On December 16, 2014 seven men entered the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar and killed 141 people including 139 children. On January 20, 2016 several gunmen entered, and killed 22 students of the Bacha Khan University Peshawar. These aren’t the only mass shootings to have taken place at educational institutions around the globe.
Since the 1960s, thousands of students have been killed in mass shootings at schools in countries including Canada, Germany, England, France, Finland, Israel, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Brazil and Pakistan. Some, not all, of these attacks were terrorism related. Each nation has reacted according to the nature, intensity and motives of these attacks. Heightened security and stricter gun control laws have been the most common countermeasures.
Recent attacks in Pakistan, however, were terror related. Terrorists have attacked these soft targets and justified this barbarity with frail excuses. The motives of these terrorists or their alleged affiliation with Islam, foreign intelligence agencies of India, Afghanistan or the United States does not change the fact that hundreds of innocent children died and millions are made to live under constant threat. Be it deranged extremists or tools in the hands of another state, the fact is that they are enemies of Pakistan and this is a war, even if not entirely conventional.
Are we putting up a fight?
Are we winning?
Since this is not a conventional war, it does not call upon the men in uniform alone. Each of us is under a threat, each of us is a party in this war; a soldier by force if I may. This war is being fought on fronts including military, civil and psychological. Each institution, every citizen has a role to play. I am afraid right now it appears more of a fight among ourselves than with the enemy. Dissatisfaction over the other’s role, mudslinging and cynicism are the most commonly used weapons. Civil-military coordination or harmony though better than before, still seems gravely lacking.
Certain elements in the media have yet to realise their role and wake up to the responsibility on their shoulders. Our citizens are divided, dissatisfied, de-motivated, confused and scared. The enemy’s flush-all-norms-of-war-down-the-drain strategy has worked. By targeting children they have hit the nerve. Fear and insecurity has induced the panic they wanted to see. For centuries fear has been used as the most effective manipulative tool, and it now has a new face, the face of a dead innocent child.
For many local and international observers, ever since the APS attack and announcement of the National Action Plan (NAP), the Pakistan Army has been in the driving seat. The drive however is not as smooth as one would want it to be. Imagine driving with a bunch of toddlers in the back seat throwing tantrums, fighting with each other and not paying any attention to anything you ask of them.
The army chief’s popularity sky rocketed after his quick-to-the-feet action post the APS tragedy. Zarb-e-Azab continues and has brought a marked decline in terrorist activities. The army however does not seem satisfied with the “toddlers”. Repeated “requests” to implement NAP in its entirety seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The chief and his army continue to play the least controversial and admittedly most effective role in our war. Nevertheless some segments have jumped on the opportunity to attack the effectiveness of military’s operation and especially its efforts to fight the war on the psychological front through Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR). Songs produced by ISPR were mocked at after the Bacha Khan University attack in absolute ignorance of the fall in terror related incidents owing to military operation and the intention behind these motivational songs.
One controversial figure named Abdul Aziz has emerged as a test case for the state’s conviction in this war. Musharraf’s action against Lal Masjid and its consequences may be a deterrent for the civil and military leadership, nevertheless each blatant challenge to the state’s writ ought to be met with a more resolute reply. Maulana’s repeated challenges to the state and the state’s inaction has exposed not just the civil-military division, but the fact that such divisions run deep into our political and social system. This lack of unity and uniformity of opinion is an alarming weakness that casts doubt over our ability, as a nation, to win this war.
Last week the government decided to close all schools sighting extreme cold. The actual motive behind this step, taken soon after the Bacha Khan University attack, was however soon deciphered. There is an apprehension regarding the security of educational institutions. Parents have been insecure since the APS attack, school owners have also seemed a bit wary, but now the state expressed its own insecurity. This implied admission has unleashed a mammoth wave of uncertainty in citizens and parents. A tussle between schools and the government ensued exposing a mutual dissatisfaction over security arrangements for our children. For the parents, this silent war between school owners and government is a disclaimer saying “we are not responsible for your child’s security”. But Sirs, you are; the government more, a lot more, than the school owners.
It is the state’s duty to provide security to its citizens. While the government spends billions on better modes of commute, it cannot expect us to believe that it lacks resources to provide reasonable security to its citizens. Yes, the schools can’t do away with any and all responsibility either, especially ones that charge humongous fees. But it is the state that needs to take the lead in this matter. If our lives are secure and not under threat, we will not mind travelling on the same old roads. Once the threat has been eradicated or at least diminished, any multi-billion dollar project for bettering lives would seem more appropriate. But to better our lives, or lives of the residents of one particular city, you need to at least ensure that there is a life to better.
Citizens protested against the unreasonable fee hikes, please don’t make them come out in protest for the very lives and safety of their children.
The results of our war may not matter as long as we are seen fighting it to the best of our ability. A year on, after the official announcement of this war and NAP, we still haven’t been able to set our priorities right. Food, shelter and clothing are a citizen’s fundamental needs, then come fundamental rights to health and education. Life and security thereof, precedes it all. Be it times of war or peace, if this is not how the state sets its priorities, it fails in its duties and loses its writ in calling the citizens to perform theirs. The result is a gradual decline into anarchy, casting a doubt on which side you were on during our war against the enemy.
The latest shift from military rule to democracy presented a ripe opportunity to close the doors to any future intervention; however our self-proclaimed democracy lovers have failed to capitalise yet. The clock is running and patience is running out. The time to save the country is now, so is the time to save democracy. We all know if there is a choice between the two, democracy won’t be a real option anymore.