The Peshawar massacre has stunned Pakistanis beyond belief that some of their own could do this to their own and that it might be similar to what the Pakistani Deep State has been doing in the neighbourhood. The brutality of the latest killings was similar to that of Boko Haram and ISIS, which is an even more disturbing trend.
Killing of innocents has been frequent in Pakistan. A suicide bomber killed 105 innocents watching a volleyball match in Lakki Marwat, 96 Hazaras died in a snooker club blast, 127 Christians were killed in Peshawar and 90 Ahmedis were killed while at prayer. Shias have been repeatedly killed in cold blood in Balochistan and Gilgit; all these atrocities were outside Punjab. Obviously, some powerful people have made their peace with Mephistopheles.
Pakistani troops stand guard following a government decision to hang around 500 militants in coming weeks. Six militants have been hanged since December 19, amid rising public anger over the December 16 attack on a Peshawar school. Pic/AFP
There must be a reason behind the Pakistan Army’s machismo in its reactions this time. Obviously a large number of army personnel’s families have been hurt in the Peshawar incident. It is now a question of boosting the morale, given the ethnic composition of the army.
Notice also that the TTP did not refer to Shariah or Islamic state when announcing that they had carried out the carnage. They spoke of revenge — for what the Pakistan Army did in FATA and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa since 2004 under orders from General Musharraf. Entire villages were razed to the ground with artillery fire and PAF flew in sorties for destroying property and families. As a result, 8 million people were displaced. No wonder General Musharraf has been keen to blame India and speak of retaliation. One million have been displaced since Operation Zarb-e-Azb started in June, 2014.
Pakistan has long been a victim of blowback. Many Pakistanis and Western experts assess that Pakistan has already begun to obfuscate facts. There is consensus that the country’s rulers will not give up jihad as an instrument of policy, even though maintaining them as strategic assets was no longer feasible. No fundamental change was expected and Pakistan may not be any closer to solving its terrorist problem, which can only be done by changing its narrative on radicalism. The tough questions that one sees on the social media will ultimately run their course, and military commanders will stonewall questions about the logic of supporting terror groups.
Pakistan will have to realise that denial is not resilience. Denial is destructive. Pakistan needs to admit that the killers are homegrown, not outsiders or infidels. TTP is no longer only about terrorism; it is an insurgency. Pakistanis will have to pick up courage and forcefully discredit claims of those who lie about the identity of the terrorists.
The present trend of endless violence can only be prevented over time with a change of attitudes and mindsets. Take, for instance, the kind of hate-India talk that GHQ’s rent-a-goon like Aamir Liaquat delivered in Karachi one day after the Peshawar bombing, even as there was a wave of sympathy for Pakistan in India. It showed a mindset reflected in the strategic paradigm that seeks to conquer and annihilate India and has been built over decades in Pakistan.
It is how governments and societies react to bigotry that is important in determining the direction a country will take. Extremists like Hafiz Saeed exist in most societies but on its fringes, not in the mainstream. In Pakistan he receives state funding and support as he talks of waging his Ghazwa-e-Hind against India. The release of the Mumbai bombing accused Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi two days after the Peshawar massacre, and of Malik Ishaq, chief of the rabidly sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi that is responsible for the killing of Shias in Pakistan, only showed which way the war on terror is headed. This, despite the high-profile bombings in FATA and the mass executions.
Pakistan will be seen to have changed its attitude if it muzzles its various loose cannons, locks up terrorists, speeds up trials and carries out convictions of well known terrorists, including the trial of the 26/11 accused. It must dismantle the apparatus of jihad, which also means abandoning its good terrorist and bad terrorist policy with regard to both India and Afghanistan.
Countering violence with greater violence or brutality with greater brutality will only increase both. It could lead to a serious backlash from a population nurturing a sense of deprivation, discrimination and endless tragedy.
The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)