Party to crime
Three years ago, on the 16th of December, 2014, Pakistan suffered the most heart-wrenching tragedy in history of modern day terrorism; not just because 141 souls were martyred that day; not simply because of the cold-blooded nature of the attack; but because the victims were unarmed children… at school… all between the age of eight and eighteen.
No words or diction, in the linguistic arsenal of human faculty, can adequately describe the horrific scenes at APS Peshawar that day.
On that fateful morning, six TTP-sponsored gunmen (all of whom were foreign nationals – including one Chechen, three Arabs, and two Afghans) entered the Army Public School in Peshawar, and shot (at point-blank range) 141 people, including 132 schoolchildren. Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (SSG) launched a rescue operation, killing all six militants, and freeing almost 960 people (mostly children) who had been taken hostage inside the school.
It was thought, at the time, that all of Pakistan – including our political parties and the ruling elite – would now join this call for indiscriminate war against militancy. It was believed that 150 “smallest coffins [which] are the heaviest to lift” will finally reorient our society (and the polity) away from the petty issues of partisan entrenchments, and towards the unified goal of eradicating militancy in our land. It was hoped that ‘war against militancy’ would be the consistent narrative of all political and societal forces, till such time that we rid ourselves of the scourge of terrorism. It was believed that, after APS, every political campaign would be about how best to counter terrorism. Every political banner would include photos of the martyred children. That even as political parties differ in their policies and preferences about governance, no one will ever forget that avenging the APS martyrs is, and will remain, our foremost commitment.
However, no such thing happened.
Even as military battles continued to wage against militants, politics moved on. In fact, it took a while for political leaders, including Nawaz Sharf and Imran Khan, to follow the example of the then Army Chief (General Raheel Sharif), and visit the victims and their families. In fact, when the political leadership finally came around to performing this ordeal, it was done so with tremendous pomp and posturing. The photo-ops seemed more important than charting out a concerted strategy against terrorism. Even after the National Action Plan was devised (under the watchful eye of General Raheel Sharif), the political governments soon lost their focus. In fact, none of the ‘actionable’ things, to be carried out by civilian government, have been completed till date. NACTA, the premier counter-terrorism department, which was to be “revived and made effective”, remains toothless till date. No concerted operation has been carried out against the madrassas in southern Punjab, as envisioned in the NAP. There has been no “crackdown on hate-speech”, and no action has been “taken against newspapers, magazines contributing to the spread of such speech.” No measures have been taken “to stop religious extremism and to protect minorities”. Madrassas have not been “regularized and reformed”. “Keeping the rehabilitation of IDPs as the top-most priority, administrative and development reforms in in FATA” has not been “expedited”. With the likes of the despicable Rana Sanaullah in-charge, hardly any political effort has been made to ensure that “no space will be given to extremism in any part of the Punjab”. Provincial intelligence agencies have not been given “access to communication of terrorists” and no steps have been taken “to strengthen anti-terror agencies through basic reforms in the criminal justice system”.
It is not that the civilian government lacks the ability to generate a focused narrative, whenever it so chooses. After all, this “mujhe kiyo’n nikala” government had no trouble creating a narrative about “five people” and some undefined “conspiracy”. When personal interests and wealth are at stake, Maryam Nawaz, Daniyal Aziz and Talal Chaudhary – can harp about useless issues ad nauseam.
So why has there been no PID press-conference, by these lackluster personalities, about NAP and its progress? Simple: protecting the illegally amassed wealth of the King is more important to them than avenging the blood of our martyrs.
Truth be told, we are all guilty in this collective crime of human conscience: politicians, lawyers, judges, media, and the public at large. All of us make a token statement, once a year, for the martyrs of APS and never think of them otherwise. Each of us, in our individual as well as collective efforts, have tarnished the memory of those children and the thousands of others who lost their lives in this defining struggle of our time.
Perhaps it is still not too late to step back from the brink of selfish and political interests. Perhaps there is still time to correct our national trajectory, and refocus our efforts on honoring the memory of the fallen, by ridding our nation of all forms of militancy.
So let us take today to remind our political leaders of a few basic, yet important, facts: no one (except your cronies) cares about whether you get to keep your Avenfield Apartments. No one cares about “mujhe kiyo’n nikala”. It does not really matter if Imran Khan survived and Jehangir Tareen was disqualified by the Supreme Court. It is really of no consequence what Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur think of NAB operations in Karachi. Or whether Farooq Satter is, or is not, the leader of MQM. Or whether Maryam Nawaz does, or does not, become the heir to Raiwand’s throne. Or whether Pervez Rashid, Zahid Hamid and Rana Sanaullah are, or are not, part of the government. It really has no bearing on the fate of Pakistan as a country, or its 200 million people as a nation.
In the final analysis of history, when people look back at this moment in time, they will not care about Maryam Nawaz’s twitter rants, and Fawad Chaudhary’s press-talks. Instead, they will ask what we did for the children of APS, and the people of Baldia Factory, and the malangs of Sehwan Sharif, and the Shias of Quetta and Shikarpur. And sadly, they will conclude that we, as a people, spent all our energies protecting political fiefdoms of the few and, in the process, became a party to the ongoing massacre of the innocents in our land.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.