On Wednesday the 17th of December, the leadership mantle of this country quietly slipped into the hands of the Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif.
No one made an announcement. No one even whispered it or dared a suggestion. But everyone felt — yes acutely felt — the informal and perhaps, unwilling transfer of real power from Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif to General Raheel Sharif.
It happened because just when this nation needed true leadership, the mandated leader fell short. He just was unable to grasp the moment. Yes, it happened as the prime minister sat in the Governor’s House in Peshawar surrounded by a galaxy of politicians, and began to unveil his reaction to the worst-ever act of terror in our nation’s history. His answer to the terrorists:
A wounded nation on the edge of rage heard with sheer horror and disbelief as the mandated leader encapsulated the collective wisdom of the political parties in a committee that would take a week to decide what the plan of action should be. And then to ensure that no wound was deprived of any salt, Mr Sharif talked politics and joked with Imran Khan sitting next to him.
At that moment, it was all over. The shocked nation snatched perceived power from the mandated Sharif and gifted it to the commanding Sharif. The contrast could not have been more glaring: while Mr Sharif was cracking jokes in Peshawar, General Sharif was sitting in Kabul to plan for the annihilation of TTP bases in Afghanistan.
Something was painfully wrong. They came and butchered our children, and we did… what? This? A Juma bazar of assorted politicos boasting more about setting their differences aside instead of giving a clarion call to crush terrorists once and for all. This wasn’t misjudgement, or expediency, or even bad symbolism.
It was betrayal.
These politicians could not have chosen a worst time for their betrayal. Have you ever seen this nation so wounded? So traumatised? So emotionally cut up? And so furious?
This anger and rage is directed at the savages who inflicted this inhuman savagery of our children. But this anger is also shooting up like dragon fire against the hypocrisy of State and all governments. This loathing is pouring like acid rain on all those men (and women) who have nourished these monsters, and legitimised their murderous acts through sickening justifications. We Pakistanis have lived through decades of State villainy and outright criminality disguised as policy. We have watched this country brutally ravaged by small men for personal agendas, misplaced priorities and unrealistic designs. The State, and every government infested with every political party has done this because they have always considered we — the Pakistanis — as nothing more than fluffy, bleating sheep.
Well, no more. This sickness cannot endure. This shameful hypocrisy cannot last — must not last. This unaccountable mode of governance and unquestioned exercise of power cannot and must not sustain. For God’s sake, they slaughtered our children. Is that still not enough reason to stop this rot and cleanse this system of filth and cowardice?
Now is the time for action. Sharif the civilian is supposed to lead through decisiveness and boldness. He is not. Sharif the fauji is. And he’s connecting with the people. Yes, the people who have cried tears of blood. They have been pushed too far. Something has cracked. A line has been crossed. Now the people will digest lies and cowardice no more. Unimaginable grief can produce unbridled fury and unmatched courage. The brave citizens of this land have marched on to the Lal Masjid to take on the vile person who spews poison while growing fat on taxpayers’ salary. They are doing what no government dare do.
The Moment makes a Man, and Sharif the civilian had his moment. Instead of sitting in that colonial mansion surrounded by faces that exude failure and despondency, he could have addressed the nation from the gate of the Army Public School, and said:
“My dear Pakistanis: I stand before you the leader of a nation that today will display a resolve never seen before. Here behind me, in this school, we lost more than our beautiful children — we also lost our doubts, our ambiguity, and our wrong priorities. Yesterday these most vile terrorists inflicted on us a pain that will never go away. Now, here I promise to you that we will inflict on them a pain they will never ever forget. Today we are one nation, grieving together for an unimaginable loss. But together we shall rise from this grief with a determination never seen before. We will do whatever it takes, and however long it takes, to crush terrorism forever from this beautiful land of ours. We will not falter; we will not waver; and we will not fail. This is my promise to you, and this is my promise to those who did this to us. We shall never forget; and we shall never forgive.”
Instead, Sharif the civilian made a committee.
Which is why a devastated and furious populace is looking towards the man who can channelise its feelings into action. General Raheel has moved with lightning speed. We don’t know what he told the Afghans and Americans in Kabul, but we can conjecture: hand us over Fazlullah and his band of murderous thugs, or we will do the job ourselves.
Back at home he is said to have been instrumental in “convincing” the government to end the moratorium on capital punishment. Lo and behold, within a few days two terrorists have dangled from a short rope, and the others shall soon follow them. There is also talk of swift legislation to amend laws to fight terror. This sudden urgency, it is said, is a product of some more “convincing”.
All eyes — and perhaps hopes too — are pinned on Sharif the fauji. This is not how it should have been, but it is. While Sharif the civilian and his politicians smile for the cameras and play the committee game, Sharif the fauji is driving the national agenda by leading the war against the barbarians.
The outcome of this war will define the future of our land for generations to come. But this moment; this decisive turn; and this betrayal by the custodians of democracy will echo loudly as a reminder to all that when a nation roars, leaders better listen.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2014.