It does not inspire much confidence in the government to have the counterterrorism plan acronymed NAP; they should have at least rolled it on their tongue to make sure the name does not give terrorists a psychological advantage. This National Action Plan (NAP) claims the government will root out not just terrorists, the good and the bad (as if we were talking about macroons in a coffee shop). but also religious extremism.
The thing with extremism is that it takes more than a reshuffling of permutations to root it out. It takes more than the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Raheel Sharif, to welcome children back to the Army Public School after suicide attackers killed nearly 150 people, 132 of them children, more than banning a few hate speech literature samples, more than freezing Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and its political wing, Jamat-ud-Dawa’s assets despite letting it reign free after it executed Mumbai’s terror attacks, more than hanging a few alleged masterminds of terror attacks, more than arresting a red mosque cleric for inciting violence and more than the grand war in North Waziristan, Operation Zarb-e-Azb. All intense steps but lacking in what one could call the absolute strike down.
For years now, Pakistan has been accumulating bad karma underneath the rug of draconian laws meant to protect the honour of Islam but, in reality, they were just a means of burning at the stake those outside its fold. In the case of Shama Bibi and her husband Shahzad Masih working as brick kiln workers, living near Kot Rada Kishan in Punjab, this was done quite literally. In November 2014, they turned to ash while four of their children looked on helplessly. When the announcement came from the local mosque to teach them justice for allegedly blaspheming, people took the law into their own hands because the punishment for an alleged blasphemy as for convicted blasphemy is the same: death. It is nearly impossible to prove that you did not commit the crime once accused. Pakistan has a lot of explaining to do to those four children.
Dare I say that until this madness and barbarianism is rectified, no band-aids or quick fixes will root out extremism because there will always be these laws to bask under for terrorists who fulfil their personal need for a sense of validation. Violence will always find a way to gain both favour and fame. God knows it worked for the murderer of Salmaan Taseer, the sitting governor of Punjab. Mumtaz Qadri today has a mosque named after him on the outskirts of Islamabad. Pakistanis need to be disabused of the notion that they can be absolute interpreters of the Almighty, in terms of who the infidels are and who have, consequently, conferred on them the right to die by their hands. The state cannot allow for this any more on its soil. This soil promised respite from subjugation and inequality for everyone.
If indeed at this critical juncture the government feels that it will not find public support for undoing the toxicity that Zia injected into the system, it needs to think again. It was, after all, both Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif who dragged their feet in meeting the Pakistani Taliban on the battlefield when they were shooting our girls in the head. What happened? The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) sent a signal with the Peshawar attack that the government can chew on the negotiation pill all they want but the TTP were not interested, and now we have a groundswell of support in Pakistan to meet the murderers of our children on the battlefield.
Likewise, let us not second-guess what support base these laws have or do not have. God knows that the soul of this country will not rise from the ashes of burned Christians again. The time to act was yesterday. The children of Shama Bibi and Shahzad Masih are no lesser children than those we lost on that December day in 2014. Now, as the military gains more control of the government’s powers (and the judiciary’s), let us not get too carried away into thinking this is not anything but a more palatable coup — a point in our history we probably would not be coming to if our political parties were not trying to outmanoeuvre each other from the dharna (sit-in) stage, dramatics and all.
The Peshawar attack is our 9/11. We knew it was coming and we continued to do what we do best: trying to grow our own doctrine.