True lies

The narrative of those who so zealously deliver the ‘peace talks with extremists’ mantra, now stands as a rather questionable proposition. Vicious terrorist attacks against civilians and military personnel have witnessed a rude and sudden rise in the last few months especially, as compared to episodes of extremist violence before the May 2013 general election. peaceWhereas extremist violence before May 2013 had already been on the rise during the PPP-led coalition regime (2008-2013) — that also included the country’s two other liberal parties, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party (ANP) — analysts suggest that attacks on civilians, politicians and soldiers by the extremists have witnessed a disconcerting 40 per cent rise within the last few months. The irony of it all is that the rise in this violence has taken place after the two main moderate right-wing and ‘pro-peace-talks’ parties, the PML-N and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Teheek-e- Insaf (PTI), were able to sprint past parties belonging to the previous elected government in the May 2013 election. Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N swept the polls in the country’s largest province, the Punjab, and at the centre, while Khan’s PTI won big in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). PMLN formed governments at the centre and the Punjab, and PTI in the KP province. During their respective election campaigns, both the parties had denounced the ‘hawkish attitude (towards extremists)’ of the PPP, MQM and ANP, and insisted that peace talks with the extremists were the only way to resolve the issue of terrorism in Pakistan. Their narrative in this respect went something like this: The war against extremism was imposed upon Pakistan by the Americans and (thus) it is not our war. Extremists are slaughtering Pakistanis because the Pakistani state is an ally of the US that breaches Pakistan’s sovereignty with drones and incites revenge attacks from the extremists. Though a majority of Pakistanis were indeed in favour of a peaceful resolution, most experts were always sceptical about the narrative, believing it to be based on a simplistic and even apologetic understanding of the conflict. Eight months after the ‘peace-talkers’ finally managed to enter the corridors of power, the constant recycling of their narrative in this context has rapidly worn thin, now seeming to be almost entirely superficial and ill-informed in the face of the unprecedented rise in extremist attacks. Even though this realisation is fast becoming prominent in the PML-N government at the centre, and experts are now expecting the PML-N to gradually shift its narrative, PTI is still stubbornly holding on to it. Though one has observed Khan’s growing frustration with the violence, last week when the extremists slaughtered over 20 soldiers in KP, he reiterated his claim that things like suicide bombings were unknown in Pakistan before 2004 (or when the US first began to use drone missiles to take out Pakistani and non-Pakistani militants hiding in the tribal areas of the country). Khan’s critics have continued to accuse him of distorting history and confusing a large number of his young supporters. The critics are correct in pointing out that the episodes involving religious extremists hell-bent on inflicting violence on the people and military of Pakistan have been a pre-2004 phenomenon that cannot be squarely blamed on drone attacks. In October 2001, 18 Christians were gunned down when six assailants opened fire inside the St. Dominic Church in Bahawalpur. The dead included women and small children. The attackers claimed to be sympathisers of the Afghan Taliban. In May 2002, a suicide bomber rammed a car full of explosives into a Pakistan Navy bus, as it was leaving a local five-star hotel in Karachi. 14 people were killed. A Pakistani extremist outfit associated with the Al Qaeda took responsibility. In June 2002, a suicide bomber attacked the US Consulate in Karachi, killing 12 persons, all of them Pakistanis. In July 2003, 53 people were killed and 57 injured when two men opened fire, and one blew himself up in a Shia mosque, in Quetta, during the Friday prayers. All these attacks involving suicide bombers took place before 2004 and/or years before the word drone became so common in this country, usually used by conventional right-wing parties to explain the rise of terrorism and the growth of extremist outfits in Pakistan. Parties like the PTI and their firmest allies, the fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami, must realise that their stand against drone attacks and a military operation against militancy will continue to sound suspicious if based on distorted facts. The stand should be taken on its own merits without finding the need to be fattened by a narrative based on selective and voluntary historical amnesia. The stand then becomes nothing but an act of damaging dishonesty.   ]]>

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