Confronting the evil within

By Saad Hafiz:

A decade after Pakistan became a frontline country in the global war on terror, domestic terrorist organizations, particularly the Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistan) look as strong as ever.  There has been speculation that the murderous attack on Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year-old girls’ rights activist, by a Taliban hit squad which has led to an unusual outcry in Pakistan and abroad, may be the tipping point that will galvanize popular opinion to support vigorous action against terror groups. This would require that the country accept something that it has been unable to thus far, which is that all forms of terrorism are evil with no shades of grey.

There has been longstanding reluctance within the government and society to stand up to Islamic groups that preach hatred and practice violence, which probably stems from a fear of appearing un-Islamic.  Pakistan has long had trouble countering the ideologies that drive individuals to commit acts of violence, despite success in arresting suspected militants and breaking up terror plots.  It is hard at times to distinguish between state and terrorist ideologies, as both categorize which citizens can be considered ‘Muslims’ and ‘non-Muslims’, which gives rise to the muddled and hateful beliefs in society and promotes violence.

Many national political leaders, unwilling to condemn terrorism in clear and unequivocal terms, go to shameful lengths to obfuscate the terrorism issue with national resistance or jihad.  Few of these ‘leaders’ clearly acknowledge that terrorists have killed over forty thousand of their fellow Pakistanis, and are preparing to kill more. Instead, they harp on about the lack of understanding in the international community about the sacrifices Pakistan has made by joining the ‘war on terror’.  The seriousness of terrorism is lost as these ‘leaders’ try to score political points.  Also far too often, sections of the domestic media refuse to use the word terrorist, in the naive and mistaken belief that to report violence as a terrorist act is to cast judgment on the perpetrators’ cause.  By pretending that everything is relative, these news media deny the very existence of terrorism.

The smart terror groups gain influence through apologists in the media, in the political ranks, and in mosques and madrasas.  They are unambiguous in their tactics, using violence against civilian, police and military targets, to keep the populace on the edge and the security forces at bay.  Their ultimate objective is to gain national power to establish the rigid Islamic orthodoxy they espouse. They are not afraid to utilise false scapegoats and foreign bogeymen, particularly the appealing anti-US argument, in order to justify their murderous campaign.

Some ‘security’ analysts in the media blame the invasion of Afghanistan by foreign troops, for the dreadful situation Pakistan now finds itself.  They imply that the nation’s present day terrorists never existed until the fanatics displaced by foreign invasion came over the Afghan border and found sanctuary amid the lawless, savage, but culturally hospitable Pushtun tribes. These tribes at that very time were being encouraged, with signs of modest success, to join mainstream Pakistan. But the displaced militants from across the border began energetic campaigns of propaganda and hatred, and then wreaked havoc by brainwashing home-grown barbarians to develop their own brand of evil mayhem.  The state’s past sponsorship of domestic terror groups as strategic ‘assets’, used for causing cross-border mayhem and sectarian violence, is conveniently forgotten.

The scale of evil that terrorism represents is described in Dante’s Divine Comedy, whose author was influenced by references to the Seven Deadly Sins in the Book of Proverbs from the Hebrew Bible: “These six things doth the lord hate; yea, seven are an abomination unto him. A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running unto mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies and he that soweth discord among brethren.“  This is not an argument for state vengeance, but for honesty that this profound evil exists, and the actions of terrorist are evil whatever its cause or motivation. As young Malali was fighting for her life, a Taliban spokesman called the teen’s campaign for women’s education an “obscenity” and “a symbol of Western culture,” promising that if she survived they would again try to kill her. One does finds it truly baffling, that any state or society would want to consider negotiating with this extent of human malevolence.

To make counter-terrorism efforts more effective, the government could consider the establishment of a widespread national counter-terrorism program that would bring together different government ministries focused on religion and education with civil society groups and Islamic organizations.  It is important to try holistic approaches to countering extremism and terrorism through understanding their fundamental causes. Factors like unemployment, economic deprivation and injustice that compel the people towards extremism can be analyzed.  Programs can be implemented that bring reformed terrorists into the social and political mainstream.  It also follows that all counter-terrorism activities should respect for human rights and must adhere to the rule of law. Government institutions must act within legal mandates while countering terrorism. That said, the nation cannot allow itself to be frightened by threats and must meet aggression with full force, ensuring that terrorism is never allowed to prevail.



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