By the editors of Tanqeed, a quarterly e-zine that publishes long form journalism and essays that analyse contemporary Pakistan and South Asia.
The cold-blooded killing of 132 innocent children and nine adults at the Army Public School in Peshawar is a dark and sad chapter in the recent history of Pakistan. We at Tanqeed condemn the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for this despicable act, and all groups that use religion to justify their brand of violence. We condemn the absence, incompetence and dehumanising violent policies of the state. We condemn the numbness and oppressive attitude of the ruling classes. We condemn those people who allow these rulers to use the name of Islam and the ideology of Pakistan to cover up their criminal failings. We condemn those who find contentment in blaming these acts on foreign actors or non-Muslims.
When our children are sacrificed on the altars of ideology, religion, and politics, then we must acknowledge that the problem is of a fundamental nature. We need to acknowledge our faults for all the children that have become victims of violence and oppression. Somewhere, somehow, many among us started valuing human lives less than the “sacred” ideologies of the state, narrow interpretations of Islam, and the economic and personal interests of the ruling classes. The lives of our children have become cheap. Such values, such valuations, have no place in any society.
The Peshawar massacre signals the continued aggravation of a cycle of violence that has been enabled and perpetuated by several groups: by the TTP and other militant, sectarian, and jihadist groups who use instruments of violence in the name of Islam; by the Pakistani state and military, along with their imperial allies and lords, who directly support violent groups and enable other forms of economic and structural violence; by the media, religious ideologues, and the array of “experts” and “intellectuals” who promote militarized narratives that are knit around falsehoods of Jihad and who shift the blame onto the CIA, RAW, Mossad, the foreign hand, and the devil himself.
Along with militant Islamist groups, the state and military play a central role in perpetuating the reactionary attitudes and support of violence among the people. Like a two-headed monster, it supports some militant groups and ignores others, while launching military operations in Waziristan and the tribal areas with impunity and no accountability or transparency. The operations have resulted in the deaths of children, the displacement of people, and countless and unimaginable sufferings.
Along with the military, our ruling elites and imperial masters have continued a three and a half decade long war in Pashtun majority areas. Pashtun people have lost the most lives in this war. The supporters of militant Islamist groups include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, our military and politicians from Punjab and other areas of Pakistan. But instead of seeking political and pragmatic solutions at the national, regional, and international level, our government and the military have simply decided to resort to dropping bombs on the whole population in the Pashtun tribal areas.
These military operations lack transparency. Tanqeed’s research shows that the mainstream media relies on military and official sources for their reporting on the operation. We know that no one is allowed to access these areas to carry out independent reporting. This means that, instead of having evidence that may help us determine the success or failure of these operations, it is not even possible for us to form any independent opinions on the matter because of the heavy propaganda of the state. If terrorists are killed in a military operation, then why are details of their identities and the procedure for identifying them as “terrorists” not made public? And, why do we only hear about the death of “terrorists”? How is it that no ordinary lives are lost in these military operations? Our reporting has already shown the severe toll on civilian populations due to these military operations.
We fear that instead of making fundamental changes in our approach to the problem, and instead of holding the military and government accountable, the military has been given free reign, which will only increase the cycle of violence.
It must be pointed out that anti-terrorism acts have been and are being used against political activists and nationalist movements. Last year, with increased powers, the army upped military strikes in Balochistan – the situation there is deteriorating day by day. Baloch youth, children, women and the elderly have been targeted using gunship helicopters. Dead bodies, tortured and riddled with bullets, are still being found on bloody roads – and now these dead bodies have also started appearing in Sindh. These are the worst examples of state terrorism. Many political activists, union leaders, peasants and workers have been tried and sentenced by anti-terrorism courts – they are now languishing in jails across the country.
For years in this land, we have had a tradition of sacrificing our future generations for false idols and fake gods: militant Islamist groups like the Taliban massacre and bomb children in schools; sectarian groups attack and kill Shias and members of other sects; Ahmadis, Hindus, Christians and other religious groups are targeted using blasphemy laws, they are killed and burnt alive, and they are forced to convert to Islam; children are killed in air strikes by the military, in drone strikes, and in the hunger and fatigue that accompanies displacement; Baloch and Sindhi youth are tortured and killed; sectarian and ethnic violence is burning the city of Karachi; and, day by day, the number of children dying from hunger is fast increasing.
We contend that the state and the military will have to change their dual policies to resolve the issue at hand. Instead of launching large military operations, we need to target the financial and human support networks of terrorist outfits. We need to ban all groups that use violence in the name of Islam – these include the Taliban, sectarian outfits, those who target Christians, Hindus and other religious minorities. We need to target the discourse that creates sympathies and support for such groups. Instead of bombing Pashtun areas, we need to institutionalise the policy and practice of protecting peaceful political groups. Non-state actors must not be allowed to take control of our mosques and use these to promote hate speech.
But perhaps this is mere wishful thinking. When the state and the military have been part of the problem, we cannot expect them to be the solution. It is our misfortune, but in a society where violence is pervasive, events like the Peshawar massacre are neither unexpected nor unique. M