In the early evening hours of March 27, 2016, a bomb blast ripped through a crowded park in the heart – and throne – of Punjab. The Easter Sunday bombing in Lahore, in which 72 people (including 29 children) were killed and 300 injured, is one of the worst incidents of terrorism to strike Pakistan in recent times. The attack triggered a debate on what is lacking in Pakistan’s plan of action against terrorism and whether the military should launch an operation in Punjab. The state remains divided on the issue. The Herald reached out to a panel of commentators to get their thoughts.
At a loss for words
It is the obvious truth that always evades us, the shadow that follows us, the nightmare that keeps us awake, our eyes glazed over, our spirits tired. Yet we continue to look away every time the truth stares us in the face, as if staring into the deep abyss which surrounds us is more painful than averting our collective gaze from the broken bodies of young children torn apart while playing in a park.
There were many children that fateful Easter evening, celebrating a spring which seemed to stretch out in defiance of the sun mounting in a sky the colour of ageing bones. There was laughter, a clamouring for joy, that emotion we have forgotten beneath the layers of loss which threaten to suffocate us. And then there was blood, and pain, and the anguish of mothers as they searched for their children, or what remained of them.
Like a nation cursed with neurosis, we repeat the same tragedy over and over again, till we are numb and the next one is just a break from the daily struggle for survival. We forget that it is the children who shall make the future, that in their tender hands lies the fate of this country, that in their education lies the formation of their ideas, that in those ideas lies the redemption or the destruction of this nation. We forget that more than 60 per cent of our children are still out of school, while billions are spent on infrastructure which is taking a lost nation nowhere. We forget that it is in the choices that a woman makes to control her own fertility that we can find the answers to a more just and equitable society, free from the tyranny of compulsion.
By Feryal Gauhar
The writer is a human rights activist and former United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Population Fund.
Missing the nuances
The Pakistani print and television industry has singularly failed in crafting a professional approach to covering terrorist events. The sensationalist reportage is often exacerbated by a limited understanding of the nuanced discourse of extremism. News cannot and must not be censored. But the television reportage frequently degenerates into a litany of the state’s failures and the terrorists’ successes, implicit in the first question: was this a security lapse?
But the media needs to start giving equal attention to excellent successes in the field. How many are aware that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bomb Disposal squads, working under extremely hazardous conditions, have defused almost 6,000 bombs from 2009 to 2014?
Clearly, the state and some political and religious parties have clouded the issue, resulting in a confused and frequently self-contradictory narrative. But the media itself seems to be divided. Everyone offers lip service to rejecting terrorism, but right-wing commentators and columnists freely function as apologists, subtly justifying domestic terrorism by linking it to international events and Western policies. In some cases, the right-wing Urdu print and electronic media have even sympathised with terrorists.
Perhaps the area where we have critically failed is in recognising extremism in all its manifestations. Growing extremism in society is directly linked to extremist sympathisers who function as facilitators and financiers of domestic terrorism. Terrorist organisations recruit followers from people who are confused by conflicting narratives presented by the state and the media.
By Quatrina Hosain
The writer is a veteran journalist of 28 years in print and electronic media.
Enemies of the state
In one word: clarity!
Pakistan has been at it in earnest since 9/11. Expectedly, areas of operation have expanded as the menace has spread; strategies and tactics have altered; the constant interplay between the internal threats and regional geopolitics has ebbed and flowed; we have had massive failures and big successes. And yet, the most basic question has never been satisfactorily answered: what is the state’s five, ten, twenty, thirty year plan to rid Pakistan of terrorism, to bring sustainable peace to its people?
To be sure, what the Pakistani state has achieved so far is not trivial. All we have to do is look to the Middle East and realize how quickly things can unravel if that state is not up to the task. Thankfully, the Pakistani state does seem to have gotten past the worse. It isn’t about state collapse; it is really about how to get from the current level of violence to sustainable peace. But that is where we have failed consistently: there is a failure of imagination, failure of resolve and a failure of long-term strategy. Or so it seems to the average citizen. And this makes the impressive gains in the counterterrorism domain susceptible to reversal.
Also read: Islamic Republic versus Islamic State
The state tells us it is committed to eradicating terrorism. We believe that. But that can’t be enough. Citizens need to know enough about what is going on to rally behind the state. An inquisitive mind must wonder: why is it that gruesome terrorist attacks must kill women and children before the state springs into action; are we or are we not out of the good Taliban versus bad Taliban mindset (or is our definition of ‘bad’ still complacent); just how are we going to pull back from use of force in every nook and cranny of the country and get to peace building through non-violent means; why should we believe that the government will be able to implement the National Action Plan in its entirety when the country is unmistakably of the elite and for the elite.
The Pakistani state has never really believed in accountability, nor has the society. We must. Because only then can the society help the state do better for its people.
By Moeed Yusuf
The writer is a South Asia expert based in Washington D.C.
Left and right
During the last three and a half decades, violence has been employed as a strategic tool by Pakistan. The emerging situation has rattled the state and its institutions in their war against terror. They need support of the society, especially of the intelligentsia whose response has not been strong enough. The right-leaning segment of the intelligentsia tries to appeal to a new version of faith-driven patriotism.
But they have no credibility because they helped forge the political and ideological claptrap that the national landscape is littered with. Their voice goes unheard simply because they have been part of the problem. Being insiders they know the power of the state and the terrorists; they support the state and oppose the terror networks half-heartedly. It is perhaps fear that prevents them from going the whole way in addition to the sympathy that they have for the millenarians at a subterranean level.
Left leaning and democratic intellectuals doubt whether the paradigm shift regarding terrorism is real or not. They can see that a selective approach persists; good terrorists are still being sifted from the bad ones. Besides, they have had to negotiate their very survival in the face of relentless onslaught unleashed by the state and terror networks against them in the past decades. They doubt the state’s resolve and fear the terrorists’ retaliatory power. So they raise their voice against the terrorism menace cautiously.
The intelligentsia can play a crucial role in suggesting educational reforms to combat the extremist mindset, a product of our prevalent religious and non-religious teachings. And this is where it has shown a glaring lack of vision and pragmatism.
The intelligentsia must pressure the state to give up its dangerous notion of violence as a strategic tool. Secondly, it must debunk the myth that some convoluted ideology can be a substitute for rational imperatives in the affairs of the state that will ensure a terror-free future for our children.
By Mushtaq Soofi
The writer is a poet based in Lahore.
Illustrations by Khuda Bux Abro
This originally appeared in the Herald's May 2016 issue. To read more, subscribe to the Herald in print.