Raza Habib Raja
For a person who likes to write, I am really at a loss of words. May be what I am witnessing around me has made be numb and too shocked to even articulate myself properly. I am pasting some links pertaining to news about some recent events.
These are the headline news of just last few days and these incidences have occurred during the so called negotiations which in my opinion are nothing but acknowledgement of our collective cowardice and shameless intellectual bankruptcy.
Pakistan’s constant struggle with extremism is not a new phenomenon. It even predates TTP,9/11 and for that matter even 1980s. Pakistan has witnessed extremism in one form or the other for many years. What is different in recent years, is the scale, scope and intensity of extremism. In the past ten years there have been innumerable blasts and target killings and virtually no sect or religious minority has been spared. More than 50,000 people have died and state has virtually lost its writ over some areas.
Even where there is apparently functioning government, the extremists can still easily strike. I personally know people from the journalist community who have been threatened by Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Even where TTP is not directly ruling, it is still exerting a lot of influence and people are under perpetual threat.
But even more disturbing than all this, is that strange accommodative behavior which our state and society have constantly demonstrated. In a manner which defies every logic, our society has actually embraced those who have killed and then openly claimed responsibility. It is not only the suicide bombers who are killing themselves but the society itself is also committing a slow and agonizing suicide.
Adding to utter shamelessness is the fact that since the beginning of this year there has not been a drone attack and USA is steadily reducing its presence in this area and yet Pakistan continues to face terror attacks on a daily basis. And yet, many still want “peace” talks with those who are using little children as suicide bombers.
Many of the people I personally know continue to say stuff on the social media which dumbfounds me:
“This is because of corruption of some politicians particularly the last coalition and the current PML N ”
“This is the price for siding with USA and when you do that they will revolt in the same way as Baluchis have revolted or Bengalis revolted in 1970”
“Action against TTP is actually action against people of FATA who have been forced to take up arms”
“It is not our war and before 2003 there was nothing wrong. Once we stop fighting, they will become peaceful”
“You are a pseudo intellectual and wannabe liberal and you would understand if you were to be displaced due to military action”.
“You are blood thirsty for wanting a military action against TTP”
“Have you ever supported a military action against MQM?”
“ Their demand is not Sharia but they have been forced to demand it because of our military action!”
“You are just biased against Imran Khan. His solution is based on wisdom. We need to talk to these people”.
“ Drones are the cause of all this”
“ So many innocent would die if we start an action”
One has to grudgingly respect Taliban as compared to all of us they do not have any ambiguities. They have a clear stance and they have communicated it again and again. They have their demands and they do not mince words. They are in fact ready to kill and be killed.
It is said that the fight of extremists is not only for the overthrow of the state or defeat of the state through military means. Extremists also fight battle for minds because mindset invariably affects the way state engages with them.
This is a very crucial point. If a chunk of population supports them or even feels a soft corner for them or construe them as “victims” who have been forced to take up arms, then the pressure on a representative type of state would always be to have a “soft” and accommodative approach riddled with confusion. The current so called negotiations actually embody that approach.
And you do not have to have a large chunk of the entire population feeling that way. You just need to win over those who form the intelligentsia and the so called educated class.
That is why narratives become so important because they shape the way we look at a situation. Narratives if internalized become instinctive and hence it becomes extremely difficult to find evidence against them.
Everything is a grand conspiracy to destabilize Pakistan is a narrative. TTP actually represent people of FATA and have been forced to take up arms due to Pakistan fighting US war is a narrative. One is conspiracy theory while the other is apologetic defense.
Both these shift the blame away towards external forces. Of these two, the latter is far more dangerous as it rationalizes violence by the militants by portraying it as “reaction” to the atrocities of USA and Pakistani state. This positive portrayal greatly softens the image of the militants and in fact can even evoke sympathy for them, transforming perpetuators of horrendous crimes into some sort of “victims”. The inherent assumption that Muslims are morally superior and therefore cannot indulge in such crimes particularly against fellow Muslims unless “forced” also strengthens sympathy.
