Will the State continue to stumble down a road of impotence and indifference?
The deafening bang was followed, after just a stunned moment’s pause, by piercing screams. In the blink of an eye, several men – or pieces of them – could be seen scattered across a landscape that seemed eerily like a scene from some imagined battlefield of the Crusades. Within a few seconds, the heavy and festering stench of blood, mixed with that of gunpowder, quickly spread through the acrid air, as uniformed personnel, and their commanders, began to take stock of what had happened. It was not known how many lives had been extinguished in that moment. It was unclear how many would survive in the days to follow. It was uncertain, yet, who was responsible. The only certainty, amidst the chaos, was that of tragedy, on the eve of Eid-ul-Fitr.
Scene? The funeral prayer of SHO Mohibullah, who had been assassinated the day before, during Ramadan. Targets? Our brave law-enforcement officials, gathered at the Police Lines. Place? The blood-stained city of Quetta.
Such an event should be cataclysmic for state authorities: after all, law-enforcement personnel – the very people trained by the state to guard our lives and safety – had been attacked and massacred in their own home. In Pakistan, however, where the news of death and terrorism has become nothing more than a punctuation mark between otherwise ‘national events’ such as the writing of a letter to Swiss authorities, or who called whom ‘shameful’, there was barely any undulation in what Churchill called “the ship of state”. Customarily, all political leaders voiced their token ‘muzammat’. The prime minister went a step further to ‘direct’ the interior minister to present a ‘draft’ of a comprehensive security policy within five days. Bravo!
In the days thereafter, 10 people have died in a shoot-out near a mosque, two FC personnel were injured in a roadside bomb, two others died in another blast, and a train was ambushed and passengers killed – all in Quetta. What to talk of a lone gunman holding the entire nation hostage in Islamabad!
The question of how did we get to this place, has been dilated upon countless times, by experts and anchors, in a perpetual finger pointing exercise. There is no time to deliberate upon it anymore.
Let us ask, instead, how can we dig ourselves out of this place? Do we have a coherent institutional approach to fighting the scourge of violence in our society? Or will we continue to stumble down a road of impotence and apathy?
Does the government have an actionable strategy to counter terrorism? Or did the prime minister, in asking for the ‘security policy’ within five days from the event, just woken up to the need to have a coherent governmental response? What kind of due-diligence and consultation with stakeholders could go into this impromptu policy? Is a consultation even required, or should the government dispense with ideas of ‘consensus-formation’? Will this policy just be a ‘draft’, destined to be lost in the oblivion of GHQ and the bureaucracy? And, importantly, if an effective and workable security policy can really be prepared within five days, then perhaps the prime minister would be kind enough to explain to the families of all the victims who have perished since his government has come to power, as to why this policy could not be prepared as the first order of business? What graver or more solemn responsibility does the government have than protection of the lives and property of its people?
The attack has been claimed (proudly) by the TTP. And our political leaders, even during their perfunctory muzammat, have not mustered the courage to call the enemy by its name. There have been murmurs of condemning the ‘enemy’, by the religious parties that are allied with the government. Even those who have mustered the courage to voice their opposition of the TTP, have stopped short of the necessary step of condemning all other such banned organizations who are merely an extension of the TTP agenda. And the security policy framework, being leaked by the PML-N – a party that has historically had a soft corner for the religious right – does not articulate any stand against outfits such as LeJ, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Jamat-ud-Dawa. Does the government recognize the fact that fighting terrorism is like fighting cancer: it cannot be treated just where it’s visible – every diseased cell in the body must be destroyed!
And in that spirit, developing a security policy that does not declare a comprehensive strategy towards all militancy in Pakistan is simply an abdication of governmental responsibilities.
Each time a member of the government is confronted with, or asked about, their apathy towards countering terrorism, we are met with the same evasive answer: there needs to be a ‘national consensus’ on how to deal with militancy and terrorism in our nation. We are reminded that without a nationwide ‘consensus’, there can be no effective counter to terrorism. And the vagueness of this proposition makes it uncontestable in theory.
But what will be the contours of this consensus? Who all must be a part of this consensus, for it to succeed? Who should start the process? And on what parameters would others be rallied? And how many people and parties must ‘agree’ before we can call any strategy a consensus? And what options would our nation have, if that critical mass were not reached? Would anarchy then be the new form of government in Pakistan?
The truth is that all this talk of ‘consensus-building’ is nothing more than a convenient excuse for the government to hide behind. A consensus on our national security strategy would be great. But an absence of such a consensus, does not justify apathy! Governance is not simply process of following the prevailing sentiment of the people. More often than not, governance is having the courage to blaze a path that others can later see the wisdom in. Even if no one were to agree with anyone else, the state of Pakistan must still develop and implement a security policy that makes our streets and schools and mosques safer.
Let us be clear: religious militancy has a loaded gun to our head. The time – if there was any – for minced words and empty gestures has now passed. As Dante Alighieri once said, “the darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” Religious fanaticism must now be met with our fervour for freedom. Let us be reminded that extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice! Restraint in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!
History talks of a time, almost two thousand years ago, when a Roman citizen could walk across the face of the known world, free from all fear of abuse or assault. A Roman citizen could walk across the Earth, unharmed – cloaked only in the protection of the words “civis Romanus”: I am a Citizen of Rome. So dreadful and certain was the retribution of Rome, should any harm befall even one of its citizens, that this fact alone served a potent shield against all hostile Kings and vagabonds. Reason? The Roman empire cared for every single Roman life.
When will the state of Pakistan wake up from its apathetic slumber? When will ‘civis Pakistan’, be sufficient shield against violent aggression?
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: [email protected]