What the founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah could not probably achieve may well be achieved by the tragic killing of 132 children in Pakistan — a more ideologically and politically cohesive state with a common or shared narrative. Everything that does not belong will either be ignored or pushed under the carpet.
The Peshawar tragedy has turned a new chapter in Pakistan’s life and history. The images of 141 dead bodies were so gruesome and overpowering that it is enough to silence us for a long time. Why ask bothersome and embarrassing questions about how national security was conducted, how different groups worked as proxies, or who is more to blame when ultimately what we want the most is our physical security. This also means that politics and dissent will have to take a backseat for the foreseeable future. This is a moment for existential re-definition.
When I wrote about the post-Peshawar moment not being our 9/11, a knowledgeable friend was quick to point out that actually this was indeed the case. Indeed, 9/11 had provided the essential rationale for the US to attack and destroy the enemy, build its heinous prisons like Guantanamo and carried out torture that came to the fore through a recently leaked report. The American state and society developed a consensus on a narrative that raised the essential issue of an existential crisis, which required re-setting the political and ideological standards to secure their homeland. Not only that the military would go and strike the enemy hard where it hurt, it would also have to define the enemy clearly and give precedence to national security over all other issues. While people such as Noam Chomsky kept reminding that this narrative changed the US to be like the enemy it wanted to eliminate, this didn’t make much of a difference. The average American was happy to shut his/her eyes while the state and its military did inhuman things with the enemy because it deserved nothing better. The ugly stories from Abu Ghraib had to be ignored. Protecting the state leaves no room for political or social niceties.
The US was just lucky or different that it had a well-entrenched democratic system. In our case, a political system has to be a direct or indirect casualty. For many, what is the use of keeping useless politicians who defend the militants and have relations with them? The political government, in any case, is too exhausted and has surrendered to the new reality. So, as some seem to be actively arguing on social media, would it even matter if the political government is sacrificed? Isn’t there a need to create a new Pakistan which looks different from the old one? In any case, even if the sitting government is not killed off, it will now remain confined to the backseat, taking ownership of state policy, which it may not be the author of.
The political class in general will have to understand the fact that the popular political narrative has been re-defined and no longer favours them. Ultimately, it is the military which saved the people, the first one to execute terrorists and the sole guarantor of security. Recently, I had the chance to see a message on Facebook comparing politicians with generals. While the former send their children abroad, the latter send their children to fight wars. No denying such service, but the more important issue is that politicians have little to market. Even the liberal civil society protesting outside the Lal Masjid seems to be endorsing this opinion. The chant from the crowd is why did the politicians provide security to Maulana Aziz? The crowd feels safe to challenge the mullah, who once ran away in a burqa because it finds the military on the same side as itself — going after the militant-mullah and imaging to liberalise the space. Of course, in the process, no one dare ask deeper questions about how the militant was produced, what is its politics and why many of the militants continue to roam around safely in many other parts of the country. Many in the crowd in front of the Lal Masjid and other parts of the country have begun to understand not to burden the military with more questions. As someone tweeted the other day: “initial response to Peshawar attack to go after both bad and good Taliban has now settled for ‘we stand with the army’”. Ultimately, the movement for regaining liberal space will manage to rescue just the social space at the cost of the political. There is even a greater problem with the new liberal narrative as it does not understand the depth of the militancy-radicalism problem. At least Maulana Aziz said what is in the hearts of many others of his ilk all over the place. Moreover, controlling the pulpit is not as easy as it may sound.
What has been buried with the 141 bodies in Peshawar is also dissent against the new national security narrative and the state. In the coming months and days, it may be difficult to ask questions about dumped dead bodies or missing people. There is, in fact, the likelihood of an increase in such actions because, like in the US, excessive questions are distracting. People are eager to see dead bodies of terrorists. It doesn’t matter if the military goes in partnership and kills the terrorists using American drones. Perhaps, many who made anti-drone films and talked against drone attacks will now have to chew their findings. There will be even lesser patience in urban Pakistan for causes that they were never a part of. So, stories of atrocities in Balochistan, Sindh or Fata will go out of fashion. Lest we forget, Chaudhry Nisar has already announced that the military does not kill women and children during its operations. And if there are stories of collateral damage and atrocity, these may not necessarily be told.
Wars or war-like crises often result in rebirth of patriotism which, in any case, is a highly linear narrative. The process of creating an ideologically cohesive state has now passed a significant milestone.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th, 2014.