A nation at war? This is the biggest fiction of all. You wouldn’t guess this from Islamabad’s development priorities or the flyover craze in Lahore. Or from the billboards and ads glorifying the great amenities provided by that marvel of military planning, the Defence Housing Authority.
Yet when national complacency is punctured by another terrorist outrage – such as the latest in Charsadda – the flood of crocodile tears sweeps everything before it. Let me quickly add that those hit by the tragedy, the grieving souls, their tears are all too real. But the sorrow and the solemnities pouring forth from the apparatus of government are now part of a standard and tested routine. And when the moment passes, as all moments even the most tragic must eventually pass, it is back to business as usual and the return of complacency once more…until the next terrorist attack when the usual stock of clichés is offloaded again.
Army, Frontier Corps, intelligence agencies, and the rest of the security structure are all in this fight. But they are fighting a lonely fight. They are in it, up to their necks, taking the hits and the casualties. There is no village graveyard in the Chakwal district, as in adjoining districts from where come so many of the army’s soldiers, without its share of the martyred in this war. But the nation seems strangely uninvolved.
Away from the killing fields, away from the frontlines, does this really seem to be a nation at war? You won’t get this feeling from the bustle of big-city shopping malls, the obsession with turning Lahore and Islamabad into pale replicas of Dubai, or from the army’s single-minded preoccupation with real estate, something not mitigated even by this war, the longest and cruellest in our tumultuous history.
Do nations at war cultivate such priorities? Is this how they spend scarce resources? Leningrad under siege in the Second World War, London during the Blitz, were they into expensive projects meant to pander to the sensibilities of political bosses? Were their armies engaged in developing housing colonies?
Shouldn’t our limited resources go first and foremost, leaving everything else to one side, into police reform, judicial improvement and health and education reform? If this war against terrorism and the curse of religious extremism – misguided ‘jihad’ in the name of Islam – has to be won and Pakistan cleansed once and for all of the ‘jihadi’ nonsense made part of our national thinking as a result of our Afghan involvement, then it is not just the army and allied agencies but the nation as a whole which has to be put on a war footing.
War on terrorism means not only military operations but making Pakistan a more disciplined and better-run country. It means bringing order into our cities, better traffic management, better public transport, more buses on city roads and less of a fixation with such white elephants as the schemes so beloved of the Punjab chief minister.
War on terrorism means more aggressive state intervention in the realm of education: discouraging private schools and colleges and more spending on public education; having one system of education in the country including something we should be ashamed of, O and A levels which India got rid of as far back as 1964; bringing Islamic madressahs into the sphere of government education which is easier said than done because this requires the allocation of substantial resources which our governments, with their skewed priorities, are presently not programmed to deliver.
War on terrorism means more and better government-run hospitals. It means, if at all we have anything to do with Islam, free medical care – free dialysis, free kidney transplants, free cancer care. It means learning from godless Cuba because that’s where they have implemented this system. And Cuba does not have more money than us. They’ve run the gauntlet of the American economic embargo ever since the first days of their revolution. American cars from the 1950s still run on Havana’s roads because they don’t import cars, reserving scarce resources for health, education, social welfare and the armed forces.
The Americans tried every trick in the book. But they couldn’t push Cuba around because it is a proud country and a defiant one…thanks to the revolution. Such a cleansing, such an ordeal through fire, we needed. But we chose different paths and elected to suck up to the western world…even as we went hoarse shouting about the glories of Islam.
We did sentry duty for other countries. We swallowed their prescriptions and fought their wars, convinced of course that those were our wars. Our elite classes got rich. Our generals didn’t do badly for themselves. Many military fortunes are tied to Pakistan’s adventurism in Afghanistan…bareback generals becoming tycoons and fat-cats, even as they delivered sermons on Islam to the nation.
This was always an unequal society. But over the years we have made it more unequal and are pursuing economic policies which are further accentuating this divide. There is a practical angle to this. To fight holy terrorism, to eradicate the menace of religious extremism, and to convert the majority of Pakistanis to this cause, Pakistan has to be made a more just and equitable society. The ordinary Pakistani must feel that there is something in this fight for him.
This doesn’t mean a Bolshevik revolution because that’s never going to happen here. But it means less tax breaks for the rich and more money for public welfare.
Forget about everything else. Policemen don’t have proper toilets in thanas. They work 20 hour days. You can see them standing on roads asking for lifts when they are going home. We give them these conditions and then we expect them to have the sense of duty, and dignity, of the London or the Paris cop. What have we done to improve police services ever since we declared war on terrorism? Is there any improvement in the criminal justice system? Is there a quicker disposal of cases? Has justice become more affordable?
We know what the Ishaq Dars will say: create wealth first and then worry about distribution. We have been hearing this argument since Pakistan’s birth. It hasn’t worked in practice, more wealth here amounting to more wealth for the rich.
Why is Afghanistan unable to stand up to the Taliban even though the Taliban are no longer the monolith they once were? Because American money hasn’t created a better country or a better administration, or a more effective army…it has fuelled corruption and created a class of super-rich Afghans who are now finding they are no match for the ragtag Taliban.
Pakistan’s problem is not just the TTP. More than that, it is the spread of a certain brand of religiosity: the proliferation of groups, the spread of madressahs where closed minds and a fanatical world-view constitute the currency of education. This other Pakistan is the natural breeding ground of religious bigotry and fanaticism. The answer to this lies not in Shahbaz Sharif’s metros or the army’s DHAs but in education and social justice.
The Taliban hold out the prospect of salvation in the next world. To defeat them the state of Pakistan must be able to deliver justice, emancipation and salvation in this world.
By Ayaz Amir
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