Losing Head and Heart

Tragedies like the one in Peshawar are litmus tests for any nation- either bringing out the best, or exposing the bare bones. Pakistan’s response is curiously similar to the U.S response to 9/11. The fact that the U.S.’s counter-terror strategy accounts for the genesis of a much more brutal TTP and ISIS is lost to us. In the same manner as the US filled up prisons contravening law and depriving suspects and inmates of fair judicial process in its paranoia after 9/11, Pakistan is all set to establish special military courts in contravention of constitutional procedure, for swift conviction of ‘terrorists.’ The horrors that were unleashed in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in the name of national security are a forgotten narrative in the new Pakistan post 16/12.

Our collective response to the tragedy shows a febrile national demand for vengeance. Ironically, we are baying for the enemy’s blood just like the enemy is baying for ours- in the process, we lose the moral high ground we think we possess. In the process, ‘the faces change from pig to man and man to pig, and pig to man again- and already it is becoming impossible to say which was which.’

At present there are two extremist discourses in the country: the first, of course, is personified by the likes of the clerics at Lal Masjid and other fanatical groups, invoking religion to justify fanatical militancy. This religious extremism has come handy for movements like the Taliban who hide behind it for moral cover of their actions. There is, however, another extremist discourse: it comes from the liberals who have joined the chorus for an unrelenting militarist approach in response to the Peshawar attack. This high-pitched chorus decries any counter narrative or stirring of dissent. In the new Pakistan post 16/12, no one can take a different approach to dealing with the problem of terrorism in Pakistan, and have their opinion respected.

Anyone who does not take sides in these extremist discourses and believes in giving a chance to stable peace through justice and effective long-term peace-building is termed unpatriotic at best, and a terrorist-sympathizer, even supporter more commonly. There is no room for dissent. In this extremist furore, all hardline stances seem to have suddenly been vindicated. The iron-fisted policies of Musharraf that helped create the TTP are now being interpreted as farsighted wisdom. Frenzied calls for razing madrassahs to the ground or burning down mosques no longer sound outrageous in the spirit of febrile jingoism.

The strongly militarist strategy gives overweening powers to the army to deal with an issue that requires a more variegated long-term approach. It is likely to turn the country into a military state. The policy is uninsightful as it aims to do more of the same that created this monster, in order to eliminate it. The TTP emerged as a much more brutal and militant force than the original Taliban movement as a result of Pakistan’s disastrous decision to support the US in Afghanistan and sending its forces in the tribal areas to stop support for the anti-US Afghan resistance. This made the fiercely independent Pashtun tribes turn their guns against the Pakistan army and state. A renunciation of this ill-advised national policy is necessary as a first step to heal and rebuild, even as we take necessary firm action against the unrelenting perpetrators. Besides, the clandestine channels of support and funding to these militant groups must be traced and exposed before the nation. The enemy is not just the gun-toting Taliban militant, but his trainer, financier and facilitator. These vital connections have always been the state’s well-kept secret. And now, questions cannot be asked as we give a free rein to the military to ‘exterminate all brutes.’

In the tide of this nationalistic fervour to exterminate the brutes, drone operations in Pakistan suddenly and silently receive endorsement by national consensus. Questions are no longer welcome about civilian casualties or other fallout of the operation in the tribal areas. Answers are no longer deserved by the nation. The supreme ultimate goal is invincible national security, and ‘to this end, all means must give way.’ While the need for security is vital and understandable, bypassing all that is legal and rational and moral ought to be taken with a pinch of salt.

The deeper problems have to be dealt with through a wider, more insightful non-military approach: combating extremist discourse that misuses religion to justify terrorism and creating an effective counter discourse; listening and understanding, dialogue, mutual compromise and reconciliation; rehabilitation and peace-building. There are numerous examples in the past — even the recent past — of how war-ravaged communities drenched in the memory of oppression and pain, seething with unrelenting hate, have undertaken peace-building with some success. Possibilities to create the conditions that had led to ceasefires that brought temporary respite to the nation during this war, should have been explored with sincerity.

The series of executions after the Peshawar tragedy is also regrettable on many counts. Many of these convicts were juveniles when they committed the crime, brainwashed and swayed by passions. Many had confessions extracted through torture. These were the small fry, while the big fish have escaped the noose. So many high profile murderers and criminals go scot free, whereas these brainwashed juvenile offenders from an ethnic minority, a disadvantaged background are picked out selectively for blind ‘justice.’ Selective justice is injustice. Two such cases which have been highlighted by human rights groups are that of Shafqat Hussain convicted at the age of 14, and Mushtaq Ahmed who was tortured into a confession without being given access to a fair trial.

Our uninsightful reactionary policies reflect a loss of head and heart in the wake of the Peshawar tragedy. In this feverish frenzy of extremisms baying for each others blood, voices of moderation , justice and peace are dying out. And the rest is Silence.

Maryam Sakeenah is a student of International Relations based in Pakistan. She is also a high school teacher and freelance writer with a degree in English Literature. She is interested in human rights advocacy and voluntary social work and can be reached at: meem.seen@gmail.com. Read other articles by Maryam.