By Fahd Husain
September 19, 2015
Apologists for terrorists, it appears, never die. They just fade away, only to occasionally return, like a bad habit. Case in point: Syed Munawwar Hasan of the Jamaat-e-Islami fame.
On the day of the attack on Badhaber, the former emir of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) tweeted a shocker: “I strongly condemn today’s attack on the #PAFAirBase in #Badhaber.” But the shock wore off as his next tweet landed on the timeline like a damp squid drenched in denial.
Here’s his pearl of wisdom: “There is an urgent need to unite the nation against Indian acts of terrorism #BadaberAttack.”
And then the next one: “The Govt. should escalate the issue of Indian involvement in terrorism in Pakistan to the highest level #BadaberAttack.”
After having hailed Hakimullah Mehsud as a hero, and after being voted out of the top slot by his fellow Jamaatis, Mr Hasan had gone into hibernation. He was not missed. Now, by breaking his silence and proffering his gem-like tweets, Mr Hasan has signalled to the world that he and his ilk are still floating around like a noxious odour.
Should we give a damn?
Consider this: in less than a year, the debate and discourse in Pakistan has been turned on its head. Friday’s attack on Badhaber is a case in point. Except for a squeak here and a yelp there, there’s a hardly a sound to be heard proclaiming the “they are our misguided brothers” mantra. It seems this divided, fractured and habitually ambivalent public opinion is solidly behind the operation to wipe this menace off our land. This is indeed a silent revolution.
Except that it’s not. When things are too good to be true, they usually are.
It would be a huge mistake to believe that all of a sudden the famed apologists for terrorists have transformed into swashbuckling warriors against the scourge of terrorism. Ingrained thinking, brainwashed ideology and narrow-minded worldviews fed fat on a diet of imagined piety do not morph into something new overnight. The apologists in Pakistan remain as apologetic as ever. The only difference is that they have been hushed into silence by the metamorphosis of State policy and the ensuing swing to the other side in people’s sentiments.
But what explains this silence of the lambs?
This transmutation of national thought — if we may dare call it that — is clearly linked to the turnaround of State policy. This, in turn, reflects the massive impact that State policy can have on public opinion if done right. Except, there’s an elephant in the room that we just cannot ignore: the strategic change that we refer to has been undertaken by the military high command, and not the civilian leadership. Yet, we call it State policy. Herein lies a problem.
The federal government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had turned out to be a certified apologist. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf led by Imran Khan had proved itself to be an unapologetic apologist. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and the JI led by Munawwar Hasan and then by Sirajul Haq had both solid credentials as apologists. So did a motley crew of political midgets latching on to what they all believed was the prevailing public mood. The three non-apologist mainstream political parties — PPP, MQM and ANP — had so damaged themselves with their ineptness, corruption and misrule that they had ceased to have an impact on this national discourse. Pakistan, it seemed, was adrift in a sea of apologia.
The launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb was the signal that the security establishment had had enough of this shameless display of appeasement. Yes, it was the establishment itself that had created these monsters in the first place, and yes it had sheltered and perhaps even nurtured militancy under the umbrella of state policy, but a new, dangerous era was upon us and the military was quick to recognise it. The politicians were not.
The military policy gradually became State policy as the civilians helplessly looked on. However, the apologists were still lurking around in power corridors and the airwaves. Then APS happened.
The emotional magnitude of this savagery shocked State and society into action. Overnight, the apologists melted away. Even the vacillating, lily-livered political apologists manufactured a united front against the barbarians. The discourse changed as apologist opinion evaporated from the airwaves and newsprints, and was replaced by an iron resolve to crush terrorism. State policy and public opinion were now almost in unison.
Did the State also arm-twist the media to change its course? Not in the classic sense, it did not. But the resolve of the State (the military actually) had a direct bearing on editorial decisions. Media managers and anchors realised the time to ‘balance’ opinion in favour of and against extremists was over. The apologists’ mantra had lost traction. Media space began to shrink for this brigade. Once the apologists vanished from the screens and news pages, so did their noxious narrative.
Is this a strategic transformation in thought or just a temporary phenomenon? Perhaps, it’s too early to tell. But what has become glaringly clear is that State policy plays a key role in shaping a nation’s opinion when it is clear, focused and determined. This, however, is not enough. Timing is key, and so is the ‘selling’ of the policy to an unsure electorate. Here’s where the media comes in. Intelligent policymaking prefers to engage with the media instead of attempting to manipulate it. The recent past has witnessed some very smart media management by the State — no, not by the Information Ministry, but by the ISPR. Who would have thought the military would know more about media matters than the politicians!
The result: apologists find themselves de-oxygenated. They have crawled into some dark and dingy corners of the media’s universe and their lamentations are floating around harmlessly in ether, where they cannot be heard or seen. The sea of apologia has receded.
But it has not dried up. Are Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Fazlur Rehman, Sirajul Haq and all their followers not apologists anymore? Given a free hand, would they revert to their old appeasing ways? Have their flunkies and mouthpieces had a genuine change of heart or are they just biding their time to unleash apologia on the nation yet again?
And that’s the danger that lurks in the shadows. The apologists amongst us have been silenced for now, but if State resolve does not produce permanent results, the apologists can crawl back into daylight and haunt this nation back into morbid ambivalence.
Be warned. Be very warned.