If APS Attack Was A Turning Point, Have We Turned Full Circle?

Pakistan's ostrich mentality

The attack against APS Boys Peshawar that killed over 140 innocents was termed as a ‘turning point‘ in the war on terrorism. The sheer brutality of such an attack meant we could no longer ignore difficult realities and the nation was united against all militants without favour. This was made apparent by the unprecedented move of issuing a non-bailable arrest warrant for Lal Masjid Abdul Aziz. After two months have passed, though, it appears that we have finally turned full circle and today we find ourselves back in the same place we were the on 15th December.

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A Tale of Two Protests

Pro-terrorism rally in Islamabad

One month has passed since a group of terrorists shocked the world to its core by mercilessly killing nearly 150 women and children at a school in Peshawar. In observance of this dark day, members of civil society across the nation gathered in demonstrations intended to respect the memory of the martyrs and to hold the government’s feet to the fire to turn the tide against the terrorism that plagues our country.

Media headlines have been dominated by another set of protests across the country, however. Across the country, people gathered not to protest against terrorism, but for it. These protests were not in support of the terrorists that attacked APS Boys Peshawar, they were protesting in favor of the killers of 12 journalists in France who worked for a magazine that published cartoons that were derogatory towards Islam.

These two protests, held the same day across the same country, shine a bright light on the harsh reality that we face. On the one hand, we are against terrorism when it affects us. On the other hand, we are sympathetic when attacks target people we don’t agree with.

When Maulana Pir Mohammad Chishti led a small demonstration in Peshawar supporting the terrorists in France earlier this week, many dismissed it as the embarrassing act of a small but vocal minority. In the past few days, though, the movement has grown.

On Thursday, National Assembly passed a resolution condemning the offensive cartoons. The resolution included a passing statement against “all kinds of violence”, but the text of the resolution holds the publication of the offensive material as worse than the killings. If there was any doubt about this, it was wiped away when lawmakers too to the streets chanting, “In the service of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), we are willing to die”.

Even liberal politicians like Rehman Malik took to terming the victims of the Paris attacks as the real “terrorists”.

More protests are being organized against the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Sadly, the growing number of demonstrations of sympathy for the French terrorists have even eclipsed the memorials for our slain children in the national and international media. They have also delivered a clear message that despite the rhetoric of abandoning a policy of ‘good Taliban’, for many of us terrorism is still acceptable as long as we agree with the reasons.

#CharlieHebdo and #PeshawarAttack are connected, but not how you think

Two apparently unrelated atrocities. In one, armed gunmen stormed into a school and murdered over 130 defenseless children. In the other, armed gunmen stormed into a an office and murdered a dozen journalists. The first took place in Pakistan, the second in France. The only seeming connecting between them for most people will be that both were carried out by Islamist terrorists, but this is not the whole story. Actually, what connects these two events could hold the key to stopping the terrorists once and for all.

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Middle Class Extremism

Lawyer kissing Mumtaz Qadri

The senseless and brutal killing of 141 innocents at APS Boys Peshawar has resulted in several policy recommendations to eradicate the menace of terrorism. Among these, the ideas fall into two basic categories: Giving the military more power and reforming the messages being spread by certain madrassahs and mosques. The first point about granting more civil authority to military is receiving significant debate which is important whether one supports a stronger role for military in civil affairs or not. However the second point which is madrassah reform is not receiving the same amount of consideration.

It is undeniable that there are networks of madrassahs and mosques that are projecting hate speech and inciting violence, but this is not the limit of the problem of spreading extremism in society. The Nation makes an excellent point in a recent editorial:

Extremism’s sole refuge is neither the tainted hearts of bearded terrorists belonging to the TTP, LeJ and al Qaeda nor the unrefined minds of this country’s many illiterate. It also resides in the hearts and minds of our ‘educated’ middle and upper class

A perfect example of this can be found in the recent incident involving Aamir Liaquat’s show where his invited guest Syed Arif Shah Owaisi gave anti-Ahmadi statements. Aamir Liaquat is popular with the urban middle-class, and the bigoted message that appears on his show is easily received by this audience. And why not? It fits neatly within the world view that has been constructed.

The majority of Pakistanis, who have grown up on a diet of a sensationalist media and a hate-mongering  school curricula,  or have been moulded  in their thinking by rabid religious or political figures that thrive on the anti-India, anti-West propaganda, their perceptions are entirely different.

This is a country that believes there were no Jews in the World Trade Center building on the day of the September 11 attacks, or that Neil Armstrong actually heard a call to prayer when he landed on the moon. They believe that a car can be run on water.

These are not the products of madrassah education. They are product of Karachi Public School. They are Aitchisonians. They went to University in America and London. They are lawyers who shower confessed killers with flowers and kisses. They view themselves as defenders of national ideology and spread messages that glorify jihad in English blogs and social media and in drawing rooms across the country.

Madrassah reform is essential to tackling militancy in Punjab and throughout the country, but if we are going to succeed in stamping out the problem we must also tackle the extremism problem within the middle class.

Jihad Uninterrupted

Jamaat-ud-Dawa rally 22nd December

Zero tolerance? Zero change. That is the real result of last week’s massacre. Punjab government has given up on trying to detain terrorist leader Malik Ishaq, and Lahore High Court has order him to be unleashed upon the public again. Meanwhile, the same Court has given a last chance to the Foreign Affairs Ministry to submit their reply to the US bounty on Hafiz Saeed, who the Ministry had replied was the head of a charity and was being persecuted by the US under pressure from India. Hafiz Saeed has already given his own reply, calling for jihad against America.

Hafiz Saeed’s calls for global jihad continue, even after the so-called ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards terrorism. Following the Peshawar attack, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa emir renewed his call for jihad against India, and organised a ‘Ghazwa-e-Hind Conference’ this week.

Most Pakistanis having been steeped in the anti-India ideology promoted by hypernationlists continue to see Hafiz Saeed as anything but a threat to Pakistan, but he is projecting exactly the type of anti-Pakistan ideology that is at the core of TTP.

At the national level, they would like to impose their ideology on Pakistan. There is no place for politics and nationalism in their ideology. For them, the international borders are not Islamic. Therefore, they would go beyond national borders. The JuD leaders publicly condemn nationalism and politics.

Hafiz Saeed has publicly called the Pakistani Constitution “batil”, which is a very strong word in Islamic literature. The Mujallah Ad-Dawa published his statement in December 1999, and many other such speeches. He has repeatedly said he and his party did not believe in the Pakistani Constitution and will not follow it. His speeches and writings are available in the JuD library.

Generals and politicians continue to make strong statements about ‘zero tolerance’ for terrorism, but the facts say otherwise. In the few short days after the 16th December attack, 26/11 commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi is granted bail, Malik Ishaq is ordered released, and Hafiz Saeed holds pro-jihad conference. We are being told Peshawar attack was a ‘game changer’, but it is familiar players who are returning to the pitch.