By Gulmina Bilal Ahmad
September 16, 2011
Whether the office is in Aabpara, Doha or Washington is not relevant to me. The very fact that the Taliban will be granted enough legitimacy anywhere in the world to have an office is baffling
Four children dead and an adult killed in an attack on a school van. Five more lives lost leaving behind five households shedding tears. Regardless of how the madness of terrorism ends, if at all, at least these five households have joined the list of thousands who lost their most significant ones. Regardless of the political outcome of terrorism, the four children and their adult young driver have lost. They paid the ultimate price of life without consenting to be involved in the madness.
The children were returning from school. In addition to the ones that have been killed, one shudders to think about the children who have survived. Reading the news reports of children narrating how they ran away to escape the firing only to find their friends in pools of blood, I cannot but wonder what psychological trauma the surviving children must be experiencing. Images of the children who lie injured at the hospital will fade away from our television screens. The physical and most frighteningly the psychological scars would remain. In a country where, in the words of fellow columnist Fahd Husain “there are a thousand ways to die”, post-traumatic stress is what we are all experiencing but very few are familiar with. In the absence of any kind of counselling or even debriefing of the survivors, what will Pakistan look like in the next 15 years when these children will be at the helm of professional, social life? Will they pursue revenge from society as a whole like some factious Frankenstein or would they be able to make peace on their own with their circumstances?
Last week, in this very space, I had written about the effects of government (read civilian and in most cases military-backed) organising Lashkar (private militias) and peace committees to counter terrorists, specifically the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Cautioning against this strategy was promoted by a number of reasons such as the danger of flushing civilians with arms, encouraging parallel governance systems and a fleeting mention of the danger that this strategy placed the civilian members of the so-called peace jirga in. What I had mentioned fleetingly last week became a harsh, tragic fact this week.
The school van was targeted only for one reason. The children and the driver did not have an enmity with any individual or group. The five dead were guilty of only one crime. The four children for being the children of members of the Qaumi lashkar of the Kalakhel tribe present at Matani and Adeyzai. The driver was guilty by association. While the children of government officials who are paid every month by the taxpayers to provide them security are driven in escorted vehicles with bodyguards following them, the children of the lashkar members are sitting ducks. I am aware of the loss of the FC Deputy Commandant who lost his wife and son in a suicide attack at his house in Quetta. By no means do I mean to dismiss his loss. However, given his job there was a higher risk associated to him and his family members. The children in the school van were children of civilians pushed to the forefront by the government.
To add insult to injury, almost simultaneously came news reports that the Taliban are opening an office in Doha where they will be carrying out their ‘political activities’ and negotiating with the Americans outside the “sphere of influence of Pakistan”. This paper carried an editorial discussing the pros and cons of having an office in Doha (‘Just out of reach’, Daily Times, September 14, 2011). The very next day, the news report was refuted in terms of the office location being not final but the spokesperson did say that the office is being considered and that the “political activities of the Taliban will be increased”. Whether the office is in Aabpara, Doha or Washington is not relevant to me. The very fact that the Taliban will be granted enough legitimacy anywhere in the world to have an office is baffling. Thousands died in mosques, on roads, in schools, in courts, only for them to be recognised as an entity that would have the trapping of offices and set-ups? Also, what ‘political’ activities are the Taliban referring to? The activities of spreading hatred and promoting myopic worldviews based on their interpretations of life and religion? What is the politics of the Taliban? Politics by its very definition denotes ideas that one subscribes to and achieving power to propagate and implement those ideas. However, for the Taliban power is synonymous with violence and suppression. So, what political activities are being increased?
In the original news report of the Taliban opening up a Doha office, it was stated that the Qatar government has emphasised that the office would not be used for fund raising. So, fund raising is not allowed but raising havoc in people’s lives through planning their operations is?
As the world observed the tenth anniversary of the horrific tragedy of September 11, 2001, an SMS was doing the rounds in Pakistan. It said, “Dear USA! Your 9/11 is our 24/7. Regards, Pakistan.” My question is: till when? Presently, it is for 365 days a year. When will our ordeal end?
As the four children and their driver are buried, the question that haunts me is: are they being put to rest? For can their souls and the souls of thousands who have been victims of terrorism ever forgive us when negotiations with murderers are being held, when they are being legitimised through offices and most importantly the government strategy of organising more civilian Lashkars?
When did human life become so cheap?
The writer is a development consultant.
Source: The Daily Times, Lahore