Narratives and Counter Narratives: Who Are We Supposed To Believe?

President Mamnoon Hussain has joined the call for a counter narrative against extremism and terrorism. This statement puts the President on same footing as ex-COAS Gen Raheel Sharif who gave a similar recommendation at World Economic Forum in January. With such luminaries making the case for a counter narrative against extremism and terrorism, one would be sure that the state had finally reached a unified approach to combating the threat of militancy. Despite these lofty remarks, however, the message reaching the people remains divided.

Lt Gen Muhammad Asad Durrani

Ex-DG ISI says terrorism justified

President and ex-COAS have called for counter narrative against terrorism, but former DG ISI Lt Gen (r) Asad Durrani has a new piece in Dawn justifying terrorism as a ‘technique of war‘, and possibly just ‘part of human nature’.

Gen Mirza Aslam Beg

Ex-COAS says Taliban ideology is equal to Islam

Lt Gen (r) Asad Durrani’s pro-terrorism stance was quickly supported by no less than  ex-Chief of Army Staff Gen (r) Mirza Aslam Beg who wrote in The Nation that Pakistan’s national security was threatened by anyone who criticises Jamaatud Dawah and Taliban, both of which are black listed in the world as terrorist groups. In case there was any doubt, Gen Beg explained that Taliban can never be defeated because of their ideology which he says is equal to Islam.

Official press releases declare that whole nation is unified against terrorism and extremism, but the reality is not clear. We have always been taught to trust our Generals as beyond doubt. Now they are telling us that we should be for terrorism and that Taliban ideology is Islam. Others are telling us that terrorism is never justified and Taliban ideology is not Islam. Meanwhile whole nation is divided and confused who to believe? Pakistan will continue to suffer.

PSL Final: A glimpse of the possible, and the danger of complacency

Lahore PSL FinalIt was spectacular. The most historic PSL Final held in Lahore among glittering lights and screaming fans was a much needed reprieve from the doubt and despair that crept back again after last month’s string of terrorist attacks. But it was much more also. It was a glimpse into the greatness in our country that is being held back by extremism.

If we are going to successfully see the possible become the norm, however, we must avoid the trap of complacency. We should be proud of what we accomplished. We had our moment one the world’s stage and we shone brightly. But we did not defeat terrorism.

The successful match brought out our national pride on social media, but it also brought out dangerous delusions. There were the hypernationalistic pro-Army accounts that once again tried to steal the nation’s prize for a few only

Obviously security agencies deserve our respect for their role, but it was more than just Armed Forces responsible for security. It was police also. And it was us, the citizens, who made sure that everything went accordingly. Credit goes to all of us, not just Armed Forces.

These posts were part of the misguided trend that has appeared of #VictoryAgainstTerrorism. We must be careful about declaring every successful event as a victory against terrorism because doing this suggests that terrorism is the norm and being able to do anything without an attack is unusual. PSL Final was a victory of Pakistan in every respect – sport, civil society, government, LEAs, business, etc etc etc.

Worst, though, is that trends like #VictoryAgainstTerrorism could allow some sense of complacency to creep back in. If we learned anything from Zarb-e-Azb, it’s that declaring victory prematurely and trying to win a fight via press release is a recipe for failure. Raddul Fasaad is in its infancy. It must be given time to mature and root out the threat of militant groups and the extremist ideology that feed them.

Hours after PSL Final wrapped up, 5 more soldiers were martyred in another militant attack. Their sacrifice is the reality that the successful PSL Final was not a sign of the success of Raddul Fasaad, but a sign of why it’s so important to finally pull extremism out by the roots and let Pakistan’s greatness shine through every day.

The existential threat is not terrorism

Lal Shahbaz

I had planned to write a short piece about this week’s suicide attack, but then there was another one. And another one. And then there was another one. The big one. Lal Shahbaz shrine attacked and close to 100 innocents killed, with hundreds more wounded.

This wasn’t supposed to be possible. Gen Raheel had broken the back of terrorists. Gen Bajwa reassured us, terrorism had successfully been defeated. The war was over. We won. Yes, there were still some acts of violence, but these were acts of sabotage by foreign agencies who wanted to derail CPEC. Or PSL.

A foreign conspiracy could be found for every attack, and we were told that if it wasn’t for world powers fear of our coming rise to super power status, this would be a land of peace and prosperity. But what economic route runs through Lal Shahbaz? What cricket tournament was being hosted there? What sensitive installations were hidden underneath? The only thing there was a crowd of common Pakistanis looking for peace.

