Pakistan’s Singular Malady
Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yusufzai was on her way home from school in Mingora, a town in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, when a Taliban gunman walked up to the school van, asked for her by name and shot her in the head and neck, besides injuring two others. Malala had come to public attention three years ago when, as Gul Makai, she penned a diary for the BBC Urdu Service about life under the Taliban, who controlled Swat from 2007 to 2009 before being dislodged by the Pakistan Army. Subsequently, Malala also appeared on TV shows and talked about the repression of the Taliban. She called for quality education for all Pakistanis and especially girls. It is deplorable that the teenager was punished in the same Pakistan which its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, envisioned as a democratic and moderate Muslim state.
The Malala incident, in fact, symbolizes the peculiar malady that Pakistan has suffered from for almost a decade. Caught between the devil and the deep sea, hundreds of innocent people have been killed and maimed either in terrorist incidents or as ‘collateral’ damage in US-sponsored drone attacks. The manner in which extremism has engulfed this South Asian country in recent years is appalling but what is even worse is that too many people are condoning such acts or acquiescing to them. The leaders of certain well-known political parties are a case in point. To Pakistan’s credit, it has shown noteworthy progress in educating girls in recent years. In 1990, Pakistani females between 15 and 24 were half as likely as males to be literate but during Musharraf’s era, the ratio had improved to three-quarters. The problem, however, persists for schooling of girls in areas like Swat where the Taliban and other extremist groups maintain a presence.
The Pakistani Army had succeeded in pushing out the Taliban from Swat two years back but it seems there has been a resurgence of militant activity in the area over recent months. It is therefore imperative that both the Pakistan government as well as the Army devise a new and practicable strategy to counter this evil and stamp it out on a permanent basis. It would be useful to take out a page from Sri Lanka’s book. The country combated terrorism at the hands of the LTTE for over a quarter of a century and when all else failed, including several attempts at drawing the LTTE into a dialogue process, recourse was made to decisive military action and stamping out of the LTTE militants for good.
The Pakistan Army needs to revisit its strategy and, building on the successes it has achieved earlier in driving out the Taliban from Swat Valley, it must launch a fresh offensive to deal with the insurgents. It must do this without further loss of time as any foot-dragging may encourage other powers to ingress into Pakistan’s sovereign territory on the pretext of ‘hot pursuit’ of the militants and find an excuse to dig in their heels in the region on a permanent basis. World powers must also understand that drone attacks are no solution to countering militancy. As for advocates of dialogue with the militants who aspire to ‘win their hearts and minds’, they should know that the time for such ‘peace’ initiatives has passed. There is always room for dialogue between two willing contenders who are ready to accommodate each others’ viewpoint. However, you simply cannot talk to wild animals in the garb of humans who draw on obscure and even non-existent religious precedents and kill innocent people, motivated by nothing but the basest levels of reactivity, retaliation and revenge.