When two of Pakistan’s mainstream politicians chose to play up the importance of a controversial victim of a recent US air attack, they may not have predicted the storm that was set to be unleashed.
For Munawar Hasan who leads the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) political party, Hakimullah Mehsud, the former leader of Pakistan’s Taliban movement who was killed in a US drone attack in Pakistan’s tribal region along the Afghan border on November 1, remains a martyr figure. This is notwithstanding Mehsud’s alleged involvement in some of the most brutal attacks across Pakistan as well as US claims of his direct involvement in attacks targeting US-led western troops in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Fazlur Rehman, an Islamist politician claimed in a Pakistani TV interview that even a dog killed by the Americans must be seen as a ‘martyr’ — a befitting position in the eyes of Rehman in response to those who quietly felt relieved at the news of Mehsud’s departure. Rehman’s comments have triggered a needless debate over one of the most sacred concepts for Muslims across the world including Pakistan.
These statements have clearly exposed the confusion that reigns across the country’s political landscape, more than a decade after Pakistan joined the US-led war on terror following the New York terrorist attacks.
In the wake of Hasan’s comments, the Pakistan army swiftly came out with a powerful statement reminding Pakistanis of the sacrifices made by many civilians and soldiers during the country’s relentless fight against militant terrorists. Obviously, this rare gesture by the army says much about the bitterness that must prevail across the rank and file of an institution which has led the campaign against terrorists and sacrificed many of its own in this campaign.
For the moment, a number of fence-sitting Pakistanis who were roundly opposed to ongoing militancy but chose to remain quiet, have felt encouraged by the army’s statement to begin publicly condemning the Taliban.
In response to the army’s statement, the JI has chosen to politicise the matter by dubbing the army’s publicly stated position as undue interference in Pakistan’s politics.
However, it is abundantly clear, the JI has missed the point. Across the country, there is much evidence of Pakistanis’ broad opinion having become too tired of living in a land where militant groups conveniently go around killing innocent civilians.
Graphic video available with the Pakistan army, which was smuggled out of some of the Taliban meetings provide a chilling reminder of the brutal tactics used by the militant group. In some instances, suspected government informants were blindfolded, hand-cuffed and assembled under the open sky to face quick justice. They were then either shot from close range and then beheaded or simply just beheaded while such brutal episodes were watched by senior Taliban commanders.
Recently under Mehsud’s rule, the Taliban stormed a prison in the northern city of Dera Ismail Khan in July this year. While successfully freeing more than 200 Taliban inmates, the attackers took a number of other inmates they considered their enemies. Shortly thereafter, beheaded bodies of these so-called enemies were found by the authorities in another chilling reminder of particularly brutal tactics used by the Taliban.
In yet other instances such as the 2009 attempt by the Taliban to invade Pakistan’s northern Swat valley, special areas were designated in major cities to punish those who were thought to be opponents of the movement. In Saidu Sharif, the biggest city of Swat, a square became popularly known as ‘khooni chowk’ or bloody square, used for punishing so-called criminals.
Ironically, Mullah Fazlullah, the new Taliban leader who has succeeded Mehsud, was previously in charge of the Taliban in Swat and led the 2009 campaign. Additional graphic video available with Pakistani officials includes shots from episodes where Fazlullah personally presided over public beheadings of the movement’s opponents.
Fazlullah’s other claims to fame have included ordering well-organised campaigns by his well-armed zealous followers to enforce a closure of girls’ schools, on the grounds that education for girls was contrary to their interpretation of Islam.
The best such attack in Swat remains the 2012 shooting of Malala Yousufzai — the globally acclaimed Pakistani schoolgirl who campaigned for the right of girls to be educated. To date, there is much evidence to suggest that the shooting was carried out by Fazlullah’s followers.
Going forward, it is clear that the Taliban are in just no mood to either peacefully negotiate an end to their campaign against the Pakistani state nor do they deserve sympathy. It is equally shameful that the sacred concept of ‘martyrdom’ which is so central to the belief of many Muslims around the world including Pakistan, has come to be so loosely defined as suggested by Hasan and Rehman.
Indeed, the timing of these statements could also not have been more inopportune. On Friday, the decision by Pakistani authorities to impose a curfew in the city of Rawalpindi, after at least nine people were killed in clashes between two groups, amply illustrated the need for forging national unity.
For too long, divisions among Pakistanis have split the country apart and triggered recurring periods of bloody unrest. The time has now come for a new sense of national unity to be tightly enforced, to give a chance to Pakistan for witnessing a long-overdue recovery from a long-drawn period of periodic unrest. A centrepiece to that recovery must include making political leaders accountable for divisions they have caused, including the controversial statements that have provoked the latest round of controversy.

The writer is a political and economic analyst. Courtesy Gulf News.