While we live in a fool’s paradise, the country inches towards the gates of hell
Dr Shahid Masood, a prominent television anchor, told me a very scary story. He was driving in the Islamabad Red Zone and on the police checkpost barrier, he was greeted by a security person. The security guard after shaking his hand said to him, “Sir, if I die protecting these infidels (pointing towards the Parliament) will I go to jannat?” Clearly, he was distraught and in two minds about his job. Unfortunately, this kind of mindset is not the odd one out. There are plenty of people I have come across in the police and Rangers and some other security agencies who are wavering between a sense of duty and what they are protecting us all from. There are some who very evidently do not consider the terrorists enemies of the country and blame this mess on the government and the establishment; there are also others who are unhappy at the way the courts and their superiors are treating them while they are trying to fulfill their professional obligations.
It is no secret that we have two different sets of opinions in the country. There are those who consider this our war and those who do not. Irrespective of what the opinion may be about it, it is our lives as common citizens that are messed up to the greatest of extents. Whilst the political rhetoric that is anti-government, anti-America or anti-everything affects public opinion from coming together, it also hampers those in the security agencies. For, after all, they too have the same fears, apprehensions and demographic roots. They are not aliens or imported from any other country. They have their kin amongst us and share the same delusions. So when either the courts admonish them for lack of evidence or their superiors merely appoint them to protocol duties, they get more distressed.
With each passing day, I keep reminding my fellow journalists we are inching towards the gates of hell. Last time I was in Florida, it was time for the Republicans National Convention and it was clear that the mood of those in authority over there is hostile as far as we are concerned. Not just the Americans but most members of the international community feel very strongly that we as a state are fooling ourselves and not doing enough to counter the growing threats we are confronted with. People tell me, “All will be well and Pakistan was created to last forever…” My humble reminder to them is that Pakistan was broken in two in 1971 and history has a knack of repeating itself unless you learn from it. General Musharraf told me two weeks back that as long as the military of Pakistan is there, no harm can come to the country. Again, very humbly may I remind people that the Soviet Union had a far bigger military, regimented and equipped with a state-of-the-art arsenal. However, when the crunch time comes, as we saw there, the state just melts and everything disintegrates around you.
In the last four years, almost 3200 hardcore terrorists were arrested in different parts of the country. 1800 have been released through our courts for lack of evidence. Chances are the remaining will also go scot free in a few months time. For no prosecutor, judge or witness has the courage to take on the might of a terrorist organization that our own state apparatus is frightful about. Clearly, we need to redefine our laws of evidence and revisit our internal security laws - which incidentally most countries have done post 9/11. Recent steps were taken in this regard but they were not adequate or well-thought out.
Syria is a good case study. Three years back, it had the most brutal and controlling security apparatus. Now it is torn between everything and more. Syria is in shambles and the average Syrian has no place to run to. We are in an even more precarious situation than Syria. For we have ethnic issues, demographic divides, religious conflicts, sectarian killings, external threats, an economic crunch, an energy crisis and so much more. How long will you give yourself before it all comes to a point of helplessness? There are those who think that we will be better off if Pakistan is “taken over”. I beg to differ once again. If the present system is dismantled, the power struggle between different religious factions will supersede. This means that there will be no end to this madness unless we decide to take it on ourselves to solve this issue. I am not propagating any foreign manifesto. I am a nationalist and clearly worried about the prospects of my children growing up in this hostile society that has developed zero tolerance for just about anything.
It took Sri Lanka more than three decades to control the insurgency within. But then the entire nation was united in their belief that this must end and should be stopped. We, on the contrary, are far from united in any aspect. Let me give you a disturbing bit of authentic news. Karachi - the main commercial epicenter of the country - is besieged by those we are fighting against in nine areas. There are now nine no-go areas for any Pakistani just in Karachi city. A major political party has lost five of its offices and nine leaders to those who took them over. A senior police officer in Karachi told me on camera that the militants, to fund their operations in Waziristan, conduct extortions and bank robberies and kidnappings for ransom. And we pretend as if nothing is happening and all is well. I want to ask, is all really well or we are just living in a fool’s paradise? Is this the jannat that we wish to enter?
Part one of a series of articles on radicalism