Pakistan’s Long Moment of Suffering – S Iftikhar Murshed

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PESHAWAR: Relative of the victim of fallowing the TTP attack on Army Public School situated on Warsak Road, mourn near his coffin. INP photo
PESHAWAR: Relative of the victim of fallowing the TTP attack on Army Public School situated on Warsak Road, mourn near his coffin. INP photo

It is a shame that it was the gruesome slaughter of more than 130 blameless children that compelled the politicians to stop playing their selfish games

S IFTIKHAR MURSHED

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is only in this savage land that 132 innocent schoolchildren, along with nine of their teachers including the principal, can be ruthlessly massacred. This is precisely what happened on Tuesday when the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan stormed the Army Public School in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the coalition government is led by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.

This is the man who so desperately wants to become prime minister that he paralyzed the entire country for the past four months with continuous but failed sit-ins at Islamabad’s Constitution Avenue, mass rallies in the major cities, and, in the third phase the launch of the much touted ‘Plan C.’ This involved the one-day closure of the economic nerve centers of Pakistan starting with Faisalabad (December 8), Karachi (December 12) and Lahore (December 15). The process was to have culminated with a countrywide shutdown on December 18 when the gut-wrenching tragedy in Peshawar intervened.

Imran Khan was, therefore, constrained to put his prime ministerial ambitions on hold. He announced that his plans of bringing Pakistan to a grinding halt had been ‘postponed’ but not abandoned. The PTI chief also condemned the merciless slaughter of the schoolchildren but had cold feet about naming the TTP even though its spokesman, Muhammad Omar Khorasani boasted: “Our suicide bombers have entered the school.”

A few days back in one of his usual container-top diatribes, Imran Khan declared that had he been prime minister, he would never have allowed military action in North Waziristan. It was, therefore, not surprising that the PTI leader was nominated by the TTP as a member of their negotiating team for the talks with the government earlier this year.

But it is one-sided to blame Imran Khan alone. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been no less weak-kneed insofar as the TTP is concerned. It is strangely ironic that the commonalities between Nawaz and Imran far outweigh their differences. The two political arch rivals are men of limited vision whose lives revolve around their selfish ambitions. Both are sympathetic to the religious right and were hand-in-glove in pursuing the ill-advised talks with the TTP in the first half of the year.

The negotiations were not called off even though the Taliban released a video at the time which showed their fighters gleefully playing football with the severed heads of Pakistani soldiers who had been captured some months earlier and then pitilessly decapitated. There were several other similar outrages but all this did not even make one jot of a difference to the political leadership in their determination to appease the outlawed group.

The futile dialogue would have continued indefinitely under one pretext or the other had the TTP not carried out the stupidly dramatic attack on the Karachi airport on June 8-9. This took the initiative out of the hands of the spineless political leadership and triggered the long awaited military onslaught into North Waziristan a week later. The initiative to launch Operation Zarb-e-Azb was a correct one but it was that of the Pakistan Army and the prime minister had no option but to go along.

In the six months that the war has raged, the terrorist infrastructure in the tribal belt has been destroyed, militant outfits have been crippled and most of them have limped across the notoriously porous border into Afghanistan. As a result, in contrast to previous years, there have been only two major incidents of TTP outrages since June.

The first was the suicide bomb attack at the Wagah check post on November 2 which killed more than 60 people, the second was Tuesday’s astounding barbarity at the school in Peshawar. This is not the first time that the TTP has attacked educational institutions. A recent International Crisis Group report shows that in the three years between 2009 and 2012 more than 900 schools have been destroyed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

On each of these occasions the buildings were empty – never before have students been collectively targeted as they were earlier this week. This is a new trend and the first such attempt was on January 6 when a suicide bomber attempted to enter the Ibrahimzai School in the Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The consequences would have been disastrous had 15-year-old Aitzaz Hasan, not stopped him. In the ferocious struggle that ensued, the terrorist detonated his deadly load killing himself and the child hero. The teenager willingly rendered the ultimate sacrifice to save 2,000 of his fellow students, yet less than a year later, his heroism is not even a faint blip on the radar screen of public memory.

But in Peshawar on Tuesday there was no Aitzaz around and the enormity of the tragedy that unfolded will forever haunt this blighted land. The federal and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments are equally to blame. This is established by the sequence of events in the last six months.

Two days after the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the Punjab police lived up to their reputation of unimaginable brutality and killed Tahirul Qadri’s Minhajul Quran workers in Lahore’s Model Town. This resulted in angry protests by Qadri’s supporters who soon teamed up with Imran Khan’s agitation against alleged rigging in last year’s elections. Since mid-summer a tidal wave of mass protests has ravaged the political landscape, and, in the process the war for Pakistan’s survival was all but forgotten.

It is a shame that it was the gruesome slaughter of more than 130 blameless children that compelled the politicians to stop playing their selfish games. At the All-Parties Conference convened by Nawaz Sharif in Peshawar on Wednesday, the participants unanimously pledged support for the ongoing military operations in the tribal regions. They also agreed that terrorism must be conclusively defeated without distinguishing between the ‘good and the bad Taliban’.

As if to reinvent the wheel, yet another parliamentary committee which includes representatives from the military and intelligence outfits was established and mandated to come forward with an anti-terrorism plan within a week. One wonders what happened to National Internal Security Policy which was unveiled by the government with such fanfare in February.

The visit of the army chief, General Raheel Sharif accompanied DG ISI to Kabul on Wednesday said it all. He emphasised the need for Afghanistan to take action against fleeing terrorists from Pakistan’s tribal areas. The carnage in Peshawar had been conceived and planned by the TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah who was operating from the Haqqani Network-controlled areas of eastern Afghanistan.

This has to be put in perspective. The ageing Jalaluddin Haqqani has been a legend in his lifetime. With his retirement, the network he had so painstakingly established is fracturing. In mid-October his son Anas Haqqani and a key commander, Hafiz Rashid, were arrested by the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS). The NDS spokesman, Haseeb Sediqi, said that the arrests would have “direct consequences on the network and their centre of command.” He was not far wrong.

The founder of the network has already lost three of his sons – Omar, Badruddin, and Naseeruddin – and control of the outfit has devolved on Sirjuddin Haqqani who is disliked and does not have the charisma of his ailing father. Sirjauddin has provided assistance to Mullah Fazlullah and is capable of targeting Pakistan. This is what the parliamentary committee needs to brainstorm.

Imran Khan participated in the APC during which he announced that he was ending the PTI sit-in at Islamabad. The same night he told his supporters: “We can win the heart of terrorists through dialogue. But anyway, we now fully support the government’s drive to eliminate terrorism.” This raises serious questions about the APC’s actual position on the military operation.

The excruciating agony that the men, women and children of Pakistan have undergone since 2007 is comparable to the anguish of one of the most brilliant minds of Victorian England who wrote in desperation: “Suffering is one long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons. We can only record its moods, and chronicle their return. With us time does not progress. It revolves. It seems to circle round one center of pain.” In Pakistan the life of the ordinary citizen orbits around the hideous center of fear.-The News International

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