In the most horrific news late Tuesday night, it was announced that Haroon Bilour, son of Bashir Ahmed Bilour was killed in a suicide bomb attack along with twenty other people and scores others injured. Barrister Haroon Bilour was a true gentleman and a highly accomplished and educated man. No words could be enough to express the horror or condemn the barbaric attack. A truly wonderful brave man was killed by a worthless person trained by terrorist outfits to kill and be killed without knowing what he was doing and who he was targeting.

The fact remains that the killing machines in the form of suicide bombers are still there and thriving despite all the claims made by the military regarding unprecedented success of several military operations bearing Arabic titles conducted in the country against terrorists. It is also a reality that the mother organizations and the madrassas that had historically bred extremism, militancy and terrorism in this country are still very much intact. Some of these organizations have changed their name in order to safely continue with their agendas and their work. But other than a change of name, their leaderships, their hierarchies, their commanders and their movements across Pakistan remain unhindered.

There is also a new strategy of ‘mainstreaming’ and inducting the militant groups in the political arena of Pakistan by including them in the election process. These militant groups are rebranded by declaring them as ‘political parties’ and allocating them party symbols so that they can contest general elections and be naturalized and amalgamated into the society.

This legitimizing of former and present militant groups has also provided them with a huge advantage of having a nuisance value over the already exiting political parties, which are forced to reach out to them for creating political alliances or at least expressing their desire to do so. So we see the former Chief Minister and former Prime Minister visiting leaders of these new parties and asking them for alliances and favours at their party offices, albeit with or without success.

The most interesting fact is the protocol and security that the leaders of these newly formed parties including, ‘Labaik’ and ‘MMI’ are enjoying in the country, which is not less than the protocol of the chief executives or heads of the state. The question remains as to who is supporting these parties with the very clear and present background of militancy and Jihad. Some of these were actually proscribed outfits that have emerged with new names. On whose orders are their top leaders being provided security and protocols? Why are they being introduced and inducted in the mainstream politics and how on earth is it established that they have changed any of their former ideologies regarding militancy, or their views on democracy and rule of law which they did not adhere to, till the very recent past?

There have been governments in the last tenure like the PTI government in KPK which has massively funded madrassas like Haqqania, giving the justification that they are providing support for mainstreaming of madrassas. However there is not a shred of evidence that the madrassas agreed to change their curriculum or introduce new and modern subjects or to alter their narratives as a pre-requisite for receiving the massive funding from the provincial government. In the absence of any pre-determined guarantees for funding, a massive donation amounts to being nothing but unconditional support for the Madrassa which has historically bred jihadis and still is a staunch supporter of militancy and jihad.

The mindset behind the massive funding of militant madrassas is just appeasement of a group that has considerable following in the rural areas of KPK, so that their support can be ensured for the next round of elections. PTI has forgotten that the destiny of a nation is of much greater value than a mere few years of rule by winning elections through dubious means. The elections may be won by them but the moral high ground and any kind of moral correctness is lost in the desire to please each and every group, be it the liberal, the right wing, the extremists, the militants, the sufi, the mullah, the deobandi, the barelvi.

The reason the war against extremism has not been won decisively is the lack of counter narrative. On an ideological level, the extremist mindset has not only not been changed but there is a clear and visible admission of accepting this mindset by agreeing to take these parties and their narrative as part of the diverse ideological environment in the society and making them into a legitimate part of the political landscape. If this mindset-that believes in militancy, extremism and the elimination of all sects that disagree with their particular brand of Islam- is accepted as a political voice in the country with some presence in the parliament, then is it not a clear admission that they have a legal right to propagate their ideology and encourage people to join them by casting their votes in their favour?

Pakistan has a constitution which determines the principles on which this country will run and it is a social contract between the state and the citizens. The constitution of Pakistan ensures the rights of all the citizens of Pakistan and all the organizations, outfits, parties and groups that do not agree with or abide by the tenants of the constitution of Pakistan cannot be ‘mainstreamed’ in any possible way. This is actually akin to accepting and promoting a narrative and ideology that is contrary to the basic principles of democracy and civil rights laid out in the constitution of Pakistan.

This is the real reason for the brutal murder of Haroon Billour and scores of other innocent men along with him: the state has failed to isolate the people, groups and organizations that harbor extreme ideologies and make all efforts that their narrative is openly and consistently rejected in unequivocal terms. Instead efforts have been made to accept and mainstream them in the society, unreasonably believing that by this approach they will somehow change their views and become ‘normal’.

The attack on ANP and the killing of Haroon Billour has demonstrated once again that the war on terror cannot just be won by military operations alone. There has to be a consensus in the country and among all the state actors that Pakistan will only be run by the principles laid down in the constitution and no other extremist ideology is acceptable to the state of Pakistan within its borders. If the policy of appeasement and acceptance of extremist groups is continued whether they operate in the name of their brand of Islam or in the name of Jihad, then these suicide attacks will continue to kill the innocent citizens of Pakistan because they are carried out in the name of elimination of non-believers that is somehow considered a legitimate reason to keep the killing fields alive.

 

n            The writer is a freelance journalist based in Lahore. She has extensive experience in writing on development economics and disaster management.