Editor’s NOTE: The following op-ed, penned by me, was originally published in Daily Times on December 29, 2012. I’m pleased to cross-post the article on my blog from Daily Times without any editing. (Ali Salman Alvi)
The reprehensible murder of Bashir Bilour is not only the Awami National Party’s (ANP) loss but it is a dent in the war against extremism that is fought by all progressive and peace-loving Pakistanis. “It is our fight and we will die fighting,” said Senior Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bashir Bilour just a day before he was martyred in a suicide blast. It was the third assassination attempt on his life that proved fatal. Despite having survived two suicide attacks earlier, the ANP’s stalwart remained undeterred against the Taliban and their ideology of barbarity.
The ANP’s leadership has been relentlessly targeted by the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) Pakistan for their staunch stance against them. Almost 700 party workers and four leaders of the ANP have been killed by the Taliban. A man of his word, Mr Bilour, indeed died fighting terrorists and their nefarious plans of hijacking Pakistan. His murder is not about just Peshawar, the ANP, Pashtuns, KPK or Pakistan for that matter; it is about humanity that was brutalised, terrorised and butchered. Terming it revenge for the murder of Sheikh Naseeb Khan, the TTP claimed the responsibility of the blast that also left nine others dead and 17 wounded. Khan was an instructor at Darul-Uloom-Haqqania, a religious seminary located in Akora Khattak, dubbed the ‘University of Jihad’ due to methods and content of instruction along with future occupations of their alumni. The seminary propagates the Deobandi trend of Sunni Islam and was founded by Maulana Abdul Haq, father of Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, along the lines of Darul Uloom Deoband. It is also famous for having many senior leaders of the Afghanistan Taliban among its alumni, including Mullah Omar, and its role in supporting the Taliban. Not to mention that Pakistan’s FIA has claimed that the plan to assassinate Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was hatched at the same seminary.
Lest you forget, dear reader, let me remind you a joint protest was staged by the workers of the JUI-F, JUI-S, Jamaat-e-Islami and Sipah-e-Sahaba (Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat) in front of the Peshawar High Court demanding the arrest of the killers of the same cleric whose murder is avenged by the Pakistani Taliban. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that the radical groups that have been dismantling peace are all affiliated with the TTP. The workers of these parties share the same school of thought as that of the Taliban. On the other hand, the apologetic discourse of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban is empowering the one outfit that is responsible for callous atrocities on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. While the bad Taliban are responsible for thousands of ruthless murders in Pakistan, the good Taliban are the perpetrators of massacres of the thousands of Shias in Mazar-e-Sharif and Bamiyan. There is no difference at all between the two categories of the Taliban.
With terrorism peaking in Pakistan, the only institution — the Pakistan army — that has the potential to halt the ever-increasing menace of terrorism is reluctant to take the bull by the horns. For more than two decades, the elite of Pakistan army and some government officials envisaged the Mujahideen and then the Taliban as strategic assets to be used to foster their interests on the other side of the Durand Line.
Presently, Pakistan is going through one of the most crucial phases in its history given many tribal areas are without any writ of the government. War is upon us and we are being attacked every day. More than 40,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives and we are still not ready to own this war waged upon us. Probably every war is fought on at least two grounds: one is the battleground and the other is the minds of the people via propaganda. Nothing has hurt Pakistan more than the propaganda of the good and bad Taliban. It has essentially turned our nation in a mob with confused minds. According to this propaganda, those Taliban who are present in Pakistan but operate on the other side of the Pak-Afghan border against the occupational forces are good Taliban, while those who are carrying out terrorist activities inside Pakistan are bad. Have the genius minds behind this theory spared a thought about the situation in the region after the US-led coalition mission ends in December 2014? Will the good Taliban lay down their arms and start selling miswak sticks for a living? What will keep these overenthusiastic jihadists limited to Afghanistan?
Wars are fought and won by nations and not only the armed forces. Pakistan army is fighting the extremists but this war can only be won with the support of the public and not with a mob with split minds and depleted souls. If we are unable to root out this monster now, terrorism and extremism would eat up the entire body fabric of our society.
During the 1990s when the Taliban movement, thanks to the Pakistani mullah-military alliance, was on the rise in Afghanistan, a group of mullahs gathered outside the Lahore High Court on May 15, 1994. They were chanting slogans ‘Kabul kay baad, Islamabad. Taliban! Taliban!’(After Kabul, Islamabad. Taliban! Taliban!). They had assembled for the hearing of a review petition on the capital punishment awarded to two Pakistani Christians, the 14-year-old Salamat Masih and 46-year-old Rehmat Masih. The Lahore High Court judge, Arif Iqbal Hussain Bhatti, acquitted both of them only to be killed in his chamber later by an unidentified man for giving that very verdict. Last month, an Additional District and Sessions Judge granted bail to the man accused of killing Shahbaz Bhatti. Need I say more?
As the demands for a military operation in North Waziristan grow, it is pertinent to note that Pakistan cannot win this war by launching operations in only the restive areas. The hand that is feeding and sponsoring the centres of these militants — the religious seminaries — that continue to produce fresh stocks of militants and thus keep providing recruiting grounds to the militant outfits of the likes of LeJ, TTP and al Qaeda must be chopped. If the intent is clear and sincere then we have to eradicate the root cause of terrorism and extremism in Pakistan. If the objective is to launch another operation for the sake of an operation then I see no hope of having peace in Pakistan.
Since its independence, Pakistan has become a strategic player in the subcontinent free of terrorism, which has begun feeding itself on the home turf now. Pakistan has to move ahead with global giants whereas internal crisis is weakening the might of an otherwise prospering nation where the common Pakistani is facing the brunt of terrorism. Of course, sovereignty of the state of Pakistan matters the most, without any external interference. The onus now lies upon government in the upcoming elections, which will weed out germination of terrorism.
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear,” wrote Mark Twain. Bashir Bilour resisted and mastered the fear with unparalleled courage. He had the guts to stand up to his views unlike many other cowards who live on fake and hollow slogans of America bashing. His ruthless murder is a serious blow to the aspirations of peace in Pakistan but the resolve of his son to not to surrender to the Taliban is a ray of hope. Mr Bilour, I would always remember the courage you showed against the TTP and anti state elements in the face of death. We have lost a true hero in you. May you rest in eternal peace, Sir.