Monday, February 17, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Feb 17, 2014

Bilawal’s courage Pakistan speaks with many, disparate voices on the issue of terrorism. But one voice amongst the political class’ confused and contradictory babble stands out for its clarity of vision and principle. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the young and emerging patron-in-chief of the PPP has shaken up the somnolent polity by launching and satisfactorily seeing through the Sindh Festival to raise awareness and love for Sindh and Pakistan’s ancient culture and Sufi bent, quibbling about the Festival’s credibility vis-à-vis that culture notwithstanding. It needs to be understood that culture and the country’s Sufi traditions are the direct antithesis of what the Taliban stand for. Through the two weeks the Festival lasted, people cutting across class, ethnicity, even political affiliation crowded its venues, thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and sent an unequivocal message to the Taliban that their dream of turning the country into a theological nightmare would not be allowed to succeed. That message was further driven home by Bilawal’s speech at the closing ceremony of the Festival in Thatta. The speech threw down the gauntlet to the Taliban, the threat to Bilawal and his family notwithstanding. No one can deny, whatever their other differences with the PPP, that the party, and in particular the Bhutto family, have played a big role in the resistance to the reactionary forces in our society. In that endeavour, the party’s cadres, and first and foremost the Bhutto family, have rendered tremendous sacrifices of life and security for the sacred cause of preventing the forces of darkness sweeping all that is good and healthy in our society into a cesspool of extremism, narrowness, theological dictatorship of the Taliban, and, as Bilawal put it, drag the country back into the Stone Age by misusing the name of Islam. Bilawal made a passionate appeal to the country to rise against the Taliban plan to impose their narrow ideology by force. Bilawal ‘advised’ the Taliban not to cross the limits, try to teach Islam to the sons and daughters of Babul (gateway of) Islam and understand that they would have to follow the constitution. Dialogue, he said, was always an option, but from a position of strength, not weakness. Since the Taliban are fighting us, we will have to beat them on the battlefield, he argued. Their attacks, he pointed out, were not confined to North Waziristan, they were attacking us as far afield as Karachi. Bilawal pledged that he would like to eliminate the Taliban from Pakistan. Everybody in the country should just admit that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is an enemy driven by the lust for blood and they have no interest in peace, despite the show of participating indirectly in the peace talks. Despite this obvious truth, Bilawal expressed surprise at some parties’ continuing insistence on holding talks with such deadly enemies. “Every drop of blood being sacrificed by the public and the nation’s brave armed forces is creating unity and consensus that beasts can never be lured through roses and they need to be responded to in the same language,” he added. Showing sympathy for and solidarity with the bereaved families of terrorism’s victims, he said he shared their pain since he too had lost his mother in the nation’s war for survival. Rounding off his address, Bilawal once again reiterated that the solution lay not in a dialogue with the terrorists but military operations to root them out. Since the start of 2014, 130 people have been killed. This has brought pressure to bear on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government for the lack of a strong response to rising acts of terrorism. The government, despite paying lip service to the ‘other’ option, so far has put all its eggs in the basket of negotiations. In its own interest, it must tread carefully that this so far one-sided approach does not end up leaving all that egg on its face if the talks do not succeed in restoring peace and the government is found wanting for not having a strategy to fall back on. En route home from Turkey, the prime minister said the government was sincere, but violence must stop to allow the peace talks a chance. He also dispelled the speculation that the military was not one with the government on its talks strategy. While Bilawal clearly spelt out his view and that of the enlightened amongst us in Thatta, the maulvis (clerics) were at their obfuscatory best once again in the ulema convention in Islamabad. The path ahead has been lit by Bilawal. It is for us to take up that banner and march forward.

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