Peshawar Tragedy

Peshawar by Amanat Chaudhry

How to deal with terror

Barely has one month passed since the heart-rending and soul-piercing Peshawar tragedy took place that much hyped political consensus against terrorism has started developing cracks. The first blow to the nascent national unity was dealt by the JUI-F chief, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, who opted out to support the 21st amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, objecting to the use of word ‘religion’ and ‘sect’. Jamat-e-Islami was also not far behind in expressing its reservations on the contents of the Amendment. Resultantly, when the day of voting approached, both parties abstained from voting along with PTI, which had tendered resignations of its legislators a long time ago.

The national discourse, following the Peshawar tragedy, has largely been focused on tackling the imminent threat of terrorism. Steps such as removal of moratorium on death penalty and establishment of military courts, though correct and timely in their own right, reflect an approach that is premised on diluting the expected blowback from terrorists. While the government and the armed forces get busy with pre-emptive steps, fear of terrorism has permeated the body politic of the country. The shutting down of all educational institutions in the wake of Peshawar tragedy for about a month shows that the threat of terrorism is both present and real.

Fighting terrorism is going to be a long drawn out battle. It is a challenge that is not going to go away any time soon. Hence the kind of strategy the country evolves to eliminate this scourge has to be informed by its unique dynamics and it should be a consequence of serious and honest deliberations. Besides, the strategy should be capable of embracing mid-course correction and readjustment necessitated by circumstances down the road. It is yet to be seen whether the National Action Plan against terrorism has the ability to uproot terrorism once and for all.

If nothing else, at least the Peshawar tragedy has awakened the nation and political parties to the need for a decisive battle and a final push against terrorism. To say that December 16 proved to be the 9/11 of Pakistan will not be wide off the mark. It, indeed, is a sad commentary on a nation which hitherto suffered intellectual confusion despite having rendered thousands of sacrifices and its leadership still debated the imperative of political engagement with the militants. That it took the nation the gruesome killing of innocent schoolchildren to come out of state of confusion regarding lethality and immediacy of terrorism as topmost national security challenge shows how muddle-headed we are.

The pouring of four million people in the French capital in the wake of 12 killings at the office of a magazine serves as a perfect foil to the casual and tamed manner our nation has grown complacent about thousands of killings at the hands of terrorists. The French example showed how nations react when confronted with a national challenge.

The tendency to narrow down the job of eliminating terrorism to the military means alone is a dangerous proposition to begin with, replete as it is with dangerous implication for the long-term stability and peace of the country. Terrorism is a nameless, faceless and indistinguishable enemy. Our decade-old experience with it has exposed the inadequacy of our conventional system to take on the challenge of terrorism. Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures. We need innovative and out-of-the-box approach to defeat the menace of terrorism.

The opposition to setting up of military courts appears more driven by academic hairsplitting than by an acute understanding of peculiar circumstances the country is caught in the whirlwind of. While no one can hold a brief for military courts in a democratic society and its setting up is definitely an act of aberration from the standard practice, yet it is also a fact that our prevalent justice system has not been up to the mark and has been found deficient when it comes to punishing the terrorists. Investigation is flawed and insufficient that cannot stand scrutiny in a court of law. Witnesses fear backlash from terrorists if they give evidence against them. That explains why conviction rate has been so slow.

The whole nation has to get involved in winning this battle of hearts and minds. The military is doing its part of the job but the real job has to be done by all people without any exception by rising together as one nation driven by the resolve to bequeath a peaceful and a prosperous Pakistan to the succeeding generations. Time to waver is long gone. Time to have clarity of purpose is now. Time to procrastinate is past. Time to act is now. At least some good beginning seems to be underway. However, much more needs to be done. The topmost of all challenges is to get the focus right where it is right now and resist the temptation of squandering it for petty political interests. In it lies the nation’s survival. Some points are instructive:

  • War against terrorism should be declared as our own national war.
  • The names, background, identity, regional connection and other relevant details of the apprehended terrorists should be made public so that the nation could identify their enemies wearing masks, their patrons, enablers, facilitators and supporters.
  • An act of cooperating with terrorists, supporting and facilitating them and giving statements in their favour should be declared a crime.
  • The roots of terrorism lie in sectarianism, extremism and ‘Takfeeriyat’. Ban should be placed on issuance of Fatwa declaring others infidels and strict punishment be prescribed for those indulging in such activities.
  • Reforms should be introduced in curriculum and system of religious seminaries.
  • Foreign funding to religious seminaries, organizations and personalities should be banned and an audit be ordered to ascertain as to where it has been spent. Those resisting this audit should be proscribed.
  • The defunct organizations should not be defunct in name only. They should also be barred from working with changed and new names. Both name and work of an extremist organization should be banned.

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