A Frankenstein's monster

A Frankenstein

Since violence in Pakistan inevitably impacts across its borders, India has tightened security at schools, an easy target for terrorists. This is...

It is heartening, if rare, that India, led by President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressed solidarity with an adversarial Pakistan in the latter’s hour of grief caused by the students’ massacre in Peshawar.
India reacted not just in horror. Prayer meetings were held in schools across the country. Silence was observed at public rallies and busy boardroom conferences. The anger and grief were universal.

Since violence in Pakistan inevitably impacts across its borders, India has tightened security at schools, an easy target for terrorists. This is easier resolved than done. But creating awareness among the people in schools and in market places is well worth the effort. For, India has witnessed mayhem at Macca Masjid in Hyderabad, Sarojini Nagar Market in New Delhi, at Mehrauli near the Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, the Kashi Vishwanth Express and, of course, the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai.

The Peshawar massacre, mainly because it involved innocent children, shall remain in Pakistan’s and the world community’s memory for long. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, has rightly called it “Pakistan’s 9/11.” He also calls it “a game-changer.” There has been retaliatory action by Pakistan’s Armed forces. They have killed some 300 militants of the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that claimed credit for the Lahore killings.

So deep is the anger against the TTP that none in Pakistan, or outside, is talking of the civilian population being killed in ground and air attacks. Normally, this would be against the United States that, obviously with permission from Islamabad, has been conducting drone attacks to eliminate the militants. After a decade of this controversial and only partially successful effort, the American media has alleged that more civilians and a few militants, in a fifty-to-one ratio, have perished on the Pak-Afghan border.

Unconfirmed reports claim that Mullah Fazlullah, the man who directed the Peshawar killings, has been killed in an air raid. Nothing certain can be said since many such claims have proved wrong, with the dead man walking after a few weeks. Mullah Fazlullah, called “FM Fazlullah” since he runs a FM radio network in tribal areas, has been the TTP chief. He has deep support across Pakistan, including in its security establishment. That is how the TTP has been able to stage audacious attacks on the Army’s General Headquarters, at the Pakistan Air Force’s Minhas (formerly Kamra) Air Base, the naval establishment PNS Mehraan and of course, at Wagah, just on the India border.

Post-Peshawar, we see some action. But judging from past record, Pakistan’s establishment has failed to defend its own key installations, leave alone the civilian population.

It has failed to curb sectarian violence by Sunni extremist outfits like Sipah-e-Sahaba against the Shias and Ahmedis. Shia families observing Moharram were gunned down. Peshawar, called the city of flowers, witnessed an attack on Christians who were preparing for the Sunday Mass at a church earlier this year, killing 80.

It is a long list. The TTP had ordered the killing of Malala Yusufzai. She survived a bullet in her head, lucky enough to receive a Nobel. People in Pakistan, and outside, are asking why the government failed to act after attack on Malala, the way it has belatedly done after the Peshawar killings. The basic problem has been a lack of political will. Rightwing politicians, from Nawaz Sharif’s own Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) to Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) to the Islamist parties of all hues, are seriously compromised with the military on one hand and the militants on the other.

Only a few months back, a resolution to hold talks with the militants was passed by an all-party conference.
Emboldened militant outfits used a willing media to propagate their viewpoint. Parliament was not willing to approve a military operation. After several serious TTP attacks, when Army Chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, launched one on June 15 this year, he received practically no political support outside of a half-willing government. His operation Zarb-e-Azb has been a fair success, of which the retaliatory outcome is the massacre at Peshawar. More such retaliations has been promised by a defiant TTP. Present indications are that the Zarb-e-Azb operation will continue. The United States is keen on it. President Barack Obama has just granted a billion dollar fund to Islamabad, albeit to cover the costs involved in facilitating the withdrawal of the military hardware from Afghanistan. China also wants the TTP militants hit since they train its Uighour Muslims of Xinjiang province bordering Pakistan.

The much-needed political support (since Pakistan remains a democracy) has to come to the military from the prevaricating political class. For now, Nawaz Sharif has declared that his government will not distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban (the ‘good’ ones being those controlled by the army and used against India and Afghanistan).

But he may have missed the golden chance that the Peshawar killings offered. Instead of taking and announcing hard decisions at the all-party meeting in Peshawar a day after the incident, it was left to a committee under the home minister. The resolve to fight terrorism may end up as all sound and fury after some days. Sadly, the political class is still cowering with fear, although the militants have violated every tenet of humanity.

Purveyors of hate and obscurantism have long remained virtually unchallenged in Pakistan. Their triumphalist ideology has been the bedrock upon which the justification of every atrocity has been based. What can be worse than TTP’s action in Peshawar being condemned by the Afghan Taliban and even Al Qaida?

In the aftermath of the Peshawar school attack, the collective outpouring of grief found no resonance with Maulana Abdul Aziz, chief cleric of Lal Masjid in Islamabad. He refused to condemn the massacre, seeking instead to blame it on “wrong decisions” taken by the government. This angered the civil society, and an unprecedented protest took place outside Lal Masjid. Participants chanted slogans against Maulana Aziz and lighted candles in memory of the victims.

A defiant Aziz threatened action against such protests. Ironically, the police first ordered the protestors to disperse and then booked them for violation of law. Maulana’s threats are significant. His brother Maulana Abdur Razak was the chief of the Lal Masjid that housed scores of militants, forcing in 2007 then President Pervez Musharraf to lay a siege.

The mosque was cleared after a hundred people died. But that gave birth to the TTP which is Pakistan’s nemesis. And from then began Musharraf’s political downfall. Nawaz will have to work hard, with luck on his side, to escape Musharraf’s fate, to be able to save Pakistan.

By: Mahendra Ved

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