Lessons from the Peshawar tragedy

Published: December 22, 2014
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The writer was foreign secretary from 1994-97 and also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran (1992-94) and the US (1990-91)

The writer was foreign secretary from 1994-97 and also served as Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran (1992-94) and the US (1990-91)

Peshawar is a traumatised city. Every neighbourhood in Peshawar had grim funeral processions led by distraught weeping parents to bury the 148 children and school staff that perished at the hands of the marauding killers of the TTP whose leaders proudly claimed responsibility for the carnage and promised many more such attacks. Even this proud resilient city, inured to decades of terrorist attacks, has perhaps reached the limits of its endurance.

Pakistan is a traumatised nation. Civil society’s candlelight vigils, special prayers and an outpouring of sympathy for the victims and their families and a display of unity in the face of adversity could not entirely disguise the fears and apprehensions of parents who now fear that any school in any city can become the target of the next attack. An all-pervading sense of insecurity, engendered by the record of terrorist attacks that have become almost the norm in Pakistan and reinforced by the Peshawar carnage has brought the people of Pakistan, too, to the limits of their endurance.

Understandably, our first reaction has been to locate and eliminate those who instigated the attacks and their abettors. General Raheel Sharif’s visit to Kabul with evidence in hand that the handlers of the Peshawar attackers were located in Afghanistan, elicited promises from President Ashraf Ghani that the use of Afghan territory for attacks against Pakistan would not be permitted and to a renewal of Isaf-led drone attacks on TTP sanctuaries in Afghanistan which, by press accounts, have eliminated some of the TTP leaders.

What will be needed to ensure that this becomes a sustained campaign against the sanctuaries that the TTP have created, probably with the assistance not only of Afghan intelligence but also of the ‘timber Mafia’ in Kunar?

First, the new phase in Pak-Afghan relations must not be jeopardised by going for ‘hot pursuit’ to eliminate TTP sanctuaries in Afghanistan. Instead, concrete anti-smuggling actions on our side of the border must convince the timber mafia in Kunar that it would face economic ruin if TTP sanctuaries are not eliminated. If this needs drastic action against vested interests in Pakistan that aid and abet this smuggling, then such action must be taken.

Second, one can assume that President Ghani, while promising to combat terrorism jointly, asked for and secured pledges of Pakistani assistance for the commencement or resumption of talks with the Afghan Taliban. Afghan press reports suggest that President Ghani has been using his own channels to get the Taliban to resume talks in Qatar. Perhaps, General Sharif was briefed on these efforts and told that if Pakistan wanted the elimination of TTP sanctuaries on Afghan soil, then Afghanistan in turn wanted the elimination of the Afghan Taliban sanctuaries or at least pressure on the Afghan Taliban to negotiate the terms of reconciliation with President Ghani’s emissaries. This we must do in all sincerity, not only because of the TTP threat but because there is nothing more dangerous for Pakistan than the almost certain onset of civil war in Afghanistan if reconciliation does not come about.

Internally, it must be seen that just as the video of the flogging of a girl created the outrage that generated overwhelming support for the Swat operation, the Peshawar tragedy, a calamity of far greater magnitude, has created the ambience in which civil society is prepared to demand and support actions to curb the terrorist and extremist elements in our midst. A distraught army officer in Peshawar has been quoted by The Economist as saying after the Peshawar tragedy, “I am not sure if Pakistan was created in the name of religion, but it is surely being destroyed in the name of religion.” He has given voice to the sentiment that provided the impetus for the demonstration outside the Lal Masjid and the filing of the FIR against Maulana Aziz.

So what do we need to do? Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s statement removing the distinction between the good and the bad Taliban will reinforce the stated objective of Operation Zarb-e-Azb to eliminate terrorists of all hues and set the future tone of the military campaign, but it must be followed by other concrete action.

First, there is much to be said for the case against the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty but given that we have moved beyond it, the execution of the perpetrator of the GHQ attack and the perpetrator of the attempted assassination of President Musharraf must be followed by the execution of Mumtaz Qadri who successfully assassinated the late Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer.

Second, if Maulana Aziz is still on the government payroll, he must be dismissed and the possession of Lal Masjid taken over by the Capital Development Authority. If this requires an appeal to the Supreme Court, the government should file such an appeal immediately just as it has decided to file an appeal against the grant of bail to Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. Third, an immediate campaign should be launched to identify mosques and seminaries that have been built illegally throughout the country, with those responsible for the qabza being prosecuted under the law of the land. Fourth, the threats of the leaders of the Wafaq-al-Madaris notwithstanding, there must now be a concerted effort to ensure that none of these madrassas remain the source of the extremist ideologies that have poisoned our polity and some of which located in Balochistan have provided the wherewithal for the attacks on Shia pilgrims going to Iran.

According to the State Department Terrorism Report, Pakistan was, after Iraq, the country that suffered the most terrorist attacks in 2013 (1,920 as against 2,495 in Iraq and 1,144 in Afghanistan). These attacks represented a 36 per cent increase over the attacks in 2012. Let us be clear as we wage the required campaign, there will be a price to be paid. The price we pay today will, however, be far lower than the one we will pay later when the monster will have grown further. Mistakes will be made. Innocent people will suffer but they are also suffering now as the plight of the IDPs from the tribal areas can testify; but there is no real alternative if we are to survive as the nation that our forefathers had struggled for.

