The murder by the Taliban of more than 130 schoolchildren in Peshawar on December 16 has stunned Pakistan, and indeed the world. But the incident marks only an escalation in the brutality of jihadis, not its beginning. Over the years, Pakistan’s homegrown terrorists have bombed Shia and Ahmadi mosques, Sunni shrines, Christian churches and Hindu temples. Over a thousand attacks on schools by the Taliban have been reported since 2009, mainly in the northwestern Pakhtunkhwa province. Jihadi targets over the years have included localISI offices in several cities, naval and air force bases in Karachi and Kamra, the Karachi International Airport and even the army’s General Headquarters. If the breadth of attrition has not cured Pakistan’s jihadi addiction, would the death of innocent children and the burning alive of their teachers in a Peshawar school result in a fundamental change of heart?
If the Pakistani establishment decides to turn the corner, it would have to stop treating Pakistan’s anti-jihadists as its enemies and gradually embrace a new national narrative for the country. Confronting the jihadists comprehensively would make Pakistan more secure, paving the way for greater prosperity and a place under the sun. Refusing to confront and marginalise them will only lead to recurrent tragedies like the one in Peshawar, followed by grief and outrage.
Soon after the Peshawar carnage, Maulana Abdul Aziz of the infamous Islamabad Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, refused to condemn the Taliban’s action, indicating the stubbornness of the jihadi worldview. Taliban apologist Imran Khan parsed his words to condemn the act but not its perpetrators by name. Another Pakistani establishment favourite, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed of Lashkar-e-Toiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa, went on television to blame India for the Taliban’s school attack and vowed revenge inside India.
The roots of Pakistan’s jihadism lie in its establishment’s obsession with India, which goes back to partition, the twonation theory and the fear that powerful forces want the dismemberment of Pakistan. The break-up of Pakistan in 1971, and the emergence of an independent Bangladesh in erstwhile East Pakistan, has reinforced national paranoia instead of convincing the country’s Punjabi elite of the need to come to terms with Pakistan’s size and power and finding security within the parameters of reality.
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