Our inner demons
WINSTON Churchill is reported to have said: “An appeaser is a man who feeds a crocodile in the hope that it will eat him last.”
If that’s our security establishment’s strategy against the extremists, it’s not working too well: as of last count, over 5,000 soldiers and policemen had been killed by terrorists. In addition, of course, is the far longer list of civilian casualties, including some illustrious names: Benazir Bhutto, Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and Bashir Bilour.
Against all those killed by jihadis, very few of the murderers have been arrested, much less tried, convicted and sentenced. In the wake of each high-profile killing, the cry goes up for the army to launch an operation in North Waziristan.
We also frequently demand that our judiciary retreat from its grandstanding, and return to its primary duty of trying criminals.
Above all, there is the recurring appeal for the state to do something, anything, to stop the Taliban and their ilk from continuing their deadly attacks.
These are all legitimate demands: no nation should have to suffer the escalating violence Pakistanis have been subjected to for some two decades. And yet there is no silver bullet, no panacea, to suddenly rid us of the horrors of extremism.
From the government, there is the constant refrain about forging a consensus before firm action is taken. This, of course, is rubbish and serves only as a feeble excuse for inaction: when criminals attack citizens, the state needs nobody’s approval to put a stop to their activities by whatever means it takes. Tomorrow, if Pakistan is attacked by India, would the army need a consensus to defend the country?
However, the truth is that an army operation will not only cause an instant and deadly backlash, but will also disperse the terrorists to other parts of the tribal areas. While this is no pretext for standing by, we must face the fact that after years of inaction and confusion over tactics, the Taliban have grown stronger, and they now have the initiative. Our police and army only react to their attacks, and very feebly at that.
Politicians like Imran Khan argue that we must enter into negotiations with our foes. But talk about what? The terms of surrender? Again and again, the Taliban have broken agreements, using the time they have gained to regroup. Meanwhile, our troops become demoralised at being regularly attacked without being able to use the full force at their command to hit back.
Suppose for an instant that by some miracle, our politicians, generals and judges suddenly started doing what they are paid to do. Courts sentenced all those found guilty of terrorism; our intelligence agencies stopped supporting favoured groups of terrorists; and the army moved against nests of killers currently holding villages in Fata hostage.
What then? The hard reality is that there are many ignorant, brainwashed foot soldiers of the jihad waiting to be sent into battle.
For a few thousand rupees and the promise of a sensual paradise, they will happily blow themselves up, taking their designated targets with them.
No, until the mad, violent ideology that sustains the jihad comes to an end, this swamp won’t be drained of its poison. This is a far harder battle to fight: tacit support for these killers is in evidence everywhere in Pakistan today. From the traders who donate to ‘Islamic causes’, to what passes for debate on our TV chat shows, we can see a clear link to the takfiri mindset of the Taliban.
While condemning the worst excesses of the jihadis, we can hear a lingering ‘but’ at the end of the sentence. Usually, this caveat refers to the American drone attacks: recently, in a BBC interview, the Jamaat-i-Islami spokesman said while he was against the attacks that killed nine (mostly women) polio vaccinators, why wasn’t the world equally concerned about the deaths of children killed in American drone attacks?
This cold-blooded attempt to look for moral equivalence between two entirely different acts reveals not only the widespread desire on the religious right not to annoy the Taliban, but also reflects the confusion so prevalent today.
How can the accidental killing of children by foreigners possibly justify the deliberate killing of unarmed volunteers that also condemns millions of children to the possibility of a life blighted by an avoidable and terrible disease like polio?
Unspoken support for the Taliban ideology is also evident in the rising popularity of right-wing politicians like Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri. The former’s extreme anti-Americanism brings him close to the Taliban who demand an end to the drone campaign because it is the only tactic that’s hurting them. And the latter’s appeal lies in his anti-democracy stance that’s also in line with the Taliban’s position.
One hard truth we constantly shy away from examining is that when a state is created in the name of an ideology, then that body of ideas is bound to dominate the public discourse. Today, if you speak to a student or a cleric about Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan, he simply won’t believe that the founder of Pakistan was a deeply secular person.
When I explained this to a student many years ago, he asked me: “If Mr Jinnah wanted a secular state, why did he partition India?” You can argue all you like about the distinction between “a homeland for the Muslims of the Subcontinent” and an Islamic state. Chances are that your point of view will be dismissed as meaningless sophistry.
So if the vast majority of Pakistanis are convinced that Pakistan is an Islamic state, an opinion confirmed by the constitution, then a number of things flow from this conclusion. Firstly, it is hard to argue against the demand that the Sharia should be the law of the land, together with all the consequences for women and the minorities.
What the rising tide of dogma has done is to strip our society of tolerance, an attribute essential for democracy. Tolerance is also what can hold a diverse society like Pakistan together. Without it, we get sucked into a bitterly divisive conflict over which school of Islam will dominate.
Ultimately then, we must confront and expel our inner demons. No army action will save us from ourselves.
The writer is the author of Fatal Faultlines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.