Pakistan’s Hard Times
We are living in bad times. We are experiencing hard times. There is a grisly wave of suicide bombing across the country. Three consecutive suicide bomb blasts in different parts of the country, all implicitly acts of sectarianism, have sent shockwaves among the people. The latest series of suicide bombing started from the federal capital, Islamabad, where the bomber blew himself up in a high security zone just outside a five-star hotel. A day later, sixteen persons lost their lives in the NWFP capital, Peshawar, in another act of suicide bombing. It was followed by a similar blast in Dera Ismail Khan that killed three more persons. In all these acts of terrorism, the terrorists managed to inflict heavy causalities on the police officers. Even Peshawar lost its Capital City Police Officer.
Last year when I was in India, the news of a similar act of sectarian terrorism in Pakistan flashed on the screens of English 24/7 news channel NDTV. My Indian fellows rushed to inform me about the news. Having watched the updates, I was repetitively asked by my comrades who the victims were: “Muslims,” I replied edgily. And who were the attackers? They badgered. “Muslims,” I responded pathetically. “Why so?” questioned another fellow. To this, I had no clear answer. However, it was solely embarrassment that reigned over my face for I don’t know how long.
The0se recent blasts have received wide-ranging condemnation. People from all walks of life across the country have expressed their heart-felt sorrows about the loss of precious lives in these terrorist activities. No Pakistani supports such inhuman acts of terror. But why do such acts of terror take place in a country where the majority does not endorses them? God knows how many times we have heard our religious scholars saying that Islam, the religion of peace, does not sanction such acts. However, we have reached such a point where mere statements do not suffice. The need of the hour is to address the root causes of mounting terrorist trends in the country and a future strategy should be devised to prevent further such attacks.
In past, in an effort to hide its own failures, the government always held so-called ‘foreign hand’ responsible for such acts of terrorism. No longer do people in Pakistan buy that argument. The issue is much deeper and graver than what government functionaries try to portray it. Terror-stricken states and development cannot go side by side. Terrorism ruins states. It destroys nations. This menace renders people homeless. It splashes blood like water.
The suicide bombings have changed Pakistan’s entire social milieu. Sectarianism is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan; suicide bombing is, though.
Over the past many years, we have lost countless precious lives due to sectarian assaults. The state has a responsibility to protect its citizens from the growing religious militancy. Islam that leads to violence and murder of innocent citizens should be rejected. This is not Islam. Terrorism and militancy have no religion. The perpetrators of terrorist activities do use the name of the religion but they are actually the biggest foes of religion. Not only do they defame the particular religion they contend to follow but they also cause division among the people on the name of religion.
Pakistani society was never so intolerant as it is today. Shias and Sunnis have lived in harmony for ages. Followers of both sects have had enough patience for each other. When the involvement of a foreign hand is brought into discussion, it needs to be seen from a different perspective. The involvement of a foreign hand cannot be ruled out in such matters. But these are not the elements who are devoid of state backing.
The state is equally responsible for harboring terrorists. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Pakistan became a safe haven for the Mujahedeen from different parts of the world, particularly from the Arab countries. At the same time, there was a huge influx of Afghan refugees.
At that time, neither the Pakistani state nor did the United States realize that the kind of work they were taking from the students of religious schools could one day prove to be disparaging for them. On the contrary, the religious schools, which were used as training centers, were handsomely funded by the west.
“ What are the fundamentalists?” questioned Barraster Bach of Peshawar during the third Young Leaders’ Conference. “ Fundamentalists are those,” he remarked, “ who were once funded by the west. But since their funding has stopped, they have become mental.”
Bacha’s statement in this context sounds very convincing. As long as these religious fanatics received support from the west and the intelligence agencies of the land, they were delightedly engaged in their own battles. At the same time, such elements that could counter the expansion of the Iranian revolution to Pakistan were also heavily funded from certain quarters. It was then in the 1980s that militant organizations, such as Shepa-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jangvi etc, were patronized. These organizations added fuel to the fire. Besides churning out militants to counter the Red Army, they tremendously promoted sectarian abhorrence among the youths, in addition to indoctrinating their minds against the followers of the opposite sect.
Though the US left the region with the end of the Cold with following the disintegration of USSR and Pakistan’s pious general-president Zia-ul-Haq perished in an air crash, the legacy that ensued was unimaginably bloodcurdling.
Since the 1980s, construction of mosques and madrassahs has quadrupled. There are more mosques and madrassahs in a single district of provinces like NWFP and Balochistan as compared to the total number of libraries, colleges and research centers in a single entire province. Should one still expect the replacement of fanaticism and religious extremism with the ideas of enlightened moderation, tolerance and religious harmony amid such unfavorable circumstances?
The onus of the current turmoil lies on the wrong policies of the current government. When we made a policy shift towards the obscurantist Taliban in the aftermath of 9/11 and President Musharraf announced his plans to reform the religious schools, the president should have strictly adhered to his policies. Sadly, that never happened. We resorted to a policy of interference in the affairs of Afghanistan to destabilize the Karzai government, which is more inclined towards India rather than Pakistan. We kept the Taliban as deterrence against a defiant Kabul that refuses to accept Pakistani dictates. At the same time, the government totally forgot to implement its madrassah reforms.
We need to call a spade a spade. The problem as well as its solution lies within us. As long as the doubtful activities of the religious schools go unnoticed and their curriculum is not freed from hateful, chauvinistic and jingoistic material, we will be further pushing ourselves into more trouble. Similarly, stringent action should be taken against the foreign elements who are using Pakistani soil for waging a war against the ‘infidels’. Why don’t they use their respective countries for the same purpose? These foreign terrorists in Pakistan, understandably, brought the suicide bombing culture along with them. The sooner they are driven out of Pakistan, the better it is for every peace loving Pakistani.
The handful of madrassah graduates, though a small minority, who aspire to qualify for the paradise by blowing others along themselves will continue to agonize the vast majority of moderate Pakistani Muslims. To annihilate religious terrorism and militancy from ‘the land of pure’ we need to take tangible measures at this critical juncture of our history. Now, the government’s actions should speak not its words alone.