“Pakistan produces people of extraordinary bravery. But no nation should ever require its citizens to be that brave.” –Nadeem Aslam (tweeted by Mirza Waheed on 16 December, 2014)
December 16th is a tragic day in the history of Pakistan. It ate up over one hundred and forty small souls but it gives a feeling of déjà vu, an echo from 2004 when Chechen rebels’ attack on a school led to a similar tragedy. On that fateful day in Russia, over thirty armed individuals stormed a school taking hostage over one thousand people. The hostages were not only members of the school staff but also parents of the children, gathered to celebrate ushering in a new academic year. Although many died in the initial onslaught, most were held at the school gymnasium. The siege ended on the third day at the cost of the lives of 186 children among the 334 killed. The savage attack was spearheaded by Riyadus-Salikhin, a Chechen liberation group.
On 16 December, 2014, all hell broke loose when militants from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked a school in Peshawar costing lives of over one hundred and forty people. These include one hundred and thirty two children. TTP has claimed responsibility for the attack. A friend Syed Masud-ul-Hasan wrote an email, part of which I reproduce:
“Following are some of the bitter facts:
Military operation was delayed by our government for more than a year, which gave time to TTP to entrench itself in FATA.
So-called peace talks and ceasefire gave them enough time to spread their tentacles across Pakistan.
Most of the under trial terrorists are let off by courts due to insufficient evidence.
Government has done well by deciding to execute the death penalties already awarded to the terrorists. Prolonged and indefinite delays in execution of these punishments had given the feeling as if the government was following a policy of appeasement towards the terrorists.” (December 17, 2014)
Foreign Policy says that the group has been hammered both by the Pakistani military and defections from within its ranks. And now it has united Pakistanis of all backgrounds and beliefs in revulsion… Over the past year, the TTP has been reduced to a shell of its former self. Like a bloodied, weakened beast, the TTP lashed out viciously on Tuesday. In attacking the school, the TTP chose the softest targets in a military cantonment. Some, though not all, of the children came from military families. And so the TTP — indifferent to the blood of thousands of innocents on its own hands — has anointed itself as the avenger of its own collateral damage suffered at the hands of the Pakistani army.
According to a piece on this heinous crime in Washington Post, “The attackers’ sole aim was to murder as many youngsters as possible. It was the bloodiest terrorist attack in Pakistan since 2007, one that was meant to derail modest but real progress by the army and government in fighting extremism. The relative good news on a terrible day was that the attack was a reflection of the Taliban’s declining fortunes in Pakistan — not its ascendancy.” (December 16, 2014)
Whether ascending or descending, terrorist attacks of any nature that tear through the hearts of any human, are simply unacceptable. Can the families, parents and siblings of the young children torn away from their loved ones in the massacre that took place, rejoice that the deaths caused are an act of desperation by the Taliban in the face of their declining power?
In a beautiful paper Donald Winchester writes, “In effect, blaming terror and violence on religion, as many today are too eager to do, is both dangerously reductive and shirks responsibility for the world. The cause for terror and violence lies somewhere within our inner nature. The apostle James explained this in his epistle, the earliest of the apostolic letters: “Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.” (James 4:1–2, The Message, Bible).” (Published in summer 2007 Issue of Vision)
Bakir Oweida, a journalist who has worked as managing editor and written for several Arab publications, in his article published in Al-Arabiya English writes that the war on terror on Afghan soil led to greater terrorism as the extremist militants were hunted by security bodies in many countries, including their own. “Instead of working hard to offer the returning fighters the best possible rehabilitation, including jobs and places in colleges, institutes and universities, they were left to fend for themselves, and it was no wonder that they were ready to respond happily to bin Laden’s call for “jihad”. (September 6, 2014) He has hit bull’s eye by saying this.
Will extremism and extremist tendencies die if a certain genre of extremists is knocked off? Alternatively, will they simply go dormant to re-emerge as a new faction, a new organisation yet again? Extremism knows no boundaries; it is not specific to a particular religion either.
Many countries have faced extremism and dealt with it in light of their local ground realities. Red Brigade Movement in Italy, for example, started collapsing when the authorities offered reduction in sentences of convicted terrorists offering information on the organisation. West Germany’s tactic in dealing with the Red Army Faction was creation of crack anti-terrorist reaction unit with the ability to be present anywhere within its borders within an hour. They were equipped with special vehicles and high-speed helicopters. It also increased the ambit of police powers from increasing check points to search buildings if suspected of holding terrorists.
Israel, in order to counter terrorism, strengthened its networking for gathering intelligence reports. Powers given to Mossad to maintain exhaustive information on terrorist organisations and suspect terrorists is incredible. Israel, besides micro-checking of every traveller on its flights, uses the technique of ‘profiling’. “Every passenger is checked through Interpol to determine if he or she has a criminal record. Passengers travelling from certain countries are more closely scrutinised. Arabs and certain foreigners are often subjected to intense questioning and more detailed searches, while most Israeli Jews proceed to board the planes.” (Website for Constitutional Rights Freedom)
Military action is mandatory to reduce militarism by extremists. Unfortunately, it cannot pull out extremism from its roots. A small number of terrorists may inflict a colossal loss on the lives of citizens of a nation and its psyche. This is not about numbers. This is about defining short term (military) strategy with long term strategy.
The government has put to execution the death penalties already awarded to the terrorists. However, this alone does not take away the responsibility from the government to review and redefine its policies toward terrorism. While determining upon the policy, the existence of foreign involvement and funding must be kept in mind. This linkage becomes successful with the cooperation of local misguided elements. To elucidate the point, The New YorkTimes reported in October 2013 that the Afghan government wanted to develop a shadowy alliance with Islamist militants which became the latest flashpoint between Afghanistan and US. The plan involved Afghan intelligence trying to walk with Pakistani Taliban to find a trump card in a regional power game. Tipped off, US Special Forces intercepted an Afghan convoy ushering a Senior Pakistani Taliban militant Latif Mehsud to Kabul for secret talks.
According to a WikiLeaks report quoted by Rediff.com “On December 15-16, 2009, Treasury Department Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis Howard Mendelsohn, along with GRPO officers and Treasury analysts, met with senior officials from the United Arab Emirates State Security Department and Dubai’s General Department of State Security to discuss suspected Taliban-related financial activity in the UAE. GDSS officials noted that it believed India had also supported Pakistani Taliban and Pashtun separatists.”
The Pakistan government must also address the social, judicial, and economic issues of the common man. Unless and until this is done with honesty, military action will remain a temporary measure at best.
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.’ She can be contacted at: email@example.com and tweets at @yasmeen_9.