On December 17, a day after the brutal carnage of over 130 schoolchildren stunned Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to bring the culprits to justice.
Pledging not to show any distinction between ‘good or bad Taliban’, Sharif announced that Pakistan would have an action plan within a week to combat militancy. This is easier said than done. Within days after the Peshawar attack, a court in Islamabad granted bail to Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, one of the main accused in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks case.
While the civilian investigation agency contested the granting of bail, the judge took the decision within minutes of the court coming into session. It was the day after, however that the Sharif government reacted to the decision by detaining Lakhvi under the Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) laws thereby preventing him from walking away free. But it is a temporary solution to a long term problem.
For most Pakistanis, it is the Lakhvi case and other such similar cases that will demonstrate whether Pakistan is really serious against fighting terrorism. “Till now our army was happy protecting its assets on the one hand and fighting those it saw were challenging its writ,” says analyst Taha Siddiqui, who writes on security issues. The crunch, he says, comes when the army had to punish all terrorists with an even hand.
Cyril Almeida, who writes a column in the Daily Dawn newspaper commented on the way former army chief General Kayani was shy of any operation in Punjab. Almeida wrote how some years back General Kayani was once told by a journalist that nothing he did in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province or the tribal areas could be fixed if Punjab remained untouched. “As long as Hafiz Saeed and his ilk are allowed to run around. The two zones are connected. Why aren’t you dealing with Punjab, Kayani was asked,” wrote Almedia. In reply Kayani privately told the journalist he would not allow this on his watch as it would break the army.
Similar is the case with prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose party enjoys links with many Punjab-based militant organisations. In Peshawar there were consultations over what to do to tackle terrorism. Punjab province was mentioned only once and Sharif flatly denied that his party was in bed with terrorists.
Given this ostrich-like approach, one is unsure how far Pakistan’s war on terrorism will go. Hafiz Saeed was allowed by the military to hold a grand carnival in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, only days before the Peshawar attack. Over the past couple of years, his organization has grown leaps and bounds in terms of its structure and its funding. Saeed is portrayed in the pro-establishment media as a misunderstood messiah, whose only aim is to help the suffering. Most of his work is based in Punjab.
Pakistanis are angry with this double-speak. This week, many of them stood outside the Lal Masjid in Islamabad to shame Moulvi Abdul Aziz, the controversial Imam of the mosque who earlier refused to condemn the Peshawar killings and publicly announced allegience to the ISIS. Aziz took back his statement. It was a small victory for Pakistan’s shrinking liberal community.
A country so deeply divided that even 40,000 deaths from terror attacks since 2001 could not create a shared sense of suffering has finally been brought together in horror.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Sherry Rehman commented this week that if anyone is engaged in the apologist narrative when it comes to terrorism and terrorist attacks, they “should be considered as terrorists and allies of the terrorists.” But there are few who believe in this. Many of those who protested outside the Lal Masjid received threats from the TTP. Sherry Rehman too has received a number of threats. The government continues to express its helplessness on the matter.
In the coming days, as anger gives way to the hard business of fighting the Taliban, and they in turn unleash further atrocities, the country’s myriad social and political fissures are likely to re-emerge through the anger and grief.