Lal Shahbaz blast was a wake up call. The state swiftly responded with promises of ‘no more restraint for anyone’. The nation was now in a state of ‘all out war.’ The words were right, but they were met with confusion. What does this mean ‘no restraint against anyone’? Wasn’t that the National Action Plan that is now two years old? What does this mean ‘all out war’? Wasn’t that Zarb-e-Azb launched three years ago? If now we are done showing restraint, does that mean we have been lied to since before?

What came next left even more questions. Under what authority does GHQ summon foreign diplomats? Is the state really so gullible to allow militants to enter Pakistan if they ‘disavow terrorism‘? Why are we sealing Torkham border when the militants are coming from places like Multan? The state’s response to this week’s terror operations has been to repeat the same old script. Terrorists are foreign agents. We will not rest until they are stopped. Problem is, we have heard it all before. What is new this time?

Many so-called ‘liberal’ writers and bloggers have been criticised for not supporting Army’s efforts against terrorism since the past few years. But is reality ‘liberal’ or is it just reality? On this blog we have warned that terrorism was flourishing despite Zarb-e-Azb. We noted that despite all claims that terrorists werer foreigners, it was always Pakistanis being arrested. We warned that double-standards for different militants was a dangerous policy that would undermine our security. Every time, we are accused of being ‘anti-Army’. But everything we reported was just reality. It wasn’t anti-Army, even if it was critical of national security strategy. If national security strategy is in conflict with reality, isn’t it actually pro-Army to let them know?

Some in our agencies have tried to bend reality to match their national security strategy. It is a complete and total failure, and the damning evidence are the innocent lives lost in this week’s terrorist attacks. Terrorism is not the existential threat to Pakistan. The existential threat to Pakistan is the desire to bend reality to match our national security strategy instead of adapting our strategy to match reality. If we cannot do that, I’m afraid there is not much hope for us.

APS Massacre: What we remember, and what we forget

Mother of APS MartyrA public holiday has been announced and all schools will be closed in Peshawar to observe second anniversary of APS attack. There are some who say that the better observation would be for all children to attend school, which would be a greater defiance of the terrorist threat, but the most important is that we take the time to think about how to prevent another massacre from taking place. The only way to do this is to directly take on extremism completely and without any exceptions.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb has made important progress in reducing the ability of anti-state militants to carry out attacks, but it has not come near the claimed success of ‘breaking the back’ of militants. They may be less common, but major terrorist attacks continue, including those targeting students such as the attack on Bacha Khan University and the deadly attack on Balochistan police college in Quetta earlier this year.

However it is not only these attacks that show the threat of terrorism continues. ASWJ backed candidate Maulana Masroor Nawaz Jhangvi, son of Sipah-e-Sahaba founder Haq Nawaz Jhangnvi, was elected to Punjab Assembly just a few weeks ago. Only a few days ago, a mob of thousands attacked an Ahmadi masjid in Lahore. Today, while we are memorialising those innocent students who were killed by extremist militants, there religious extremists are literally marching through the streets of Lahore.

Today we remember the lives of those innocent children martyred by extremist militants, but have we forgotten the promise of zero-tolerance for extremism and tackling militant groups without exception?

Raid on Ahmadiyya HQ shows deep roots of religious hatred

arrestPrime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s move to rename Quaid-i-Azam University’s (QAU) physics department to the Professor Abdus Salam Center for Physics and create a new programme named the Professor Abdus Salam Fellowship must be appreciated as an important step in reversing the historical trend of religious bigotry and intolerance. Even The New York Times has noted the landmark decision. However we must not allow such moves to giving the incorrect impression that the situation for religious minorities is improving, especially the beleaguered Ahmadi community.

This was made clear when the day after PM’s declaration, masked gunmen from Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) violently raided Ahmadiyya headquarters in Rabwa. The CTD officers forced their way in while beating up a guard before manhandling and arresting several innocent people accused of ‘terrorism’ for printing magazines intended for Ahamdis. The officers seized materials from the offices as well as abusing the individuals there. It should also be noted that despite incorrect claims from religious extremists, no weapons or hate material are mentioned in the FIR.

PM’s action is appreciated, but the raid shows just how difficult will be the process of countering powerful extremists like Tahafuz Khatam-e-Nabuwat who are claiming responsibility for causing the raid. When will raids be taken against them?