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?

Nawaz Sharif just dealt an important blow to extremism

Muhammad Abdus SalamPrime Minister Nawaz Sharif has dealt an important blow to the forces of obscurantism and extremism today by renaming of Quaid-i-Azam University’s (QAU) physics department to the Professor Abdus Salam Center for Physics and creating a new programme named the Professor Abdus Salam Fellowship to grant five annual fellowships for Pakistani PhD students in the field of Physics.

Dr Muhammad Abdus Salam is a national hero, though he has been treated very badly and nearly forgotten only because of his religious sect. By openly recognising Dr Abdus Salam in such a public and lasting way, PM Nawaz has dealt an important blow to extremism in the country. It is a first step only, but it is a crucial one to undoing the normalisation of hate and sectarianism that has taken root in so much of our society.

 

Building Pakistan’s Future

Mumtaz Qadri MosqueFew things tell as much about a society than the physical space itself. America’s Statue of Liberty, London’s grand palaces, the pyramids of Egypt, the canals of Amsterdam – each of these gives a glimpse into the heart and soul of the society. In Pakistan, too, our architecture tells our story. You cannot know Pakistan without knowing Lahore Fort, Shalimar Bagh, Islamia College, and Mazar-e-Quaid. Architectural landscapes change along with societies, though, and what we are building today is a glimpse into where we are headed tomorrow.

In Pakistan, the future we are building is usually discussed in terms of transportation infrastructure. Whether the controversial Orange Line Train in Lahore, or game changer CPEC, we are told stories about development that will usher in a bright future for the country. However, these are not the only projects taking place, and they may not even be the most important ones.

Jamia Hafsa, the infamous Lal Masjid madrasseh whose students swore allegiance to Daesh, has been granted 20 kanals plot in Sector H 11-4 Islamabad for construction of new facilities.

Across the capital, Faisal Mosque is getting competition from a newer construction – the mosque built to honour the convicted murderer Mumtaz Qadri. This mosque has proven so popular that it has raised funds to double its size.

Religious extremists are not the only ones expanding their space in the country. There has also been an rapid growth of building by DHA, one of the Army’s construction companies. DHA has even spread outside of its usual areas, announcing new developments in Balochistan also.

While religious extremists and the military expand their presence across the architectural landscape of the nation, secular political offices are being bulldozed. This is not a defence of Altaf Hussain, but nobody suggested bulldozing PMA Kakul when a COAS was charged with treason.

Projects like Orange Line Train and CPEC will make it easier to travel and transport both in major urban areas and across the nation. But it is what is being built for people to travel to that that will define our future.