By Nadeem F. Paracha
September 01, 2013
Imagine this: A country ravaged by religious extremism and violence. Its people elect a government that for five years (while in opposition) wagged its finger at the previous government for failing to curb and control this violence.
Then, after winning a handsome majority in the election, the new government’s prime minister appears on TV to deliver his first address to the nation.
This is what he says: ‘It is only now that we (the new government) realised how grave and complicated the situation (regarding terrorism) really is’.
You hear him say this and you wonder: What on earth were these guys wagging their fingers for? Were they not in the country for the past five years?
Quite the contrary. Not only were they running things in the Punjab Assembly, they had also faced a spate of extremist violence in the province that they had managed to win in the 2008 election.
That is, before the Punjab chief minister (who is once again the province’s CM), almost pleaded to the extremists to spare Punjab because ‘they (the Punjab government) believed in the same things as the extremists did.
This submissive plea did manage to make the extremists stop their attacks in the Punjab. However, elsewhere, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Sindh and Balochistan, the bloodshed and the madness unleashed by the supposedly banned extremist and sectarian outfits continued unabated.
Nevertheless, what was once just a provincial government in the Punjab has mostly become the new national government? The Punjab CM can continue to ward off extremist attacks by suggesting that his government stands for the same things as the faithful brutes do, but the rest of Pakistan is not willing to go down the same apologetic and submissive road.
The last government in Islamabad and its allies in the KP, Sindh and Balochistan had suffered an unprecedented volley of deaths and violence at the hands of the extremists.
And yet it’s (albeit chaotic) response to the violence was carelessly and cruelly criticised by opposition parties, especially the PML-N, the PTI and Jamaat-i-Islami.
The previous government’s chaotic conduct was milked to the hilt by the opposition and its overt sympathisers in the private electronic media, enough for the nation to vote for the PML-N (in the centre and Punjab) and PTI (in KP) in the May 11, 2013 election.
Both PML-N and PTI insisted that they had the right understanding and answers to all the ills being faced by Pakistan, especially regarding extremist violence, the energy crises and the struggling economy.
But as far as the overbearing spectre and experience of extremist and sectarian violence is concerned it now seems that both these parties were chasing illusions created by empty theories and concoctions built upon a stunningly half-baked and superficial understanding of the issue of religious extremism and terrorism in Pakistan.
A respected English weekly recently reported how PTI chief Imran Khan was perturbed when a string of officials in KP gave him a detailed presentation on the make-up of extremist organisations operating from the province.
He was told that there were more than 40 outfits that were functioning under the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) umbrella. This seemed to have surprised him.
But all that has been baffling men like Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan recently in this regard was not only being reiterated by the previous government, but also by a string of well-grounded newspaper reporters, columnists and even some TV anchors for quite some time now.
Were the Sharifs and Khan reading Naseem Hijazi novels when they should have been taking notes from what a number of Pakistani as well as some foreign journalists had been informing the public regarding the make-up, agenda and operational modus operandi of the extremist and sectarian organisations in Pakistan?
In their ignorance, not only did PML-N and PTI lead the country astray and confused it on the issue of extremist violence, it now seems they ended up believing in their own delusions.
And today here we are, with new governments in Islamabad, Balochistan and the KP demonstrating a shocked and almost numb look after suffering over 50 terrorist attacks within a matter of two months.
This is cause for concern. We now have in power governments at the centre, Punjab and KP whose elaborate theories — about how things like drone attacks and military presence in Waziristan are the main cause for extremist violence — are being blowing to pieces and sounding more naïve than ever.
We are seeing men in top governmental positions wringing their hands after realising the true nature of what this country is really up against.
I am convinced that an experienced man like Nawaz Sharif is more than likely to finally come to terms with what he seems to have been suddenly made to realise.
His government should wipe away that dropped-jaw look, roll up its sleeves and get down to first fully understand the complexities of extremist violence in this country and then actually do something about it — instead of continuing to air the flowery baloney (both PML-N and PTI) have been feeding an unsuspecting but terror-struck populace.
And about time Khan too allows his ego to shift and make room for the kind of vital information that may actually humble his otherwise haughty demeanour. He is still an important player, considering that his party runs the government in war-torn KP.
If he refuses to accept the fact that his theories regarding extremist violence have now started to sound ill-informed and based on woolly assumptions, then he is bound to end up on the wrong side of history. Not a very glorious side to be on for a very glory-loving man.