This is the national interest. Our leadership can be resolute pursuing it because the civil society, aroused by Peshawar, will provide the needed public support.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd,  2014.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • someone
    Dec 22, 2014 - 12:43AM

    The only lesson Pakistan can learn is to stop obsessing about Kashmir and that may be a eureka moment for Pakistan. By forgetting Kashmir, Pakistan won’t have to chase a mirage. It won’t need to remain a security state. It won’t need strategic depth and strategic assets. It won’t have to keep a distinction between “good” or “bad” Taliban. It won’t have to keep feeding some snakes and kill other snakes while both types of snakes are friends of each other. It won’t need to keep the kind of textbooks it use right now. It won’t have to promote Jihad culture. It may have a neutral if not very friendly relations with neighbors. It may concentrate on betterment of its population and let others do as well. Question is, is Pakistan ready to learn this lesson or not?

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  • MSS
    Dec 22, 2014 - 2:35AM

    Very wise suggestions here. However, some one must elaborate the point who are terrorists and who are strategic assets. If Hafeez Saeed is a strategic asset then no good will come out of all this noise about “we will kill all terrorists”. Pakistan has to clean it home thoroughly. The article in the ‘Dawn’ by Cyril explains it all. Pakistan strategic community must consider it seriously.

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  • Anjaan
    Dec 22, 2014 - 2:49AM

    The time has come for the Pakistani leadership to adhere to one standard in dealing with terrorism … Pakistan can not demand Afghanistan not to allow its territory to be used to launch attacks against Pakistan, when they continue the same policy to allow Pakistani soil to be used to launch attacks against India … Pakistani leadership must realize now that double standards will not be permitted at any cost … !!

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  • افغان ميهن
    Dec 22, 2014 - 5:58AM

    Mr. Shaikh there won’t be a civil war in Afghanistan because Afghans see through the duplicity of Pakistan and even the Taliban have realized that Pakistan cannot be trusted and you are actually and obstacle preventing peace and reconciliation among Afghans.

    Your fear mongering about the looming civil war in Afghanistan is just another ploy to get more US aid (CSF) for the war on terror. The doom and gloom picture you paint is something you actually wish upon the Afghans but it will remain just that, wishful thinking.

    Stop providing refuge, funding, arms and training to these terrorists and all will be well in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan is trying to confuse issues and sow divisions among the Pashtuns of both nations by trying to blame the Peshawar incident on Afghans. You cannot keep killing Pashtuns in both countries and expect them not to retaliate.

    Be sincere/sadiq and take responsibility for the machinations of your establishment against Pashtuns/Afghans and admit that Afghans are routinely targeted in their workplace, schools, mosques, weddings, markets, hotels, restaurants and bus stops by the very monsters created by your establishment for the last three decades and then we can move forward.

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  • vasan
    Dec 22, 2014 - 6:37AM

    someone : The other benefit is the reduction in army budget and redirection of the same to the betterment of pakistan

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  • افغان ميهن
    Dec 22, 2014 - 8:47AM

    Mr. Shaikh there won’t be a civil war in Afghanistan because Afghans see through the duplicity of Pakistan and even the Taliban have realized that Pakistan cannot be trusted and you are actually an obstacle preventing peace and reconciliation among Afghans.

    Your fear mongering about the looming civil war in Afghanistan is just another ploy to get more US aid (CSF) for the war on terror. The doom and gloom picture you paint is something you actually wish upon the Afghans but it will remain just that, wishful thinking.

    Stop providing refuge, funding, arms and training to these terrorists and all will be well in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan is trying to confuse issues and sow divisions among the Pashtuns of both nations by trying to blame the Peshawar incident on Afghans. You cannot keep killing Pashtuns in both countries and expect them not to retaliate.

    Be sincere/sadiq and take responsibility for the machinations of your establishment against Pashtuns/Afghans and admit that Afghans are routinely targeted in their workplace, schools, mosques, weddings, markets, hotels, restaurants and bus stops by the very monsters created by your establishment for the last three decades and then we can move forward.

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  • kafka
    Dec 22, 2014 - 10:03AM

    @someone: Please don’t give irrelevant arguments at this point. Indians can go on harping their own tune ! Kashmir is a separate issue. It is a bone that India can neither swallow nor spit. No matter what happens, Kashmir issue will remain alive because, even if they don’t want to be a part of Pakistan, the Kahsmiris themselves want freedom from India.

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  • Jor El
    Dec 22, 2014 - 10:52AM

    @kafka: “the Kahsmiris themselves want freedom from India. ”
    U r talking about the kashmiri muslims, right ?

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  • Rajeev Nidumolu
    Dec 22, 2014 - 11:22AM

    You missed the main lesson from Peshawar tragedy .

    In Ms Clinton’s words “It’s like that old story – you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard,” October 21, 2011

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  • globalobserver
    Dec 22, 2014 - 12:47PM

    The good ambassador fails to state the real and fundamental truth: “you can’t raise and train poisonous snakes in your backyard with the intention that they will only bite your neighbors”.. Truth has the amazing quality of catching up in the end.

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  • vinsin
    Dec 22, 2014 - 1:21PM

    @kafka:
    You are right that Kashmiri Muslims wants freedom from India, so were Bengali and now Baluchistan from Pakistan. Pakistan was created for those Muslims and UN resolution, partition act, instrument of accession goes against that. Till now Pakistan has not filed any resolution in support of separatists.

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  • BlackHat
    Dec 22, 2014 - 3:33PM

    True. Given a chance, religions can break nations, but cultures can unite people. A lesson nations of the subcontinent have not learned.

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  • atif
    Dec 22, 2014 - 4:56PM

    and what about afghan refugees and afghanis who have easy access to pakistan

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  • Saif
    Dec 23, 2014 - 1:11AM

    @kafka:
    Kashmiris have voted for Indian democracy where over 70 % voting took place so forget about this dream ..worry about ur country ..dont worry for us ..we are fine without Pak terrorism!

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  • ss
    Dec 23, 2014 - 2:02PM

    @someone – the military needs to keep the kashmir issue alive- and therefore justification for ever increasing budget with the final aim to protect and ensure its perks and privileges mainly real estate .

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