A haunted nation

On December 16, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar. At least 141 people lost their lives, 132 of them children. Many others are injured.

Writing about the worst terrorist attack in Pakistan's history - and we have seen countless terrorist attacks in the last decade - is extremely difficult. How does one pen down words when all you can feel is numbness? As my friend Umair Javed tweeted: “Don’t know how people are finding the time or mental space to analyse this tragedy’s cause and effect. Just lots of incoherent grief here.”

But it is not just incoherent grief one feels. There is more. Anger. Helplessness. Frustration. Shame. Horror. Disgust. And then grief hits you, once again. Three days have passed since the attack but there is no end to our grief. How can one remain calm when you see the images of the bloodied floors and walls of the school, when you see photographs of the children who have died, when you hear the accounts of the young survivors, when you see funerals all over the city of Peshawar? How?

The horror of this attack has jolted every Pakistani and millions around the world. Many of my journalist friends who visited Peshawar to report said they did not have the strength to do it because there was so much pain all around. Imagine: 132 school-going children, not older than 16 or maybe 17 at most, are no more. They were our future. Our future is no more.

One cannot even begin to imagine the pain of the families of the dead - parents whose children went to the school in the morning and returned in coffins. ‘The smallest coffins are the heaviest’ - these hauntingly heartbreaking words, shared on Twitter and Facebook, are terribly true. Killing children to ‘pay back’ the Pakistani state for carrying out military operations against them is not just barbaric or cruel, it is evil personified. The Taliban are that and more.

Dr Mohammad Taqi, a columnist, says that after the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) - Imran Khan's party - came to power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it has given the TTP a virtual walkover in the outskirts of the provincial capital Peshawar. “The massacre at the Army Public School was not possible without the terrorist having a local support network and sanctuary,” says Taqi. He is of the view that while the law enforcement agencies, military and intelligence services all have the responsibility to pre-empt the tragic attacks like the one at the Army Public School, the buck stops with the political leadership of the province. Sadly, the PTI has been an absentee ruler, leaving the people of Peshawar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at the mercy of the TTP. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has practically been without a chief minister since the PTI started its sit-in protests (which have now been called off in the wake of the tragedy) on August 14. Sherry Rehman rightly said that whoever is a friend of the terrorists is a traitor and Taliban apologists will be regarded as terrorists.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said there will be no distinction between good and bad Taliban; a distinction that has been part of our official policy. Our military and civilian leadership are guilty of supporting, aiding, abetting and appeasing terrorists of all hues and colour. There is certainly blood on their hands even if they did not pull the trigger themselves.

Peshawar massacre has no doubt shaken us but we need to make sure such attacks do not take place again. Military action against the TTP can only do so much. Our state needs to go after each and every jihadi on our soil, stop Saudi and local funding of madrassas and take action against hate speech, be it in mosques or anywhere else. Rising intolerance in our society can only be dealt with if these actions are taken. It is a do-or-die situation.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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