Will pain make us think?

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Ghazi Salahud­din

ON Fri­day the six­teenth of Jan­uary, ex­actly one month after the Pe­shawar mas­sacre of our school­child­ren, vig­ils were held by civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists in ma­jor ci­ties. Th­ese som­bre gath­er­ings un­der­lined the in­ten­sity of emo­tions that has not abated dur­ing this pe­riod. In­deed, we are a na­tion in be­reave­ment and many of us still seem un­able to come to terms with a tragedy that has touched ev­ery hu­man heart. It is be­com­ing dif­fi­cult for time to heal our wounds.

This month, to be sure, has been event­ful. What had hap­pened in the Army Pub­lic School on a fate­ful day, a day of ig­nominy in our his­tory, has the po­ten­tial of chang­ing Pak­istan. There is some ev­i­dence that this change is hap­pen­ing. But is this truly a par­a­digm shift that is to be re­flected in our rul­ing ideas? Will the war against ter­ror­ism and ex­trem­ism be taken to its log­i­cal con­clu­sion?

There may be some dis­pute about how the fi­nal goals of this war should be de­fined. At one level, the goal is a demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion in which the op­pressed cit­i­zens of Pak­istan are lib­er­ated and em­pow­ered. That would call for a mean­ing­ful so­cial change. And to make that pos­si­ble, all traces of mil­i­tancy and in­tol­er­ance will have to be re­moved from the deeper re­gions of a so­ci­ety that is af­flicted with prim­i­tive pas­sions.

Dur­ing the past month, we have re­peat­edly been as­sured that the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion is be­ing con­ducted against good and bad Tal­iban. That means that the es­tab­lish­ment is not play­ing both sides in the present en­counter. This in it­self is an en­cour­ag­ing sign. But there may still be some doubts about the preva­lence of the na­tional se­cu­rity poli­cies that have nur­tured the mind of our es­tab­lish­ment.

It is good to know that the United States has wel­comed the decision taken by Pak­istan to ban the Haqqani Net­work and some other mil­i­tant out­fits and has called it an im­por­tant step to­wards elim­i­nat­ing ter­ror­ism. A spokesper­son of the State Depart­ment said in a news brief­ing in Wash­ing­ton that there was "a huge fo­cus" on coun­tert­er­ror­ism mea­sures dur­ing Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry's visit to Is­lam­abad last week. Pak­istan is re­ported to have de­cided to ban 10 ter­ror groups that tar­get US and Afghan mil­i­taries in Afghanistan.

Re­ports from Wash­ing­ton say that th­ese moves have led coun­tert­er­ror­ism ex­perts to per­ceive "a par­a­digm shift" in Pak­istan's se­cu­rity pol­icy. How­ever, the sit­u­a­tion that ex­ists on the ground in Pak­istan is still some­what vague. The forces that had been in­spired by the strate­gic sense of di­rec­tion of the es­tab­lish­ment have be­come very pow­er­ful and have con­sid­er­able popular support. Con­fronting them squarely would re­quire a com­pre­hen­sive plan that is drafted in a lib­eral and pro­gres­sive con­text.

For this, our rulers will have to con­tend with ideas that are rooted in our his­tor­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence and in our com­pul­sion to find a place in the mod­ern world. They will need the guid­ance of thinkers and so­cial sci­en­tists to un­der­stand the dy­nam­ics of our so­ci­ety and how it can change. We have con­stantly been talk­ing about cor­rup­tion and in­ef­fi­ciency with ref­er­ence to the qual­ity of our gov­er­nance. Even more detri­men­tal are our in­tel­lec­tual and moral deficits. We are aware of the feel­ings and thoughts that have been trig­gered by the bru­tal killing of more than 130 stu­dents in Pe­shawar on De­cem­ber 16. It is an ex­pe­ri­ence that is bound to change many things. When civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists gath­ered on dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions on Fri­day, there was a shar­ing of pain and dis­tress over what had hap­pened one month ago and also of thoughts about what is hap­pen­ing to re­claim the na­tion from the dark pow­ers of ter­ror and re­li­gious ex­trem­ism.

So, how de­ter­mined is our present gov­ern­ment in grasp­ing this op­por­tu­nity to change this en­tire scheme of things and make the coun­try safe for peace and de­vel­op­ment? The prob­lem, ap­par­ently, is that like the mil­i­tary, the civil­ian lead­er­ship also has a skele­ton in the cup­board. Nawaz Sharif's party stands firmly in the right­ist cor­ner and some of its lead­ers may have link­ages with mil­i­tant fac­tions. They were ne­go­ti­at­ing with the Tal­iban un­til the launch of the op­er­a­tion in North Waziris­tan by the army.

Hence, in spite of the reach of the Na­tional Ac­tion Plan, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has not re­ally gen­er­ated a crit­i­cal sense of move­ment on the var­i­ous fronts iden­ti­fied by the plan. The ini­tial fo­cus on the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to es­tab­lish mil­i­tary courts and to re­store ex­e­cu­tions had, in a sense, cam­ou­flaged the ac­tual cam­paign to go after ter­ror out­fits. For ex­am­ple, why couldn't they ar­rest Maulana Ab­dul Aziz of Lal Masjid when an FIR was lodged against him? I feel per­son­ally ag­o­nised over an is­sue that may be deemed pe­riph­eral in the present sce­nario. It is the in­abil­ity of this gov­ern­ment to re­move the ban on YouTube. I have been rais­ing this sub­ject with high of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the prime min­is­ter him­self in one of his meet­ings with the me­dia in Karachi. I have been writ­ing about it. I can­not see the logic of this ban. For me, this at­ti­tude is symp­to­matic of the mind­set that pre­sides over the af­fairs of the state.

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