Where Pakistani society has lost, even before actually succumbing to militants, is the battle of narratives and hence minds. The defeat is so overwhelming that despite now knowing that TTP are the perpetuators of inhuman crimes, many do not want a military action or are really confused and coming up strange stances.
But the worst culprits are the middle and upper middle classes of Pakistan. These technically form the intelligentsia and it is their collective “understanding” of the situation that has further aggravated the problem. Their mindset is articulated by and in a reciprocal manner reinforced by media which originates from this class and also targets this class. Due to its representation in corporate sector, bureaucracy, armed forces and media, this class has a disproportionate impact on the policy discourse. Electoral strength does not fully capture its true power. And right now this class and it political representative in the form of PTI is affecting the discourse more than what is often assumed.
The narrative is something like this: 1) Before 2003, there was nothing wrong but our siding with the USA led to prosecution of the population in FATA;2)The prosecution in turn led to feeling of severe victimization in the population which set a chain of dynamics eventually leading to creation of TTP;3)TTP though violent has mass support of the people in FATA;4) The TTP in some way are representative of FATA and the violence is the result of what we have done due to blindly towing US policies; 5) Action against TTP is somehow or the other synonymous to action against all FATA;6) Collateral damage will further radicalize everyone in FATA leading to more bloodshed in future.
This narrative has been an easy sell because of the way our minds have become conditioned to instinctively hate USA while believing in moral superiority of Muslims. Our so called nationalism is based on shameless narcissism and it fuses religion with a severe mistrust of the outside world.
And inherent hatred and mistrust of the USA makes it so easy to overlook how flawed the narrative is. Militants existed before 2003; the only difference is that they have turned against the state. Before 2003, also those areas had become sanctuaries for international terrorists and had a weak writ of the state. Due to the geopolitical situation, perhaps Pakistan had no choice but to go after them. And these militants had started to target Pakistan before 2002 in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
The most absurd claim is that TTP has local support and it some or the other represents the people of FATA. This is an insult to the people of FATA as TTP has butchered them also and moreover it has the support so many Uzbek, Tajik “brethren” thus showing that insurgency is not localized.
And nor is insurgency merely a “reaction” as the demands put forward by the insurgents goes much beyond merely that Pakistan should stop attacking them in tribal areas. Even if it was initially a “reaction” the armed insurgency is no longer just confined to demand of ouster of US forces. Now the demands have expanded to include many other things such as freedom of their convicted fellows and imposition of Sharia of their choice all over Pakistan.
In fact just before the elections they targeted all the quasi secular parties while leaving the rightwing parties free to campaign. This selective targeting itself is a hard slap to all those constituting reaction school of thought.
And action against TTP is not action against people of FATA. If anything it is to relieve them from this misery. Yes collateral damage will be there but one cannot just do nothing and sit while militants dictate their terms by simply killing. Let me ask a simple question to these so called “collateral damage” worriers here: If Lahore or Karachi is captured by Indian forces then will they demand that Pakistani army fight to liberate the captured city? Or will they start crying about collateral damage?
We all know the answer.
Militants are striking at will, openly claiming responsibility and yet a substantial chunk of population does not feel the revulsion and anger which would actually lead to real decisive action. In fact, instead of action, we want negotiations.
Let me contrast this with the incidences when Hakim Ullah Mehsud was killed, or when OBL was killed or when Raymond Davis killed two Pakistani here. The outcry was deafening. And yet, daily dozens are being killed and we do not feel the same anger. We are ready to protest when a few are killed by drones (aimed at killing the militants) and yet speechless when thousands are killed by the suicide blasts. This is intellectual bankruptcy of the worst sort and yet it continues despite the ongoing mayhem.
We are signing our own death warrants committing a slow agonizing suicide. And it is this attitude which even is even more tragic than the actual suicide blasts.