It’s been a month since the deadly terrorist attack on Army Public School in Peshawar that shocked the world. Pakistan is not unfamiliar with the phenomenon of terrorism, but the massacre of 130 schoolchildren is unparalleled in the country’s tumultuous history. The nation went into mourning and winter vacations were extended to allow for schools to adopt appropriate security measures. As shock turned into anger, the voices demanding concrete action became louder than ever. A month on, and with schools having reopened, where does Pakistan stand in its battle against Takfiri extremism and terrorism?
As it has been with Pakistan, the army is shouldering responsibility for restoring law and order. In the face of varying and, admittedly, inept civilian governments the larger population has looked on the army as the only constant during cycles of upheaval. Despite the army’s own role in overthrowing governments and establishing military dictatorships, the view that the army is the only institution in Pakistan that can fix the country’s many problems springing from instability and terrorism has only gained popularity in light of the recent Peshawar massacre.
The army, under the auspices of Gen. Raheel Sharif, has been quick to respond. It launched operations in the tribal regions to neutralize terrorist cells, cracked down on various suspects and groups in different hot-spots of Pakistan and even proposed the setting up of military courts to try apprehended (alleged) terrorists deeming the civilian justice system as inadequate and insufficient. The operations are continuing, with Raheel Sharif vowing to root out terrorism from Pakistan.
However, objectively looking at the dubious dealings of the Pakistani army in the past raises eyebrows in many quarters. The Pakistan Armed Forces have been accused of playing the ‘good terrorist’ versus the ‘bad terrorist’ game. Perhaps one may call it a prudent decision considering Afghanistan’s future still remains precarious and Pakistan needs to prepare for all eventualities, including the reemergence of the Taliban once the occupation forces leave. It will be naïve to say that the US-led occupation has effectively fractured the militant group. The Taliban not only survives, but remains a force to be reckoned with. The Pakistani army has continued to factor that in. But to what end? Could planning for a distant and unpredictable future be destroying Pakistan internally? Clearly, the army and the intelligence community don’t think so.
The support for the army is as strong as ever though. Its operations in the tribal regions are being hailed as the remedy to Pakistan’s ailment. Most tend to overlook the fact that these operations are taking place in complete media blackout, with the official word the only word. The media by large has failed to question the figures presented by the army, and has jumped on the bandwagon of nationalism and pro-army sentiments. All the while, the tales of abuses and violations trickling out are being ignored. Let’s not forget, as abhorrent as the Peshawar massacre was, and even though there can be no justification for such an atrocity, the militants carried the slaughter as revenge for the slaughter of their own children in the tribal areas. Couple this with the Pakistani army’s inability and unwillingness to put a halt on US drone attacks on its tribal areas, which have resulted in massive civilian causalities and a marginalized and alienated population. The army isn’t the lone crusader in Pakistan’s fight against terrorism, clearly. It has to answer for its actions that have created the present situation. But then again, who is asking?
In all fairness, Gen. Raheel Sharif is currently in the UK requesting help with cutting off the funding of these terrorist groups in Pakistan. Therein lies another obstacle in achieving security in Pakistan. The army and the government continue to look at foreign partners and players for funding and support. While it will be illogical to say that Pakistan mustn’t ask for help, it is who it asks that remains a problem. It is no secret that the Pakistani army and government depend on foreign aid to function. Millions of dollars pour in from the US and Saudi Arabia, among other nations. Current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is a darling of Saudi Arabia. It was Saudi Arabia that welcomed him with open arms when he was exiled by Pervez Musharraf. Aid never comes for free, there is always a price-tag. By accepting aid from countries like Saudi Arabia and the US, Pakistan has effectively tied itself to advancing their objectives on Pakistani soil – objectives that most Pakistanis agree do not spell peace and stability for the nation.
Even as Nawaz Sharif looks toward regulating and reforming the Saudi-sponsored madrassahs throughout the country, one can’t help but wonder how deep these reforms can run. Pakistan’s kind request to Saudi Arabia to monitor funding of these madrassahs will not go far as Pakistan’s dependence on Saudi aid clearly sets out who wears the pants in this relationship. Any reformation of the madrassah curriculum will be met with staunch opposition from religious parties who believe this will set the ground for the government advancing its own doctrine through these religious institutions. Besides, it’s not difficult to guess what kind of theology will a Saudi-backed Nawaz Sharif push for.
A month after the Peshawar school attacks, and many wonder how far and deep will the cries of, ‘Never again!’ go in ensuring that such atrocities are truly put to an end. Sentiments are still high even if the urgency and shock are wearing off. With Pakistan’s complex situation politically and geo-strategically speaking, and diverging interests at play, perhaps the answer doesn’t lie in the traditional institutions that the people have continued to look upon for protection and security. The army needs to be made answerable, and political figures need to be cleansed of foreign money. The nation needs to look beyond half-measures and PR stunts to put an end to its terrorism problem.