Mehmal Sarfraz Column: Changing the narrative for peace

December 16, 2014, is a day that will haunt our memories forever. Around 150 people — more than 120 of them children — were brutally murdered, nay massacred, by Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists at Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar.

Pakistan has seen so many terrorist attacks in the last decade that we have lost count. All we know is that more than 60,000 civilians have lost their lives in these attacks and thousands of security officials have also been martyred. All lives are equally important; they all matter but the way these children were killed shook each and every one of us. Those children who survived the attack are scarred for life. We cannot even begin to imagine how their lives have changed forever.

A year after the Peshawar school massacre, teachers and students in Lahore hold a vigil in memory of the victims. Pic/AFP
A year after the Peshawar school massacre, teachers and students in Lahore hold a vigil in memory of the victims. Pic/AFP

This attack also changed Pakistan — not in entirety but in some ways. There was palpable anger in society after the APS attack. As a result, the pro-Taliban narrative was changed; the military establishment changed its tune, so did the politicians and the media. But as The Economist pointed out, there is much left to do because “drawing the poison from decades of state-sanctioned Islamisation will prove far harder than picking off militant leaders — not least because death squads and the casual use of capital punishment risks a backlash”.

To squash the Hydra of Islamisation, unleashed by the state in the last six decades, will take many more decades. It cannot take place unless and until the state treats all terrorists as one and the same. Selective accountability is not the way to eradicate terrorism from our soil. Action should be taken against all militant outfits — even those outfits that are considered as our state’s ‘assets’. Our state must learn that these so-called assets are terrorists at the end of the day and not loyal to anyone but themselves.

We must not forget that the TTP was once considered to be our ‘brethren’ who had been led astray due to the war on terror. Such fallacies propagated by the state is why our society is living in denial. Most of our people think that every bad thing that happens in Pakistan is due to some external force. We have stopped introspecting and refuse to believe that the enemy lives within. If we want our children to be safe and live peacefully in this country, we must start challenging the state’s flawed policies. It may take decades, but we need to initiate this process now, or else it will continue to haunt our future generations.

On another note, following her visit to Islamabad, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Lok Sabha that war is not an option and dialogue is the way forward with Pakistan to fight the ‘shadow of terror’. Ms Swaraj is right. So far the Modi government has been extremely hawkish when it comes to Pakistan but, slowly, it has realised that without dialogue, both India and Pakistan cannot progress. Instead of stockpiling nukes, we should be spending that money on eradication of poverty. Our people have suffered enough as it is. Now they need peace — in their homes and in the region.

The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at mehmal.s@gmail.com

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