Pakistan must live in Peshawar

“The school was targeted because it was a symbol of everything the Taliban are opposed to: enlightenment and freedom.”
By Reem Wasay – The pestilence of extremism must be purged,we must say this freely now, we must never think twice. Pakistan must live in Peshawar until this war is won”, says the author.

For the last decade or so, Pakistanis seemed to have lost the ability to be easily moved by news of tragedy and misfortune – so frequent have been the numbers of dead, injured and displaced. However, what transpired on Tuesday, December 16, in Peshawar has shaken this country more than any earthquake, attack or battle ever could. The massacre of 132 children, who must have thought they were safe in the impenetrability of their school, by Taliban militants, has left a gaping wound that continues to splutter the rancid blood of our collective failure to protect the most vulnerable among us.

Storming the Army Public School (APS) and Degree College premises in a hail of gunfire and explosives-laden suicide vests, the militants did not enter to take hostages and negotiate with power brokers and members of the government; they came to kill and strike a fatal blow to the last remaining vestiges of humanity left in this Pakistan, and they succeeded. Every passing minute, with the death toll rising and red tickers on television screens changing their statistics, left onlookers gasping for air, parents wailing for their trapped angels, newscasters fighting back tears and Special Services Group (SSG) commandos at the ready wondering how things could have gone so horribly, bloodily wrong.

Brave teachers evacuated panicked students and were pumped full of bullets and the principal was burned alive in front of the children to instill maximum terror. Dressed as paramilitary personnel, the militants duped the children to reveal who among them were from army families; they naively shot up their little hands, thinking they were going to be rescued, but were instead shot between the eyes. Others played dead and cowered under desks and behind chairs only to be dragged out and gunned down. More than a dozen explosives rang out during the eight- hour-long siege – say that to yourself again: eight hours of defenseless children ambushed without the protective cover of a mother or father’s undying love, shielding their darlings from any and all harm. There is no greater human tragedy.

Not a ‘blowback’ attack

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Running parallel to this calamity was the gloating statement from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claiming responsibility for the carnage, justifying it as revenge for army operations against them and their families. They were talking about Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a Pakistan military offensive being waged in North Waziristan since June this year, after the same militants attacked Karachi International Airport, killing some 36 people.

Such excuses will simply not do now; this is not a ‘blowback’ attack for the deaths of militants’ families in drone attacks and military operations; it is an ideology that must be realized by the entire nation and eliminated.

Some may argue that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, and that debate will rage on for many more years to come, but what stands as clear as the pools of unblemished blood in the grounds of APS Peshawar is the fact that Islam is being used to destroy this country corner to corner, person to person. These militants did not fly in here overnight nor did they scale the walls of ironclad fortresses committed to the preservation of the Pakistani nation in a surprise attack. No, they have been allowed to fester and rot at the very core of what should have been a National Security Policy, a policy that only resulted in the limp bodies of this nation.

No effective counterterrorism measures have been taken to root out a terror of our own making: a proxy scourge that has penetrated every city, every mind. It is the mindset in Pakistan that is the problem. From shrinking space for moderate voices on every platform to the public outpouring of sympathy we see for the killers of those accused of blasphemy, from minorities and anyone with secular, liberal leanings to the infantile projections of “my sect is bigger than your sect,” Pakistan is not surprised by the horror that unfolded in Peshawar -it has finally been numbed and struck down by the chilling awareness that this is a monster of our own making, the culmination of our Machiavellian pact with the primitive and the poisonous.

We can lay blame on the TTP all we want, but the real criminals are those who apologies for their ideology by footing the blame on “foreign hands”; who seek excuses when they should have sought retribution; who move on when Ahmedis and Shias are ruthlessly burned, beaten, murdered for their faith; who offer media space to orthodox clerics to air their views for public consumption; and who allow the communal gathering of the likes of Jamaat-ud-Dawa Chief Hafiz Saeed riding in on a white stead, like some sort of repugnant messiah of the people, at a symbol of Pakistan’s newly found hope and pride all those years ago (Minar-e-Pakistan) that are to blame.

For too long now, journalists like me have been urged to self-censor, to throw in the towel lest extremist ire is sparked, to tremble at the mere mention of change, repeal or amendment of the current mindset where sectarian differences cancel out universal convergence on humane notions of good and evil.

Why a school was targeted
The school was targeted because it was one where military officers sent their offspring and because it was a symbol of everything the Taliban are opposed to: enlightenment and freedom. Where their lies and propaganda brainwash ignorant minds, schools liberate future generations from their draconian claws. Malala Yousafzai (you either love her or hate her in Pakistan) was shot in the face by the same mentality in 2012 and many here sneered at her, calling her a U.S. agent. Were all 141 fatalities in Peshawar agents and were they 141 reasons to give up our misguided notion of strategic assets and proxy panhandling?

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lifted the moratorium on the death penalty the day after the attack, after widespread public backlash and media frenzy demanded that all terrorists on death row be executed immediately. This is a fragile first step; it is a belated response to a plague that runs woefully deeper. Battered, bruised, bleeding and gone are our children – their hands shown grasping their copies and bags in photographs splashed all over social and other media. It is a harrowing vision, but it is necessary. We have, time and again, moved on and forgotten about the dead, swept away the fragments of their bodies by our own apathy and forgetfulness. Not this time Pakistan; do not forget this time. The pestilence of extremism must be purged, we must say this freely now, we must never think twice. Pakistan must live in Peshawar until this war is won.

(Source: Daily Times. Reem Wasay is Op-ed Editor of Daily Times, Pakistan.)

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