Hope was renewed in Pakistan’s ability to continue fighting militancy in the past week following two especially bloody incidents. In the southern port city of Karachi, Chaudhary Aslam Khan, a senior police officer and an ardent law enforcer with a commitment to battling the Taliban, was killed on Thursday when a car packed with explosives placed by the Taliban, crashed into his convoy.

A day later, on Friday, came the news of 15-year-old Aitzaz Hassan being killed in a remote part of the northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province when he blocked a Taliban suicide bomber, who was apparently heading to blow himself up in a boys’ school where about 600 students were present at the time. Together, these events speak volumes of an increasing commitment by Pakistanis to root out the menacing hardcore militancy.

Both Khan and Hassan have been widely hailed across Pakistan as brave individuals who valiantly laid their lives in the country’s decade-long battle against hardcore militancy. Their sacrifices have prompted widespread calls for their national recognition in the shape of high profile public honours. Irrespective of how their sacrifices are reciprocated with such gestures, these two incidents have rekindled hope in Pakistan’s ability to continue a fight that is central to saving its destiny.

Thousands of Pakistanis ranging from innocent bystanders among civilians to personnel fighting for the police, paramilitary forces and the armed forces have been killed in this battle. Khan, the Karachi police officer, faced threats of lethal attacks for years and yet refused to leave the city where he worked tirelessly, earning himself the reputation of being a committed Taliban hunter. Following Hassan’s killing, accounts from his friends have vividly illustrated his oft-spoken disdain for the Taliban.

Going forward, Pakistan’s leaders must seize upon the moment to make a fresh commitment. They must use the opportunity to mobilise Pakistanis in a big way to battle those who are seeking to destroy their country.

This must not just be a commitment by Pakistan’s present day ruling elite but indeed by political leaders across the board. The broad contours of such mobilisation must be built upon two equally vital pillars.

Sitting on the fence

On the one hand, Pakistan’s political leaders need to redouble their efforts to rally people across the board on a singular platform of fighting militants. For Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s regime in particular, there must be a clearer commitment to lead the fight against militants and thus dispel the widespread impression of a government which is sitting on the fence. The ruling structure in Islamabad continues to seek peace dialogue with Taliban militants, disregarding widespread calls for a clearer, public and unwavering commitment to fight this menace. Once the cue comes from the ruling structure led by Sharif, others who seek dialogue with the militants must also join hands. For instance, Imran Khan, the cricket star turned politician who leads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) political party, continues to favour peace talks with the Taliban. However, in all honesty, will Imran be able to stand face-to-face with the family members of either police officer Khan or teenager school boy Hassan and convincingly defend his position? To that question, the answer must be in the non-affirmative.

There are still others like the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of former president Asif Ali Zardari who have paid little beyond lip service to this cause. During his five-year tenure as Pakistan’s president from 2008 till 2013, Zardari earned himself the reputation of failing consistently in leading from the front. Instead, he became widely known for demonstrating a bunker mentality when he refused to undertake even symbolic gestures such as visiting a memorial not too far from his well-fortified bunker, in the memory of army soldiers who laid down their lives in the fight against militancy.

On the other hand, leading from the front cannot just be about lip service or hollow statements. Instead, it must be all about leading by example which clearly underlines a commitment to rebuilding Pakistan as a progressive state. This must be done through unleashing reforms that are essential to lift prospects for ordinary Pakistanis. In a country where more than one third of the population lives below the poverty line, there is an urgent need to tackle the sources of impoverishment.

This is essential to not only demonstrate that those in positions of leadership care about their people. It is also important to give a greater sense of pride to Pakistanis and to help them rededicate their lives to the national cause of restoring peace to their country. Ultimately, the outcome of a determined effort to beat back poverty must see more poor children going to school or healthcare being provided to the poor or a decent source of income being given to poor Pakistanis.

In the long run, Pakistan’s militants have no place in the country’s mainstream as demonstrated time and again. The parliamentary elections of 2013 which for the first time oversaw transition of political authority from one elected government to another, also amply demonstrated the public’s support for mainstream political parties. In sharp contrast, those seeking to build ties with militancy-driven factions were clearly sidelined. Coming out of that historical moment, Pakistanis have indeed spoken. The question now is simply one: Are Pakistan’s leaders capable of listening to their country’s mainstream voices?

n    Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.

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