[Extremist violence committed in the name of religion IS TERRORISM. As long as Pakistanis think that there is some subtle difference between the two there will be no escape from the terror within.]
The word ‘calm’ is a relative one. More so in Pakistan. A lull in acts of terrorism reinforces the feeling of calm. But even this is relative. If Karachi, Lahore and the twin cities of Islamabad / Rawalpindi are calm, Pakistan is considered calm. That is how the policymakers and opinion-makers perceive it.
They are wrong.
Just because the likes of TTP haven’t targeted a major location (and I use the term ‘major’ loosely), doesn’t necessarily mean they are out of business. Neither does it mean the State of Pakistan is prevailing in the fight against them. In fact, when we equate the most violent type of violence with terrorism, we tend to box in an un-boxable problem. Terrorism is one aspect of extremism, which in turn is one off-shoot of intolerance.
Confused? A new report helps us understand. Titled “Extremism Watch: Mapping Conflict Trends in Pakistan 2010-11″, it has been produced by Jinnah Institute. [Click here to download the report.] The report has put together a wealth of data about the scale of organised violence that wracked Pakistan in this one-year period. It is divided into six segments detailing different themes ably penned by Salman Zaidi, Raza Rumi, Sabina Ansari, Sehar Tariq, Fatima Mujtaba, Madeeha Ansari and Mishal Khan, and supervised by Executive Director of the institute Ejaz Haider. The report was launched yesterday in Islamabad.
This report comes at a time when public discourse on terrorism and extremism in Pakistan is at a critically sensitive juncture. The American deadline for evacuating Afghanistan is nearing, and senior US officials have hinted at an even earlier timeframe than 2014 given by President Obama. Linked to this is the attempt at negotiating with the Afghan Taliban to try and draw them into some form of a post-American governance structure. The opening of the Taliban offices in Qatar seems to have institutionalised, if you may, this nascent effort to engage the adversary.
As these developments gather momentum, Pakistan finds itself at an “I-told-you-so” moment. “See we told you its best to engage the Taliban because they cannot be wished away,” Pakistani officials seem to be saying to their frustrated American counterparts. It may be fine to bask in the moment for a while, but sadly the blowback of such a mindset-driven policy is yet to reach its peak intensity. One such effect is the gradual change in perceptions within Pakistan itself. The obvious question is: If the Americans – of all the people – can negotiate with the Afghan Taliban, why should not we negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban, aka TTP?
The linear logic may be sound, but sadly it’s not that simple. The Afghan Taliban are connected to the Pakistani Taliban, who in turn are connected to Al-Qaeda, both of whom are connected to the likes of Sipah Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi etc. And these organisations – supposedly banned – are continuing to unleash sectarian and inter-faith violence across Pakistan.
Sometimes even logic has its limits.
These are some of the grim lessons that emerge from the Jinnah Institute report. The primary lesson is that while terrorism may be battled with heavy firepower and military operations, extremism is a deeper and more malignant problem which pervades the Pakistani population in greater strength than we would like to admit.
In the report’s own words, it: “looks at recent incidents of violence rooted in religious extremism to determine trends in an increasingly militarised public space. The report seeks to isolate incidents of extremism from terrorism – notwithstanding the academic debates on definition for both terms – to identify the broad overlap in the cause, nature and agents of both phenomena and to show that in addition to acts of terrorism this mindset has also become a social norm.”
So we see increasing frequency of bloody incidents like the gunning down of Hazaras in Balochistan, we see the depressing trend of schools being dynamited, we see the shocking acts of shrines and mosques being bombed and the deep scars of such violence being burnished on innocent men, women and children.
The bitter reality then is that if Pakistan’s policy is ambivalent on tackling extremism, so is Pakistani public opinion. This ambivalence and confusion also pollutes public discourse thereby further reinforcing a confused public mindset. When the media shows images of Salman Taseer’s assassin being garlanded, what message does it send out to the viewers and readers? When major political leaders refuse to condemn the assassin, or the violent and intolerant ideology he espouses, what message does this send out to the voters?
The State of Pakistan has done precious little to even begin to battle this creeping menace. Short term political calculations have always trumped long term concerns. If intolerance raised its head in the 1950s (as Raza Rumi details in his excellent essay in the report) then more than half a century later it continues to dig its claws deeper into Pakistani society.
They say a mind is a terrible thing to waste. We seem to be doing just that.
The writer hosts a primetime talk show on ARY News. He has worked as Director News of Express News and Dunya News and Editor The News,Islamabad. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @fahdhusain