Pak­istan’s Sin­gu­lar Mal­ady

Southasia - - Comment - Syed Jawaid Iqbal

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.

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