Reaping the Whirlwind
Dr.Rasheed Hasan Khan
Three school going teen age girls came under murderous attack by religious extremists in Mingora, Swat on 9 October 2012. The girls,Shazia,Kainat and Malala, ages between 14-15 years were wounded in the school bus. The attackers are said to have enquired about Malala by name before they opened fire, leading to the assumption that Malala was the primary target. For once the emergency of homicidal gunshot wounds was dealt with in an efficient manner and all the victims of the attack were saved. Malala was shifted to U.K. and successfully treated in a hospital specializing in the treatment of battle-field trauma.
Homicide, whether on an individual level using fire arms or IEDs or mass murder using car bombs appeared to have become passé in Pakistan, especially in the North Western province of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa — bordering Afghanistan. But this time around there was a great furor both on the national and the international level. Statements in the print and electronic media, rallies, demonstrations and vigils took place the length and breadth of the country in an unprecedented manner. On the international level even an inert organization like the UN took notice and Mr. Ban Ki Moon also came out with a condemnatory statement.
The religious right responded with a counter attack, labeling Malala an Imperialist agent and the shooting and universal condemnation as a co-ordinated maneuver to facilitate a new military offensive against N. Waziristan. Problematic as this argument sounds; it did succeed in gaining some support among the gullible and the confused section of the population.
The case of a murderous attack against Malala and two other girls is merely a symptom of the malaise that is affecting our body politic for the last three decades or more. No one can understand the problem in its totality without a comprehensive over view of its genesis and proliferation.
The roots of the proliferation of present day Militant Religious Organizations in Pakistan dates from the Coup against King Zahir Shah in Afghanistan affected by his cousin Gen. Daud Khan with the help of a group of pro-Russian military officers. In the aftermath of the coup, an exodus of Afghan population took place. The first of a series, that took place in the course changing scenario in the region. Among the expatriates were a number of hard-line religious elements such as Gulbaddin Hkmatyar(Jamaat e Islami),Pir Burhanuddin Rabbani, Pir Sibghatullah Mujjaddidi, Yunus Khalis etc. They received a warm welcome from the Bhutto Regime. The situation in Afghanistan deteriorated into a series of coups, first against Gen. Daud and then against the Khalqi Regime ending with Russian Military intervention and occupation of Afghanistan. These hard-line religious elements were given arms and training and used by the CIA and Pakistan’s Establishment to fight a proxy war against the Russians for nearly a decade.
Today when the fog of disinformation and secrecy has dissipated and any well informed person can read the books and articles by responsible US functionaries about the US overt campaign in Afghanistan and the creation of the Frankenstein Monster of armed religious hard-liners as a political force many questions have been answered. There is no doubt that the force created by US and Pakistani establishment has been causing mayhem both in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the last three decades and more. Osama bin Laden is the most prominent example of the American Covert Agency’s handiwork which it was forced to undo due to political exigency.
With the evacuation of the Russian Military presence from Afghanistan, the US had no reason to take any further interest in the region and left the War Lords and the Fundamentalist armed groups to their own devices. Afghanistan was ravaged and ruined by a civil war where war lords fought to control Afghanistan. Religion, ethnicity and international links played a primary role in this war. At this juncture the bigwigs in Islamabad and Washington decided to launch the Taliban to come to grips with the chaos in Afghanistan. Students from religious Madarsas in Pakistan formed the initial core group of this force. The campaign was started from Kandhar in Southern Afghanistan and rolled up North to the areas held by the Northern Alliance. Benazir Bhutto’s Government in Pakistan was very supportive and sympathetic.
Then came 9/11 and the US Imperialists turned the world topsy-turvy. Religious Fundamentalism was suddenly anathema and an abomination. Afghanistan was invaded and occupied; thus began the decade long war with a disastrous fall out for Pakistan. Without doubt the basis of Taliban strength is the moral position that they are fighting to free Afghanistan from foreign occupation. This has helped to rally a broad section of the population (besides religious elements) behind them. If and when the US evacuates Afghanistan, a change in the balance of forces would be a natural result. Many recognized authorities on asymmetric warfare have unequivocally said that military measures alone cannot provide a solution to the Afghan situation. Therefore US authorities are keen to negotiate with the Taliban. What is the outcome of these negotiations will be clear only after the US Elections.
Keeping these ground realities in mind is necessary when formulating a strategy for dealing with incidents of violence and terrorism like the Malala incident. The monsters of religious, ethnic and other forms of discrimination and hatred that have been assiduously nurtured by vested interests for the last thirty years or more cannot be eliminated by any political or military shortcut. Thirty years ago Pakistan’s establishment sowed the wind—now the people are reaping the whirlwind.
A twofold strategy may provide a solution to the problem:
A short term strategy which requires the strict implementation of a policy of protecting the public and public institutions. Overhauling the Law Enforcement System is essential for the success of this strategy.
A long term strategy that is aimed at a qualitative reform in the Economic, Political and Cultural fields in Pakistan.
The task envisaged is no mean one. It needs clarity of mind, political will, the willingness to sacrifice and a long arduous struggle. Only then can the canker of bigotry and injustice be eliminated from the Pakistani society. Only then can the life, property and honor of people like Malala be safe.