The past three weeks have been bad, the only relatively good news the killing of terrorists that attacked the Kamra base.
The same day, Shia passengers in four buses going to Astore from Rawalpindi were killed by terrorists when the buses were intercepted at Babusar by a band of these murderous criminals.
A few days later, news came that a mob wanted to kill and burn a minor Christian girl, Rimsha, a special child, for allegedly committing blasphemy. Apparently, she had burnt a “Noorani qaeda” to challenge the ghairat of Muslims. The child is in custody, the case sub judice and new evidence alleges she was framed by a rascally cleric.
Just two days ago, Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists captured, killed, and beheaded 12 soldiers of the Frontier Corps when they attacked a post at Batwar in the Salarzai area of Bajaur. They also released the gruesome video and still photos.
Of these four incidents, I find the two, the killing of Shia passengers and the threat to the life of the Christian girl, more worrisome and symptomatic of the cancer that has metastasised in our social fabric. No one wants their soldiers to be killed or, worse, beheaded. But soldiers, once they don the uniform, understand that when called upon to fight, they will kill and get killed. That’s the nature of the job.
Societies can fight long, simmering or hot wars, internal as well as those imposed from outside; they can render tremendous sacrifices and yet keep their morale high. The battle for Stalingrad is just one such example; there are many others. But this happens only when, despite many differences, a people decide that they have to band together against an enemy that threatens their way of life and their values, in short whatever it is that makes life worth living.
Trouble starts when a society fractures, a far more dangerous phenomenon than a state unravelling, though fairly often the unravelling of one leads to the collapse of the other. TTP terrorism is a threat, no gainsaying. But it can be countered. Take the Batwar incident. The army’s response has been swift and the TTP terrorist leader in the area along with his lowly gang of criminals have been despatched to hell. The rest must also be given a one-way ticket, and will be. Take Kamra: the army battalion X, deployed for base security, responded swiftly, confined the terrorists to one area, took out some of them, the rest of the job done by another platform that shouldn’t be disclosed.
It’s the Shia killings and the persecution of minorities — a hateful term — that is the real problem. Shias in Pakistan are being deliberately targeted by sectarian terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and this campaign is aimed at creating denominational and social fissures. These groups are also linked to the TTP and al Qaeda. The Pakistani Shia, generally better educated and upwardly mobile, form the backbone of many sectors of the Pakistani state and economy. This terrorist campaign, therefore, has to be treated at two levels: counterterrorism (CT) and social pressure.
CT strategies against these groups also link up with the broader CT military operations. In the urban centres, these groups must be taken out by the civilian law-enforcement agencies; in the operational areas, by the army. But the strategy of dislocation requires social and religious pressure. Some Sunni Muslim passengers, if reports are correct, got killed because they tried to dissuade these sectarian criminals from executing their dastardly agenda. If this is correct, these average Pakistanis deserve the highest gallantry awards. They are this nation’s heroes.
They instil hope. The average Sunni lives in harmony with his Shia brother. It is he who has to stand up and decry such acts of murderous violence. But even more, it is the state’s responsibility to chalk out a comprehensive strategy, not only to put down these groups, but also to spearhead the policy of isolating them socially. Let the government bring clerics of all denominations on one platform, in full view of the media, and get them to say it as is: sectarian violence is low, murderous criminality. The clerics mustn’t be allowed to hem and haw and hedge. They should be pinned down on the issue and forced to take responsibility. Let those who can’t come through be exposed to the public just like the Munir Report exposed these clerics five decades ago.
The persecution of non-Muslim Pakistanis is another big problem because it is done by mobs that comprise average Pakistanis, people who otherwise go about the daily business of life. The army cannot respond to such mobs with its firepower. They must be dealt with through the police where and when necessary, and the use of police power must be complemented by social ostracisation. The strategy must combine state power, media outreach and brave and honest clerics. The government must pull in religio-political parties and demand that they play an honest role. At the minimum, if they hedge, they will again be exposed.
Underpinning all this must be a strong will to ensure that no one is allowed to take the law into their hands. If a mob tries to lynch a person, it presents itself as a bunch of criminals and must bear the full brunt of state power. Let the mobs know that their enthusiasm for lynching, on whatever pretext, is no more a cost-effective exercise. If someone still desires the embrace of the houris, he may be despatched to Paradise post-haste.
But for space constraints, one can recommend many more measures. The strategy has to move from the immediate to the medium and long term, though the three phases are not to be sequential. Simultaneity is essential because most of these measures are interdependent. That is good and works to the advantage of the policymakers.
Finally, analysts should not just lament; lamentation doesn’t make policy. They must come up with solutions. This is a fight that needs passion for sustenance but a cool head for thinking and execution.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2012.
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