A battle that must be won

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[By Ammar Zafarullah]

Last week’s suicide bombings outside the office of the assistant political agent in the Yakaghund sub-division of Mohmand Agency resulted in over 100 deaths. The nation’s response to these attacks was muted. Those who die in tribal areas, or the “peripheries”, are not honoured or grieved with the same zeal extended to the victims at the centre — their deaths have become mere statistics. This insensitivity is either because we are becoming immune to such calamites owing to their frequency or maybe because such tragic incidents don’t transpire in prime time news. The notion of martyrdom is paradoxical. Suicide bombers are indoctrinated to believe that they will go straight to heaven where they will get all the fruits of the afterlife. And quite ironically, the heirs of the victims who die as a result of these suicide bombings are also told that the victims they mourn are now in heaven.

Sympathisers try to find refuge in flawed logic such as ‘Muslims cannot shed the blood of other Muslims’. The rationale that such attacks cannot be carried out by Muslims and are “un-Islamic” depicts the escapist mindset. Why is religion, which is entirely a spiritual domain, needed as a medium to interpret such atrocities? The roots of extremism lie in social deprivation, poverty and ignorance; together they make a lethal catalyst for breeding extremist sentiments. What attracts the disgruntled youth is not just paradise but the fact that they can now challenge the writ of the state, the very state that deprived them from their basic rights as an “individual”. The prospects of embracing extremism are far more luring than the sorry alternatives that the state offers. The way forward is not an easy one. The results will be gradual; this monster was created after years of nourishment and its demise will take time. The need now is to formulate an action plan which takes into account all the fears and apprehensions of all stake-holders and sets a strategy which is feasible and doable.

The assertion that the sole objective of the Taliban is ‘to spread fear and chaos among the masses’ is simply stating the obvious and doesn’t really help matters in that everyone now knows this. The well-being of the population is certainly not their foremost priority and a chaotic situation is beneficial for them, but the ultimate goal for the extremists is to establish their own theocratic state wherever they can (and South Waziristan, till the recent military operation there, is a good example in this regard). At some points such extremist elements, even when they are advocating populist causes, will start losing popular support. This will either be because of their barbaric atrocities or due to corrective action taken by the state as was taken against the Tamil Tigers and the insurgents in Indian Punjab. One may also in all fairness admit that eventually, given the right amount of power and persuasion coupled with popular support, the writ of the state will prevail.

The fight against extremism is a complex and long drawn out battle which not only tests our military muscle but also our nerves and commitment to bear the psychological propaganda that is being waged upon us. The results will be gradual and there will be setbacks but success will be achieved only if we stick to the view that there cannot be any compromise with the terrorists.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2010.

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