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Is this what it takes?

Published: December 20, 2014

The writer is a lawyer who lives in London and tweets @ayeshaijazkhan

When America’s pioneer talk show host, Phil Donahue, confronted the ultra right wing Fox News anchor, Bill O’Reilly, for maligning an American anti-war activist, Cindy Sheehan, he said, “You can’t hurt her. She’s already taken the biggest punch there is … she’s lost a child … you can’t slow her down.” On December 16, 2014, Pakistan lost at least 132 precious children in one go, not as collateral damage in a destructive war, but targeted specifically, hunted down, on our own soil, their school blown apart, their teachers set on fire. Pakistan has taken the biggest punch there is. The question is: where do we go from here? Is this what it takes to get our priorities right and take what the entire world has been referring to as the ‘existential threat’ to our very survival seriously?

This may not be the time to finger-point, as national unity in the face of this deadly and barbaric enemy is crucial. However, it is also not possible to move forward without admitting past mistakes. Unless we realise what has brought us to this abyss, it will not be possible to make amends and correct course. The truth must be told.

Until recently, both the PML-N and the PTI thought the Taliban could be negotiated with, that they weren’t all that bad. It wasn’t that long ago that Shahbaz Sharif promised to look the other way as long as the Taliban spared Punjab. It wasn’t that long ago, too, that Imran Khan proclaimed that those who wanted to fight off the Taliban were corrupt dollar-khor. These were not statements made by the leaders of fringe religious parties but mainstream politicians that large sections of the educated elite voted for. What could be more enabling for the Taliban?

Until recently, both these parties and our military establishment readily distinguished between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. In other words, a good Taliban could bomb hotels in Afghanistan but not in Pakistan. I am not keen to quote Hillary Clinton but she does have a point when she says, “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only bite your neighbour.” Granted the US played its part in creating this mess back in the eighties, but it’s our backyard that was being experimented in and by allowing it to happen, we have no one to fault but ourselves. Preventing foreign powers from meddling in our affairs isn’t a challenge unique to Pakistan. Most of the Third World grapples with it but who accounts for the strategic depth that has eaten us hollow?

For the longest time this menace was allowed to fester. By maligning those brave few from parties like the PPP and the ANP who dared to stand up to the extremists as “dollar-khor”, the possibility of consensus against the Taliban was greatly impeded. Instead of glorifying those voices, they were painted as Western stooges and an ostrich-like approach was adopted under inane slogans like ‘give peace a chance’. As a result, those courageous few voices were silenced fatally and/or marginalised within their own parties. Instead of focusing on real heroes like Malala Yousufzai or Fareeda Afridi, who were shot for going to school and work, respectively, or the numerous nameless polio workers who were shot for doing good in society, the media focused on distractions like dharnas.

The dharnas have thankfully ended so can we please finally work towards the real issues? The political leadership and civil society must work tirelessly to build consensus behind the military as it takes on the terrorist safe havens and make paramount efforts to rehabilitate those displaced. But simultaneously, the military must come clean and take the political leadership into confidence on how it plans to reverse destructive policies like strategic depth. Instead of casting aspersions on Nawaz Sharif’s overtures to India, such moves must be backed and supported by the military as the need of the hour. Pakistan cannot fight on two fronts. For our own sake, to save our own country we must work to eliminate mistrust that exists with both India and Afghanistan. Promoting movies like Waar that confuse the public on who the real enemy is counter-productive.

Similarly, the media, too, must realise that there will be no ratings if there is no Pakistan. It is not necessary to invite guests with opposing opinions just for the sake of a duel and cheap laughs when serious national security matters are at stake. There needs to be special care taken, particularly when guests are interpreting religion. Despicable men like the Laal Masjid maulvi, Abdul Aziz, who refused to even condemn the Peshawar attack, do not deserve airtime and channels who give them time deserve to be blacklisted.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 20th,  2014.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • Feroz
    Dec 20, 2014 - 2:31AM

    Very sensible suggestions and diagnosis, however old habits die hard. There is an opportunity to build a consensus just now to take on the forces of hate, thriving on an artificial enmity against X, Y or Z. The world has been pleading with Pakistan for years if not decades to correct course to save itself, its neighborhood and the world at large. Jihadi literature, hate speeches and contrived conspiracy theories has poisoned too many impressionable minds, making an enjoyable journey of life into a battle against imagined enemies. A lot needs to be done by both the Government and citizens for meaningful change to be ushered in, time to get started long overdue. With will, commitment and conviction everything is possible and doable. Let love and compassion be the corner stone of a new renaissance.


