Watching Nawaz Sharif in the wake of the soul-destroying Peshawar massacre, it becomes obvious that an Ataturk he is not. A transformative leadership is denied to Pakistan at this time of great tumult in the hearts and minds of the people. That means that our rulers are likely to apply the same thinking in dealing with the menace of terrorism that had allowed its growth in the first place. So, what can change in this country?
In some ways, a new beginning was made when the army launched its operation in North Waziristan and the chief of army staff demonstrated his credible resolve to go after the terrorists without any discrimination. After the meeting of the country’s political leadership in Peshawar on Wednesday, the prime minister also affirmed that in the proposed national action plan “there will be no distinction between good and bad Taliban”.
The confession embedded in this assertion is something that our leadership may not be willing to contend with in right earnest. At least there is no evidence yet of any inclination to define the enemy and the frontiers that have to be guarded. Gen Raheel Sharif had a point when he stated in Karachi early this month that the enemy lives within us and looks like us. But this formulation demands careful elucidation and must be translated into strategy. Can our civilian leadership be assigned to carry out this mission?
This is not to undermine the onerous task that the prime minister has undertaken. His heart, we can see, is in the right place. He seems fully aware of the human dimensions of a tragedy that has left the entire nation in an unfathomable state of bereavement. We can be sure that in this particular endeavour, he is very sincere. We should also confirm that he has grown in his job, mainly in a political context.
But he remains a prisoner of his circumstances and experience. We cannot expect him to suddenly embark upon a revolutionary project to change this entire scheme of things. In fact, we do not know if the present rulers are fully aware of the challenge they confront. Yes, fighting with terrorists who are out there somewhere is an urgent assignment in a tangible manner.
However, a more serious battle is to be fought in the minds of men. It is time to accept that large tracts of the Pakistani minds have already been Talibanised and Pakistan’s survival will depend on securing these territories to make room for a moral and intellectual reconstruction of the Pakistani society. This, too, is an urgent task and its plan should be present to the rulers as they move forward from, in a sense, the launching pad of a school in which more than 130 students were brutally murdered on December 16.
Could Imran Khan be expected to lead the war that is to be fought in the minds of men? Unfortunately, he has chosen to play a different game. His slogan for a ‘naya’ Pakistan certainly has some appeal in restricted areas, particularly the urban youth and women. This essentially is the constituency that has to be explored to promote liberal and progressive values. It is Pakistan’s bad luck that Imran’s charisma has been frittered away in conjuring ideas that remain vague and often contradictory.
After the Peshawar massacre, he accepted Nawaz Sharif’s invitation to attend the conference of national leaders and then announced his difficult and emotional decision to call off his ‘dharna’. Take this as one example of how the Peshawar tragedy has become a catalyst, providing a great opportunity to make new beginnings – and wind up some campaigns that are not directly relevant to the crisis at hand.
I have been one of those critics of Imran Khan who strongly felt that he had distracted the nation’s attention from such issues as the army operation against terrorists. Initially in partnership with Tahirul Qadri, who at least was on the right side on the question of terrorism, and then on a solo flight, Imran had succeeded in raising the political temperature in collaboration with a media that has been as deficient, professionally, in raising awareness about the actual crisis of our society as our political leaders have been. In any case, what has happened now is a vindication of the charge that Imran’s ‘dharna’ was a distraction.
At the same time, one cannot absolve other political parties and elements from their responsibility to steer public opinion in the right direction in the context of making Pakistan safe for democracy and progress. To a considerable extent, we have all been in denial. The Taliban, in a generic sense, have been winning their battles, though not without help. It has been a long process. After all, you do not build up the horrendous tally of 50,000 casualties in a short time. And finally we are confronted with the Peshawar massacre.
What we should understand is that this was an act of utter desperation on the part of the terrorists because the army operation has evidently hurt them severely. When we are assured that distinction between the good and the bad Taliban has been removed, we are encouraged to expect concerted action to prevent the resurgence of the Taliban in any form or fashion. In other words, the rulers have to check the growth of Islamist radicalisation that has continued unabated.
Who could have imagined that even at this time when we are all emotionally shattered by the deadliest single attack by the Taliban, someone would refuse to condemn this atrocity on a national television channel. I am referring to Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid. That he would be invited to a talk show is itself inexplicable. However, a large number of civil society activists demonstrated in front of the Masjid in Islamabad on Thursday. I look at this impromptu gathering as a silver lining.
But look at the dark cloud that hovers on the horizon. Our society is almost immobilised by the domination of militant outfits and religious extremists. It is becoming more and more difficult to raise a voice of reason. Violence, fed by fanaticism and intolerance, is a kind of environmental hazard. Terrorism is the ultimate expression of this deadly disorder.
In the midst of all this gloom, however, there is some hope that our rulers will seize this opportunity to realign the direction of this country towards peace and social enlightenment. They have to reject the Taliban mindset and allow Pakistan to enter the modern age. But where is our Ataturk?
The writer is a staff member.
Email: [email protected]
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