“All cruelty springs from

weakness.”

- Seneca

Every country needs a hero around whom people can rally, more specifically, during testing times. Pakistan has been under stress for quite some time due to a variety of reasons with no one really expecting a quick relief in the sufferings the people are enduring. While the barbaric acts of cruelty by the extremists have continued for a long time, the attack on a 14-year old girl, Malala Yousafzai, has ignited the feeling of hatred in every Pakistani, who is demanding that those responsible for it should be arrested and given exemplary punishment.

Malala has become a potent symbol of people’s commitment to move the country on the path to progress and prosperity. She stood for peace in her insurgency-infested Swat Valley and demanded the right to education not only for herself, but also other children. It is, however, unfortunate that the extremists have threatened to attack her again if she survives.

In addition, there seems to be no planning or thought on the part of our political leaders, who are busy scoring political points. It must be remembered that the seeds of division and sectarian violence were laid down by General Ziaul Haq. While some call him a criminal because he toppled an elected government and hanged Pakistan’s most dynamic son, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, just to perpetuate his rule. Others say that he was ruthless, since he used religion as a tool to oppress people and advance his political agenda. Regrettably, some of the religious political parties supported his convoluted ideas and joined hands with him.

Against this backdrop, while the extremists are trying to enforce their brand of Islam openly preaching that they have no faith in the rule of law or the Constitution, some of the religious leaders are presenting excuses for their crimes. It is also unfortunate that the mainstream ulema and religious scholars have only issued mild rebukes on the cruelty done to Malala. In the same vein, some mainstream politicians have not gone beyond mere lip service on the issue.

At the same time, the issue has raised serious concerns for the civilian and military leadership, who should now play a decisive role in eliminating the menace of terrorism from the country once and for all. Also, it is the government’s duty to build consensus by taking on board other political parties, along with religious scholars, to find an appropriate solution.

As far as the military leadership is concerned, they need to do some serious thinking, have a proper intelligence sweep against the militants and then go the whole hog against them. The country is united on this issue and if an operation is launched against the militants, people will fully support it.

Further, it is essential that the syllabus introduced in schools during Zia’s rule, which preached hate and intolerance, be reviewed by a panel of religious scholars.

While the attack on Malala must be denounced without any reservations, it has provided the country an opportunity to initiate measures that should have been undertaken a long time ago. In case this opportunity is lost, the militants would continue to grow in strength posing an even graver threat to Pakistan. How the government and the military leadership react to this tragic incident will be seen in the coming days and weeks. In case there is an inordinate delay and no corrective measures are put in place, it would be very unfortunate and against our vital national interests.

Only swift and decisive action would raise the level of confidence among people, who are constantly praying for Malala’s health. It is expected that the present international community’s support will offer a good opportunity to Pakistani government to execute its plan - if there is any such plan - against the militants.

As a final word, it would be appropriate if the government gives some attention to the issue of target killings in Balochistan and Karachi, besides responding to extremist views that are being spread through various means in the country. A complete overhaul of the situation is required and that can only happen when the government shows its ability, commitment and determination to root out this menace from Pakistan forever.

The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.Email: zarnatta@hotmail.com