  • Cool Henry
    Dec 20, 2014 - 3:13AM

    Somehow, I feel that the author is speaking for the silent majority of Pakistan. I hope. One single act will go a long way in improving the situation. That would be to have normal – or even enhanced – trade, travel, tourism and commerce between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Let the military and para-military forces focus on ensuring that the trade and travel between these countries goes about smoothly. The need to fight terrorists will simply vanish.


  • raider
    Dec 20, 2014 - 9:40AM

    really writer well encapsulated the very voice of the nation, but without eliminating and punishing corrupt elite, playing havoc with peoples, cancer of evil from society can not be amputated easily nevertheless u up root the terrorism


  • Umar Khan
    Dec 20, 2014 - 1:20PM

    Wish you included the boy Aitzaz Hassan in the list of “real heroes” who intentionally gave up his life to save others.Recommend

  • Dec 20, 2014 - 1:23PM

    Hello there!

    Good words, but let me point out two things in minimal words possible:

    Leaders are supposed to have a stance, unflinching and well thought out. Imran Khan and his “learning curve” has cost this nation a lot of lives, I wish he be taken to task for that! MNS and SS are not leaders.

    The media literally shapes the “national narrative”, they have to control themselves. They form public opinion, I know integrity and thinking beyond money is too much to ask for, but yet just once, just this once they can try!

    Have a good day!


  • Parvez
    Dec 20, 2014 - 1:47PM

    Malala was a victim of terrorists and she survived and became stronger. Pakistan is a victim of terrorism and we will survive. What WILL cripple us and may be kill us is the inept, corrupt governance regime under the eye-wash banner of ‘ democracy ‘…… making it easier for the terrorist to operate because they play on the frustrations of the people.


  • A F Mujtahid
    Dec 20, 2014 - 4:50PM

    Thanks dear Ayesha Ijaz Khan for your very sensible, excellent and very timely essay. And I entirely agree with you that Pakistan can not fight out this menace all by itself . This is also true for India , she also can not fight this Talibani hordes and their many hues in India alone. So also Afghanistan and Bangladesh

    Pakistan and India must sit down in the interest of the people of both the countries to draw upon road map as to how to fight out this Talibani menace which has nearly made Pakistan a failed state. It is more in the interest of the people of Pakistan that their political leadership simply take this Talibani menace as the only issue for the moment so that a tangible benefit may be found.

    Kindly do remember that Only Military assault may have short term and limited success but the .Taliban issue is not just a Military issue alone it is a deep political issue in the context of Pakistan, Afghanistan and also in Bangladesh. Therefore Leaders of Pakistan should be bold enough to discard the mind set of not only of the 1980s when they coxed the Americans and Allah and the Army that created the Talibans to fight in Afganistan as a mercenary force being paid by the Americans ,it is high time Political Leadership of Pakistan SAVE and EXCEPT the Jamaat i Islami and its many offshoots come out of their ancestor’s mind sent of the post 1947 Pakistan politics if they wish to see a democratic tolerant and modern Pakistan which has so far remained an illusion. .

    Present Army action can only have temporary limited success but for long term success the Pakistani Political parties must unite to kill the snake or snakes at its backyard. But make sure that none of your Agencies do not torpedo your calm and resolve as they did many times in the past.

    My country Bangladesh is fighting against kind of Talibani acts and Crimes Against Humanity . i regret to add that in our fight against the Crimes against Humanity we find important Persons from Pakistan supporting those those who are tried in our Tribunal for Crimes Against Humanity .
    Dear friend you can not win the war against the Taliban in your own country if you support their activities in other countries who may not see eye to eye with you on many issues. But on this issue there should not be any reservation amongst the Political parties and the Intellectuals, Journalists, Lawyers, Academicians , scientists, cultural activists, Trade union s and the students and the young ones who need Pakistan more than the political party leaders and their followers.

    We shall always like to see the success of the Peoples struggle against the Taliban from the body polity of Pakistan and its society.


  • raider
    Dec 20, 2014 - 5:00PM

    @Khawar Ali Sher:
    how many people killed by imran khan, instead u dear asking about culprits to be punished trying to water be poured on lower level


  • Pushtun Voice
    Dec 20, 2014 - 6:09PM

    Bravo Ayesha! excellent article.
    Civil society needs to apply constant pressure on the civil & military establishment to follow through with their pledges.
    Hanging terrorists already on death row is basically a publicity stunt. The State needs to go after the big wigs like LEJ, ASWJ etc who reside in Punjab to show commitment.


  • Dr Ghulam Ali
    Dec 21, 2014 - 10:45AM



  • Rex Minor
    Dec 21, 2014 - 10:03PM

    Unless we realise what has brought us to this abyss, it will not be possible to make amends and correct course. The truth must be told.

    This is a good start and let the independent juounalists be allowed to examine the outmass of the ahem in the autonomous waziri and other autonomous pockets of the tribal region.

    Rex Minor


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