Buckling under Talibanisation is suddenly at par with the course in Mansehra district, where the district administration and police have recently advised a number of entrepreneurs, educational institutions and NGOs to do just this, if they want to remain alive and well. This worrisome situation arose after a handwritten letter, purportedly issued by the so-called ‘Hafsa Brigade’ –– an off-shoot of the Pakistan Taliban –– was delivered to a local journalist who immediately passed the Urdu note on to authorities.
The missive warned of bomb attacks on all CD shops, internet cafes, cable TV operators, educational institutions offering co-education and NGOs operating in the district and of ‘dire consequences’ for journalists refusing to promote the Hafsa Brigade’s ideology. This prompted the police and district administration to call a meeting with all of those in the line of fire. After discussion, they were asked to shut down their shops and find alternative businesses instead. In issuing this advice to the proprietors of over 200 CD shops, 70-plus internet cafes, at least 12 co-educational institutions and in excess of a dozen national, multi-national and local NGOs, the district administration and police have granted victory to the Hafsa Brigade at the drop of a hat. This will, no doubt, encourage them and other outfits of the same ilk to issue more letters of similar nature in the future.
It goes without saying that the lives of those threatened must be safeguarded at all costs, as should the employment of what amounts to hundreds of people without any alternative sources of income. But, it is also pertinent to question the ease with which the combined authorities are reported to have surrendered to what is, so far, an unsubstantiated threat issued by an unknown people. In taking this course of action, the authorities could well be seen as encouraging the enemy to issue orders and implement laws as they see fit which, unless the majority of the local population concurs, sets an extremely bad precedent indeed.
The Pakistan Taliban, with or without the assistance of ‘out-of-state actors’, have already wreaked chaos in Swat and in areas bordering Afghanistan. While they have not yet made serious inroads into other districts, the reaction to the Hafsa Brigade’s letter by the authorities in Mansehra is indicative of admitting that they can either do nothing to prevent talibanisation, or that they actually condone it. Thus, it is tantamount to inviting the Taliban to do as they damn well please.
The fact that eight terrorist attacks, all thought to have been carried out by Taliban groups, occurred between 2007 and 2011 in Hazara, of which Mansehra is a part further underlines the ineffectiveness of the district administration and the police. Unless they pull their socks up fast, they should be taken to task about what they are allowing to take place. In these attacks, 42 people were killed and another 62 were injured and not a single perpetrator was brought to book or even identified. If and when Mansehra falls to Talibanisation, as there is no one ready to act against it, the entire Hazara division and the Galiyat are liable to follow suit in a relatively quick succession. And, after these areas fall it could be your own backyard that is next.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2012.