simply isn’t working for us. After all when are we going to wake up and do some thing.
The Peshawar and Kabul attacks are not isolated attacks they are a reaction to anti terror cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan post Karzai. The Taliban has been taking advantage of the strained relations between Pakistan and Karzai. President Ashraf Ghani has demonstrated that he is approachable and receptive – quite a departure from Karzai’s hostility. To ensure peace both countries need to bury the hatchet. General Raheel Sharif left almost immediately for Afghanistan on an impromptu visit to discuss security cooperation against the Taliban. The Army is clearly angry.
Pakistanis, (men and women and girls and boys) have been suffering and sacrificing their lives so that the world can be a safer place for far too long. Yet despite being the victims of extremism we are regarded as part of the problem after all some one has to be the scapegoat right?… And since our leaders have too often sold the souls of the nation for their vested interests who better. The nation has always been united against terrorism and the radical mindset. Pakistanis are certainly not the produce of a Talibanised society contrary to popular belief around the globe. Isn’t it about time the world united with us genuinely and sincerely for peace.
Tailpiece: A dear friend sent me a poem when my youngest sister passed away having battled cancer for over four years. According to our faith she went a martyr just like all those who had their lives taken so barbarously from them on Tuesday morning. My heart goes out to all those they left behind and with them I wish to share extracts of that poem which brought some comfort to me, “Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there, I do not sleep. I am in the thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glints on snow…. Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there, I did not die. Do not stand at my grave bereft, I am not there I have not left. (Elizabeth Fry 1932).
The writer is a lawyer/legal consultant who has worked in various capacities with the Governments of AJK and Pakistan and is presently based in the UK.
Contributor,Associated Press Service,Islamabad,Pakistan