Silence of the Lambs

What do you do when courage bleeds to death?

There is something sickeningly wrong when slaughter is revenged by the deafening sounds of, ‘bleat, bleat’, while armchair warriors beat their chests and retire for the night. There is something nauseatingly wrong when 45 executed bodies cannot make the leader do the right thing.

For make no mistake: we are living in the midst of genocide. The randomness of this barbarity hides a steely purpose, and day after day more dead people fuel it with their blood. Terrorists kill with impunity. They kill with ease. They seem unstoppable. And all because we are bleeding courage. And resolve. And clear intent.

But we have a plan. The National Action Plan (NAP). It’s been four months since the entire leadership stamped its approval on this ambitious plan. Here’s where it stands today:

Point 4: Strengthening and activation of Nacta (not done); Point 10: Registration and regulation of madrassas (half-hearted effort); Point 12: Fata reforms (not done); Point 16: Taking the ongoing operation in Karachi to its logical conclusion (nowhere near); Point 17: Balochistan reconciliation (no progress); Point 20: Revamping and reforming the criminal justice system (not even started).

Now contrast this abysmal record with the points that have been worked on: Point 1: Execution of convicted terrorists; Point 2: Establishment of special trial courts; Point 5: Countering hate speech and extremist material (limited progress); Point 6: Choking financing for terrorists and terrorist organisations (some headway); Point 8: Establishing and deploying a dedicated counterterrorism force (some headway); Point 11: Ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organisations through print and electronic media (progress); Point 19: Policy to deal with the issue of Afghan refugees (some progress).

The rest of the points? Well, take a look and judge for yourself:

Point 3: Ensure no armed militias are allowed to function in the country; Point 7: Ensuring against re-emergence of proscribed organisations; Point 9: Taking effective steps against religious persecution; Point 13: Dismantling communication networks of terrorist organisations; Point 14: Measures against abuse of internet and social media for terrorism; Point 15: Zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab (right!); Point 18: Dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists.

A clear pattern emerges: progress has been achieved on those points that needed a quick administrative order; some headway is seen on those points that needed relatively easy decisions; but nothing has been done on the issues that require fundamental structural reform of deep-seated problems. In other words, wherever serious political will is needed, there is silence.

Why does it seem that the government has outsourced the fight against militancy to the army? Does the government not have the capacity to lead this war? Does it not have the will to do so? Or do the top men in the government not really and truly believe that this fight must be fought at every level? Something, somewhere does not add up.

Look around you and ask yourself: are we in a state of war? Does it look like that? Forty-five people executed in cold blood on the streets of Karachi, but do you hear the sounds of war? More than a hundred children slaughtered in Peshawar exactly five months ago, but do you see the sights of war? Or do you see life as usual punctuated with sights and sounds of green trains, orange metros and black highways?

Don’t get me wrong: planes, trains and automobiles are good, and we need them. But for God’s sake, we are in the middle of an existential war and the waging of this war requires every single waking second that our leadership has. Nothing else matters, because well, that gleaming train and that shining Metro won’t really help me if I’m dead. And that’s the real tragedy here: the completely messed up priorities of the leadership. Yes, the civilian leadership. There, I’ve said it.

Democratic sensibilities outraged? Good. They should be. The leader can obsess about infrastructure projects but Nacta does not interest him; he can get feverish over motorways and industrial plants but cannot be bothered about serious madrassa reform; he can babble on and on about solar plants but cannot get a grip on Fata reform; and he can lecture us on economic growth rate but doesn’t seem to be bothered about the death rate. Give away laptops? Sure. Hand out loans? Yep. Roll out crazy employment schemes? Absolutely. Reform the criminal justice system? Err…?

The prime minister has the biggest bully pulpit in the country. He can set the national agenda. That’s what he gets paid for. Every single day or every week of every month, he should be obsessing about this existential war; every second of every minute of every hour he should be expressing his resolve to fight and win this war, whatever it takes, and howsoever long it takes. The prime minister should be leading from the front, using the media space he has to be here, there and everywhere — telling a battered nation that he will do everything possible to protect it. Everything possible.

But here’s where the lambs break into cold sweat. Who has courage to take on the madrassas and their powerful sponsors? Who has the courage to lock horns with the apologists who provide physical and ideological space for the extremists? Who has the courage to bring down political parties that feed a narrative of extremism and who soften the ground for intolerance among the population?

How many buses and schools will we protect? How many shopping centres and places of worship will we guard? There are not enough police and Rangers in this country to protect every soft target. The only way to win this fight is to go to the root of the problem buried deep inside the folds of this society, and cleanse the cancer from there. But to do this the leader has to obsess with the challenge. To do this, the leader has to understand that his legacy is far more important than his next election.

So dear prime minister: go and stand inside that bus in Karachi, alone; look at the empty seats and hear the silent screams; smell the stench of ammunition, and let fear cover you like a thick blanket. Close your eyes, and think. What must you do?

Bleat, or roar?

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