Why Peshawar Must Not Be Our 9/11

NEWS2

The front page of The News this Sunday. Pakistan reacts in the wake of the Peshawar massacre.

December 16th, 2014 was a day of sadness, anger, and fear in Pakistan.

We shared the incredible sadness at the loss of life of so many innocent school children and staff in Peshawar. But as we listened to others around us, we realized that our anger and fear were not necessarily about the same things.

Our anger was primarily directed towards a state establishment that has nurtured the networks of patronage for these groups and individuals. And, we included our brothers and sisters in the Northwest as we feared for the lives of all our countrymen. That is why we are concrened that they would now be held collectively culpable, dehumanized, and targeted by our state and society.

Our anger was not limited to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the individuals who perpetrated these attacks, but included segments of the state who have sustained violent, reactionary groups for decades, and who who have been engineering killings, disappearances, gross human rights abuses, as a part of their larger policy.

We should not have to restate the obvious here, but we say it nevertheless: the act of terrorism that killed these innocent school children and staff was reprehensible and indefensible. To attempt to defend it is to renounce one’s humanity. Regardless of the motivation of the attackers, the method is beyond discussion. But there is also a bloodthirsty environment being created that is demanding war and more violence at any cost.

Such a bloodthirsty environment is palpable amidst the government’s reinstatement of a death penalty, most recently used to convict children tortured into confessing to terrorism related crimes. And it is tangible in the reinstatement of military courts, and in the continued military operations in Waziristan that, let us be honest, could not even stop the Peshawar massacre. If such a miscarriage of justice and humanity is indicative of what is to occur in Waziristan, or rather, what has already been occuring, then we implore our community with an urgency to interrogate hasty, pro-military “solutions”, and to collectively reclaim and transform our society.

Those of us who have opposed the mad rush to avenge for ‘their blood’ have been called un-patriotic and far worse. But we exist, and we believe that a senseless and indiscriminate war-drive will result in more death, pain, and grief, making us less secure – not more.

As Pakistanis grounded in a consciousness of justice, we grieve with our nation. In addition to grieving, this sense of justice also implants in us a responsibility to be critical of power holders who have capitalized on horrific ordeals — such as last week’s tragedy —  for their own interests. It is this sense of justice which reminds us that we must humanize the faces of communities in the Northwest, for they are a reflection of faces in Peshawar. And it is this sense of justice which emboldens us to ask pertinent questions that everyone else seems to have forgotten: How has a militarized policy in KPK, FATA, and Balochistan contributed to an escalation in civilian deaths?What is the quality of life for residents where continuous warfare does not bring peace but psychological trauma?Why does state/military apparatus support of militant groups in the past not compel individuals to resist the sound of present war drums?

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These are undoubtedly difficult questions to ask in an emotionally charged environment. But we have a responsibility to not only critically reflect and act, but also to ensure that the horrifying scenes witnessed last Tuesday do not continue under the guise of security, especially when historical trajectories of a neocolonial state patriarchy propped up by strategic interests indicate that there is so much more at play.

In the post-9/11 world, a militarized solution to the terrorism problem is an old script. And the parameters of the debate are kept deliberately constrained to the question: Should we seek vengeance or not? This completely absolves our rulers because it takes the debate into the realm of abstract moral philosophy rather than politics and political interests. The reality is that any state-military operation is not going to tackle the issue of terrorism. It will, on the other hand, strengthen the writ of a militarized state, and use the frenzy of the past week to prevent deeper questions being raised and analyses being offered.

Last Tuesday’s events serve as a painful reminder of the failure of such a script.  Destructive and indiscriminate retaliation will only create more terrorists, and swell the ranks of these groups willing to die for what they perceive as revenge.If less than a handful of individuals could carry out this attack, supported by a few hundred more, how many of such terrorists will we create by collectively punishing entire areas in the northwest?

So, the question that now arises is the following: Is the military really fighting a war against all extremist elements in Pakistan, or just against some that have become less obedient and controllable – and demand too much from, or defer too little to, their paymasters? Indeed, continues to be about the ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’ as clichéd as this sounds. Does anyone have any doubts that as Afghanistan is being “abandoned” ( – i.e. another empire is leaving, defeated, along with the foreigners who settled there) that the Pakistani establishment will not ensure its Talibanboys (now men) will try, once again, to give it strategic depth?

We are at a critical juncture in Pakistan’s history where the country’s direction can be changed. However, we require political leaders who are willing to acknowledge what a catastrophe past policies have been. No decent Pakistani at this moment can continue to support the status quo and still consider her/himself as someone who genuinely cares for the plight of the victims of state violence, patriarchy, religious exclusivism and militancy, and class exploitation. The simplest and quickest way for the Pakistani state to reduce terror is to stop supporting and engaging in it. This is not some pro-India or pro-America propaganda trope we are repeating. Those states do the same, and on a much greater scale.

Undoubtedly, militancy and terrorism have other roots than merely being a response to militarism from either the Pakistani state or the US/NATO after 2001. There are generations of Pakistanis (and others) indoctrinated by a coalition of powerful international players interested in promoting global ‘jihadist Islam’ in the 1980s. The geostrategic interests of that time were accomplished, the beast of communism was slain, and everybody could pretend all was well. Meanwhile, the proliferation of these militant fundamentalist and sectarian groups was in full swing, and while the Pakistani state continued to support and rely on many of them – a few of them just could not be completely controlled, all the time. And some of these militant elements only know how to employ violent means to resolve political and theological questions. Good, meticulous police and intelligence work can apprehend these characters if the political will is there.

Challenging the imperial expansionist policies of the United States, Malcolm X once said “If violence is wrong in America then violence is wrong abroad.” In hopes of continuing Malcolm’s vision for an alternative future in which justice and social transformation are advanced, not the laws of the jungle, we feel strongly in reiterating that the violence inflicted upon innocent souls in Peshawar must not be replicated onto innocent communities in North Waziristan or elsewhere. We are not arguing to suspend our commitment to freedom and justice, but simply upholding that commitment by resisting the rush to war. Though such a sensible and rational approach ought to find an increasing level of public support, the question immediately posed is: Which side are you on? The forces of ‘civilization’ or those terrorists?

In response to such political reductionism we assert that we are on the side of people, including those innocent victims brutally murdered in Peshawar, and those who face violence, displacement, starvation, and subjugation from Waziristan, to Balochistan, to all across the country.

Junaid S. Ahmad has been teaching law and politics at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) in Pakistan. Sania Sufi is a Political Science graduate of Loyola University.

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51 Responses to Why Peshawar Must Not Be Our 9/11

  1. Mahi on Dec 2014 at 6:34 PM

    Powerful

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