Failure to lead
IT is an indication of the state of the nation today that when a politician names the perpetrators of a series of brutal attacks — perpetrators who have already named themselves — it is hailed as an impressive move. Imran Khan has at long last directly spoken out against a militant organisation. But the fact that his remarks stood out from those of other politicians yesterday reflects one of the main reasons why we are where we are today: the cowardice of our civilian leaders. There is no particular bravery or leadership in vaguely condemning sectarian attacks or in saying terrorism is a bad thing; that is the least politicians can possibly get away with in Pakistan today. But how often do our parliamentarians and other political figures — particularly the leaders of religious parties — name and shame those responsible, whether it is the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan or any other militant organisation? Instead, they get together at multiparty conferences and even at this point prioritise talking to militants without making any mention of military action, failing to appreciate two things: that at this point talks will probably not solve the problem, and that in the democratic system they claim to value, any military operation will be a non-starter without their support.
Perhaps they should learn a thing or two from the community leaders, both Shia and Sunni, who have courageously condemned the violence and, without pitting one community against the other, named those carrying it out. The Hazaras have been particularly impressive in their restraint, arguing that the country’s Shias and Sunnis are not at war and that the problem lies with the ideology of the particular militant groups behind the attacks. So far their level-headedness has helped unite the country rather than exacerbate its divisions, but if leaders at the national level do nothing to look beyond political and other fears, the conflict could also spread beyond Karachi and Quetta to several other parts of the country.
Thankfully, the people of Pakistan haven’t given up yet. The bloodshed of the last several years means they have become accustomed — perhaps desensitised — to most of the violence that takes place. But the collective outrage they expressed on Monday across the country and across sects and religions means they can recognise when things have gone too far. And their speaking out has achieved some changes, however insufficient, including the imposition of governor’s rule last month, the prime minister’s call for targeted operations in Quetta and the removals and transfers of some senior police officers. Their protests, and especially the bravery of Hazaras and others protesting in dangerous areas, have put our politicians to shame.