What needs to be done


A year since the descent of horrors on the City of Flowers



Maa darta tol umar da guloono khaar wayale di

Kala me peyrzo she pa bumoono Pekhawara

Forever you have been to me the City of Flowers,

Oh, Peshawar! How could I ever bear to see you bleed?

On December 16th, we were met with reminders of the tragedy that unfolded a year ago in Peshawar, everywhere we turn. A hundred and forty one people—mostly children—were massacred in the Army Public School. The final death toll amounts to a hundred and forty four today.

There have been terrorist attacks in the past, and far too many, but this one set an altogether new precedent for barbarism. The brutal targeting of innocent children enraged the entire nation, resulting in popular endorsement for the National Action Plan presented in January, 2015.

In simple terms, by endorsing the National Action Plan Pakistan made a Hobbesian deal with the state, agreeing to accept limits on their freedoms and liberties in exchange for “swift justice” to be delivered to those outfits and elements that dare disrupt the peace.

The Army has since, according to ISPR, nearly vanquished all traces of the TTP from Waziristan, where Operation Zarb-e-Azb has been in full swing with reinvigorated political support after the events of December 16th, 2014. However, the NAP is much more comprehensive than just concerning itself with the military option of countering violent extremism. Social and political reforms appear to be on the agenda when measures like cracking down on hate speech, sectarian violence, and extremist outfits functioning under the guise of political entities, were included in the NAP.

An interesting point to note, however, is that where the NAP mandated the pursuit of streamlining and reform of madrassas to curb the rise of terrorism, no mention was made of the formal education system in this context. Are we to assume that our mainstream education system, both public and private sectors, is invulnerable to extremist permeations? And if so, why have Saad Aziz and Owais Raheel been associated with terrorist outfits even though they were products of our mainstream education system?

The anniversary of the attack on APS, an educational institute, is perhaps a fitting time to ask ourselves these questions.

A recent video has emerged on social media, courtesy of the ISPR, which shows schoolchildren pursuing the daily routines of their education and singing about how the enemy will be vanquished and the victims avenged, through education.

“Mujhe dushman ke bacho ko parhana hai

Mujhe maa us say badla lene jana ha”

There’s a ring of wisdom to these words. The military option, while a valid and effective tool of combating armed militancy and subduing terrorist outfits, does not offer a lasting solution. It can only push the threat back from the frontier, but our first line of defence lies in social reforms which requires the institutions of knowledge, both mainstream and religious, to work in unison to bring us together against intolerance.

To this end, a thorough evaluation of the current syllabi of our schools and the material being produced from our government textbook boards needs to be taken more seriously. A study conducted by UNESCO into the state of misinformation being disseminated through these books is a stark reminder of the lack of quality control and objective oversight that our mainstream education suffers from. These measures may not attract the sensational satisfaction that Zarb-e-Azb has offered for many of those seeking retribution for the massacre in Peshawar, but it is a vital issue that needs to be addressed if a lasting solution is what is being pursued through the NAP.

Condemnation of intolerance every time an incident of sectarian violence happens will always ring hollow when we still tip-toe around the incidents leading up to Karbala in our Islamic history lessons. The threat of radicalisation is bound to increase if children are not learning about the diversity of the social, political and religious fabric of the populace in classrooms. They are hence made prone to subscribing to extreme views among their respective communities when tolerance and understanding is not made part of our formal education.

Our victory over the elements that perpetrate heinous crimes against humanity like the one Peshawar witnessed last year will never be complete without a comprehensive social reform which at its very basis is rooted in education. It is time that the political leadership of the country looked beyond security aspects of countering radical extremism and fully engaged themselves in their role and responsibilities as per the NAP.

The focus now—after a year of grieving and military action—should be to look beyond avenging the APS massacre, to doing our collective best to make sure it doesn’t happen again. To deny the extremists space to exploit. To work for a Pakistan where the City of Flowers can once again bloom, unhindered by the looming shadows of violent extremism.


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