The real threat

The Pak Banker - - Front Page -

WHILE a feel­ing of re­lief at es­cap­ing any big dis­as­ter on Muhar­ram 9 and 10 is jus­ti­fied, the moment calls for sober re­flec­tion on the threat to ci­ti­zens’ life and lib­erty and the means of coun­ter­ing it.

It is said that at sev­eral places the ter­ror­ists’ de­signs to cause in­dis­crim­i­nate killing were frus­trated by timely de­tec­tion of their plots and the seiz­ing of weapons and ex­plo­sives.

A ma­jor threat to Karachi is re­ported to have been averted by the cap­ture of a truck full of ex­plo­sives. Laud­able though th­ese pre­ven­tive ac­tions are, it is not clear whether such suc­cesses could have been achieved in nor­mal cir­cum­stances, that is, with­out the un­prece­dented scale of lawen­force­ment agen­cies’ mo­bil­i­sa­tion wit­nessed last week­end.

It is an­other mat­ter that the killing of 12 per­sons in D.I. Khan — seven on Satur­day and five on Sun­day — was not con­sid­ered a ma­jor tragedy. That in­di­cates the level of so­ci­ety’s cal­lous­ness and its ac­cep­tance of be­lief-re­lated vi­o­lence.

Has any­one cal­cu­lated the cost of the coun­try­wide op­er­a­tion? Al­most all government of­fices were closed for two to three days, schools were shut and count­less peo­ple were driven by fear to con­fine them­selves to their homes. Spe­cial con­trol and mon­i­tor­ing cells were cre­ated by all pro­vin­cial po­lice chiefs. The Pun­jab government alone claimed to have com­mis­sioned more than 100,000 po­lice of­fi­cers, po­lice­women and po­lice­men, to keep the ter­ror­ists at bay.

All those who planned and ex­e­cuted th­ese mea­sures cer­tainly de­serve to be com­mended. Even those who of­ten ridiculed the in­te­rior min­is­ter’s em­pha­sis on ban­ning pil­lion rid­ing and his re­liance on block­ing cell­phone chan­nels qui­etly adopted his tac­tics. Yet the hard­ships caused to the mil­lions of cell­phone users were im­mea­sur­able.

And all this to en­able the coun­try’s large Shia com­mu­nity to meet the call of their be­lief with­out bombs ex­plod­ing in their ma­jalis or pro­ces­sions. The ter­ror­ists must be laugh­ing up their sleeves at the Pak­istani state’s dis­com­fi­ture and the enor­mous costs they have ex­tracted from it.

Why should they waste the lives of their sui­cide bombers and their ex­plo­sive de­vices if they can paral­yse life across the land by sim­ply warn­ing the in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ers that they are still in busi­ness?

Two ques­tions now de­mand se­ri­ous at­ten­tion. First, can the kind of mo­bil­i­sa­tion of law and or­der per­son­nel wit­nessed last week­end be sus- tained for any ap­pre­cia­ble pe­riod? If the an­swer is in the neg­a­tive, and one doubts that any other re­sponse is pos­si­ble, then the threat from the ter­ror­ists has not abated.

True, the pos­si­bil­ity of strik­ing at large con­gre­ga­tions has a spe­cial ap­peal to a thor­oughly in­doc­tri­nated ter­ror­ist but he is un­likely to keep his weapons and ex­plo­sives un­used for long. The own­ers/keep­ers of dan­ger­ous weapons gen­er­ally can­not bear the sight of their quarry mov­ing around in one piece. Is any af­ford­able strat­egy to counter the ter­ror­ists’ threat on a per­ma­nent ba­sis in place?

Se­condly, success in main­tain­ing peace on Ashura does not mean that the mon­ster of sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence has been de­feated. In­deed the frus­tra­tion of their plans for Muhar­ram might have turned the ter­ror­ists bit­ter and more venge­ful.

One is yet to see or hear of any plan to deal with the root causes of the wave of vi­o­lence against the Shia com­mu­nity that has been pro­gres­sively gath­er­ing strength over the past many years. The plain and painful re­al­ity is that the coun­try’s lead­ers, those in the government as well as those out­side it, are afraid of de­fend­ing the rights of the Shia com­mu­nity or con­demn­ing the mur­der­ous gangs for what they really are.

This view can be con­firmed if we take stock of the re­ac­tions to the killing of over two dozen Shias only four days be­fore Ashura — as re­ported by the me­dia. Most of the lead­ers, headed by the pres­i­dent and the prime min­is­ter, con­demned the bomb blasts, prayed for God’s mercy for the de­parted souls, and for the be­reaved fam­i­lies to have the courage to bear their losses with for­ti­tude.

Of course, they also called for full re­ports on the ghastly killings, a ges­ture that has been shorn of any mean­ing by its in­ces­sant use. The Ja­maat-iIs­lami chief said some­thing sim­i­lar and sounded pre­oc­cu­pied with plans for an elec­toral al­liance. Sev­eral no­table fig­ures re­ferred to the foul deeds of uniden­ti­fied ‘en­e­mies’, the im­pli­ca­tion be­ing that some ex­ter­nal hands were to be blamed.

The plea by the or­gan­i­sa­tion called Ma­jlis Wah­datul Mus­limeen for an edict by the en­tire clergy against the killing of Shias went un­heeded. Quite a few lead­ers of re­li­gious par­ties and fac­tions, in­clud­ing some of the knights of the De­fence of Pak­istan Coun­cil, chose to keep mum. The Pun­jab chief min­is­ter re­ferred to the killing of Shias twice and in his sec­ond state­ment went to the ex­tent of say­ing that the killers and their vic­tims both re­cited the kalma but no far­ther. The re­luc­tance to de­clare that the killing of Shias, or of any other re­li­gious group for that mat­ter, is an un­for­giv­able sin, can­not be con­demned enough.

The state­ments re­ferred to above may well have been is­sued on the death of 25 peo­ple in a road ac­ci­dent or in a blaze in a ware­house. There was no in­di­ca­tion that the grav­ity of the killing of in­no­cent peo­ple on ac­count of their be­lief had been re­alised.

Bomb blasts were con­demned but not the men be­hind them. The vic­tims were not iden­ti­fied as Shia. With­hold­ing of the iden­tify of the killers and their vic­tims, sup­pos­edly to avoid ag­gra­va­tion of the sit­u­a­tion, made no sense as the en­tire pop­u­la­tion knew who the vic­tims were and whose hands were stained with their blood.

The re­al­ity that most peo­ple with any in­flu­ence do not wish to face is that the real threat to in­ter­faith peace, the lives and lib­erty of the peo­ple and the in­tegrity of the state is posed not so much by the gung-ho mo­ron as by the preacher of ha­tred in holy robes who has ar­ro­gated to him­self the right to de­cide who is a Mus­lim and who is not, and who au­tho­rises in­di­vid­u­als to slaugh­ter their fel­low be­ings.

There can be no peace in the coun­try and no glory for its ci­ti­zens un­til this Franken­stein is laid to rest for ever.

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