Monday, December 22, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Dec 23, 2014

People’s role Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan unloaded a great many thoughts and ideas during his press conference on Sunday. The gist of his remarks revolved around the following proposition: a repeat attack like the one in Peshawar could be expected as revenge for the hangings of convicted terrorists. Four more were hanged on Sunday in Faisalabad, bringing the total so far to six. Kot Lakhpat Jail Lahore is said to be preparing to hang four convicts within the next 24-36 hours, Sukkur Jail is reportedly awaiting the death warrant of two, another 17 are expected to swing this week. According to Chaudhry Nisar, in all about 500 hangings are due. The minister wants some out-of-the-box solutions to tackle the terrorist threat, without enlightening us what the ‘box’ has represented so far. Chaudhry Nisar wants the people to act as the eyes and ears of the state by reporting suspicious persons, objects, activity in their localities. This is of course a capital idea, one we have been advocating for long in this space, given that the state’s eyes and ears, the intelligence agencies, cannot be everywhere at once. Further ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas of the minister involve hotels and house owners being careful who they accommodate and being held responsible if their guests or tenants are found responsible for any terrorist act; mobile telephone companies ensuring they do not issue illegal SIMS and also being held responsible if such SIMS are used for terrorism, and media to deny the oxygen of publicity to the terrorists or their sympathisers, preferably through a voluntary code of ethics, through proposed legislation if they do not. All these measures are justified by the argument of the minister that we are in a state of war. That there is no denying, but one may be forgiven the quibble why all this was not found necessary until the Peshawar wake up call. After all, terrorism did not begin here on December 16. Not to put too fine a point on it, one should perhaps be grateful realisation has dawned: better late than never. However, what is missing in this wish-list is the mobilising power of a counter-narrative that demolishes the appeal of the extremists and terrorists beyond their actual ranks, first and foremost their attempt to monopolise the pristine name of Islam for their skewed and unacceptable worldview. And speaking of Islam, the worthy minister quoted intelligence reports to argue that 90 percent of religious seminaries were not involved in terrorism. For the sake of argument if the minister’s statement is taken at face value (although he did qualify it by adding that even this 90 percent needed to be investigated as to their sources of funding, which implies dubious connections may be revealed thereby), the logical corollary that suggests itself is what successive governments, including this one, have done about the remaining 10 percent, whose involvement in terrorist activities seems implicit in Chaudhry Nisar’s analysis. While praising the ulema’s role in standing with the citizenry in condemning the Peshawar atrocity (apart from loonies like Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid, who too has had to retreat from his original outlandish positions under public pressure and protest), Chaudhry Nisar needs to explain why the 10 percent implicitly involved in terrorism-related activities are untouched so far and continue to function. The Peshawar attack and massacre has proved indefensible, even by forces that could have been expected to mumble some defence, justification or excuse. Take the fact that al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (a newly formed entity) felt compelled to condemn the Peshawar incident, although it hedged its position by reference to its interpretation of Islam, sharia, and jihad. Even our closet Taliban sympathisers such as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf has been forced to trash the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other terrorist groups. Truly, circumstances do the man make. Given the almost universal consensus rejecting the TTP and other such johnnies in Pakistan (and outside it), there has never been a better moment to mount a narrative that rescues state and society from the blind alley and cul de sac of active participation in or passive sympathy for the inhumane, barbaric fascism of the terrorists. That is the surest way to mobilise the people of Pakistan to take on this monster in our midst, without which the state will be hard pressed to achieve its goals of eliminating what has finally come to be recognised as an existential threat to state and society.

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