By Aslam Kakar
It seems hardly is there a morning in the US which does not break the news of killings and horror in Pakistan. In the last couple of weeks only, I have woken up to a multitude of horror stories back home. There was the attack on Polio Centre in Balochistan’s capital, Quetta, followed by the onslaught of young students at BKU in Peshawar. A couple of days ago, the deadly suicide blast by TTP in Quetta city, befell me yet gain. And this does not mean that I am not perturbed by the horror experienced by fellow humans elsewhere on the planet. It is just that one can not help thinking much about else when one’s own home is set on fire.
Every morning, after reading such news, I do not feel like waking up to the actual physical world I live in. Residing in the New Jersey state of the US on its East Coast, I see many looking forward to snow. I hear others excited about the 2016 Super Bowl or Halloween next week. And I meet the state’s activists canvassing me to join their campaign for the bee population protection. But, I feel uninterested. I neither enjoy the snow nor complain about it. Nor do I feel taking interest in the Super Bowl and the bee protection campaign. Perhaps, as a citizen of the third world, my priorities are not enjoying the Super Bowl or saving bees. Or, perhaps, it is all because I have the story of horror and the loss of innocent human lives at the back of my head.
I know that the horror may be imaginary in my context. And I also know that I am safe. But, no. It is real. And I am not safe. I may be detached from it physically but I am disconcerted by it mentally. I have seen how a bomb cracks. I have seen the havoc it wrecks. I have seen human bodies splintered and blood spilled. Have seen all that. I worry every day about the extended part of my self: my family and friends, and every Pakistani. Yesterday’s blast was right in front of my cousin’s shop. The blast had shattered the shop’s door panes, but had, fortunately, left them unhurt and safe.
It seems like the worry and horror has become a part of my subconscious mind. And, perhaps, all Pakistanis, inside Pakistan or abroad, have similar experiences. The intensity with which terror and horror has taken on our minds is unfathomable. It is so imminent that we almost expect it every now and then, and anywhere. It also feels like becoming the new normal now. And the tragedy is that it is divesting us of our consciousness and the ability to think and focus on the intricacies of life itself. While life has so much to offer in stable parts of the world, our entire focus back home is on saving ourselves from ripping suicide bombs and cracking machine-gun bullets by militants. That is tragic.
People tell me that they do not understand what is happening in Pakistan. I say. Neither do I. But, one thing that I know is that it did not come from no where. There is a cause and history to it. The Afghan War. The so-called jihad. The fire we set the Afghan home on with. And the subsequent events, so well-known, that do not merit any repetition.
Now that we are bled, we may despise the jihadists as monsters, and on merit, but we should not also forget that we once poisoned their minds with religious madness and toxicity. We fooled them into believing the ‘rewards’ of eternal pleasure and divine admiration for their acts of terror here. My heart goes out to the teen suicide bombers as much as it does to their victims. And it is not that I justify their acts of terror, but it is just that I empathize with them because they are the victims themselves. Marginalization, illiteracy, indoctrination, and lack of social justice have forced them to become into who they are today. Let alone the teens’ innocence, vulnerability, and their inability to understand why they are doing what they do. This kind of empathy is largely missing from the discourse.
So, the buck for violence and instability stops mainly with the guardian, the state, and its leadership. It is the state which has to recognize its policy failures in the past and rectify the wrongs it has done. For example, why our sate was in slumber for so long when everyone knew that its jihad policy was to backfire once the Afghan War was over. Why it did not take timely and effective measures to readjust the jihadists to the mainstream through a long term social and economic reengineering, especially after 9/11 and the subsequent emergence of TTP in 2007. And why it has not taken concrete steps to counter the extremist ideological mindset that is engulfing our society.
The absence of such measures not only made the traditional jihadists wilder but also created a new brand of educated middle class terrorists who proved exceptions to the circumstances that one may take a reason for the many poor, illiterate young people to join the rank and file of TTP and other sectarian groups. The IBA graduates chose terror a choice while targeting Ahmedis in Karachi. They did not have a compulsion except the destructive religious impulse of killing those who had a different belief system. That kind of impulse is a product of prevalent religious hate and violence that has gone unchecked for decades in Pakistan.
What has happened will sadly remain unchanged. Going forward, my biggest worry is when we as a state and society will realize that enough have been we horrified and bled. When will the state show a newfound and firm resolve that it will do all and now to defeat religious extremism and terrorism? When is it going to retake control of its own-created individuals and groups, the cause of prevalent horror, who are out of its grip. And what is it going to do to retrain and mainstream children who did not choose terror a choice? I do not see much taking place to this end.