In a perpetual state of mourning

By Saad Hafiz:

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in extremist violence in Pakistan since the late 1980s. The country has earned a reputation for being a hotbed of extremism and violence. The latest atrocity is the bomb blasts in Quetta targeting the Shia minority, which killed and injured over 200 people. The self-contained killing machines of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) and their acolytes are operating at full capacity and with total impunity, butchering vulnerable communities at will.

The Islamic Republic has clearly failed in its primary responsibility to protect the people, particularly the minorities and the weak from the extremist threat. James Madison aptly described this responsibility: “It is of great importance for a republic not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers, but to guard one part of society against the injustice of the other part…In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger.”

As a standard cop-out, the leadership cites the lack of national ‘consensus’, a ‘faceless’ enemy and an army unsuited to unconventional warfare as its main challenges in fighting extremism. In reality, as the extremists accelerate their campaign of ethnic and sectarian cleansing, the state in turn cedes more sovereignty to these powerful non-state actors. It is somewhat surprising that a country that can claim to be an emerging nuclear triad state cannot train an effective counter-terrorism force as well. Many local security ‘analysts’ attribute Pakistan’s security focus and challenges to its tough geopolitical situation, including a hostile India and a militancy aggravated by the US-led war in Afghanistan. The nexus of the self-described highly ‘capable’ and ‘professional’ armed forces and the ‘vaunted’ intelligence apparatus with the same militant jihadists who kill the country’s citizens is conveniently ignored. The elected politicians and the democratic system itself serve as the easy fall guys for the systemic failure and inaction in dealing with extremism and terrorism.

The social dimension of extremism cannot be ignored as the curse of sectarianism and extremism is firmly imbedded in society. It feeds off the general disenchantment with the abysmal state of affairs in the country — poor governance, corruption and joblessness included. This is reflective in the generally muted and sporadic responses to serious acts of terror. In other Muslim societies, these acts would have a resulted in declining support for the terrorists among the population, who would increasingly question the tactics and killings of innocent Muslims. Instead, Sunni extremists are emboldened in their aim to hijack the state as the Muslim majority veers towards intolerance and fanaticism. Many Pakistanis actually believe that the suicide bombings will stop once Pakistan finds its destiny as a Sunni Muslim state with complete Shariah (with presumably no room for apostates), and the hated Americans have withdrawn from the region.

The prospects for keeping the extremists from taking over the country appear bleak. The country has received an increasing number of body bags in return for its counter-terrorism efforts thus far, which are a combination of appeasement, negotiation and limited military action. To regain lost ground, the government and society should consider and support decisive military action along the lines of the Sri Lankan effort against the Tamil Tigers. The other aspect is to make Pakistani society less hospitable to fanatics and extremists, which is linked to discouraging state institutions from cultivating extremists for future strategic use.

It is also clear that armed ideological insurgencies cannot be defeated by military action alone. Political means and social action too are required, especially if the insurgencies’ moral credibility is to be eroded and challenged. The longer-term solution to extremism lies in citizens deciding whether they want to live in a secular liberal democracy or in a theocracy and under a tyranny. Pakistan’s future lies in the young people realising the virtues of democracy and human rights. Politicians and other leaders must speak out publicly on these issues to discourage the atmosphere of intolerance and radicalisation from spreading. Otherwise, Pakistanis will continue to bury the dead and get used to living in a perpetual state of mourning.

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