Terrorism Closing in on Us
By Shireen M Mazari

That the state is adrift, as argued in last week's column, is being reflected in the growing audacity of terrorists and extremists who are reaching far beyond the tribal areas. The most visible form of this expanded terrorist milieu is of course the horrendous attack in Charsadda, which claimed so many innocent lives, but the insidious agenda of the extremists in the urban areas, especially the capital, is no less terrorizing.
After all, a Cabinet minister had declared how he had rescued the leaders of the Lal Masjid after links had been established between them and Al Qaeda. And now, by all reports, it appears that the state has chosen to appease Jamia Hafsa-Lal Masjid extremists by giving in to many of their demands. Even more worrying, because the state is now clearly unable to protect the ordinary citizen against the violence and extortionist threats of the extremists, this minority has already achieved its goal of forcing the citizenry into submission. If anything, the state functionaries are going out of their way to appease the Jamia Hafsa-Lal Masjid combine even as they become ever more daring in their terrorization of the public at large. Women are now being stopped on the roads and asked to cover their heads while driving. This is obviously just the first step down a dark abyss. But how many can defy this tyranny of the minority when the state itself seems to have fallen prey to this tyrannical force?
The ultimate absurdity has come in the form of a statement by the SSP of Islamabad that the police will now rid society of social evils. The job of the police is to enforce the law of the land and protect the citizens -- the two tasks in which the police have been found most wanting in this country. The Jamia Hafsa occupation of the children's library and its subsequent terrorization of the public at large reflect this failure. Given their record of ineptitude, the citizenry can only look at their new role of moral policing with horror and fear. In any case, why is it that only now the SSP has awakened to the fact of illegal operations in the city of brothels and gambling dens?
Nor is this visible tyranny of the obscurantists the only form of terrorization of the public at large. There is also an insidious campaign through the Internet which seeks to play on the sectarian card, with many journalists, editors, analysts and some politicians being vilified -- especially those who have been in the forefront of the protests against the illegal actions of the obscurantists. The diatribes and abuse are so intense and full of hatred that they may appear to be the work of madmen to be ignored, but this is a most dangerous development and many unsuspecting or vulnerable people in our midst could be converted to a violent course.
In the present environment, where is the enlightened moderation that was a cornerstone of President Musharraf's political creed, which touched a chord in civil society but also raised expectations that Jinnah's vision of Pakistan would finally come to fruition in terms of a liberal, tolerant and moderate Muslim polity? One finally thought the nightmares of the Zia legacy of sectarianism, religious obscurantism and intolerance would finally be put to rest, having lingered on in the compromises Ms Bhutto made with the extremists -- how can one forget the advisor from a now banned sectarian group in the Punjab -- and Nawaz Sharif's efforts at the same in parliament which had led to the resignation of Mr. Kasuri. But it seems the brute force of the obscurantists tends to win over the mainstream of civil society as far as the state is concerned.
Perhaps that is why we seem to be easy prey for external powers that demand that we keep giving, presently on terrorism, without any reciprocity. That is why the British are surprised if Pakistan actually demands such reciprocity in terms of the handing over of wanted terrorists and other criminals. Although we are presently demanding the British hand over our wanted men in return for Rashid Rauf, will we be able to hold our own under British pressure and a propaganda campaign which accuses Pakistan of "stalling terror suspect talks"?
In this context, the Ankara Declaration between Karzai and President Musharraf is to be welcomed but only if the Afghan leader fulfils his commitment, inter alia, "to deny sanctuary, training, and financing to terrorists and to elements involved in subversive and anti-state activities in each other's country..." A first CBM with regard to Afghan intent should be the closure of the rather public BLA office in Kabul and some control of the Indian "consular" activities in Kandahar and Jalalabad.
Coming back to the issue of terrorism in Pakistan, one of the reasons we have failed to deny space to the terrorists is because of the perceived weakness of the state to exercise its writ when challenged by the forces of extremism. A positive development was the much-maligned tribal deal, which, unlike the US-led war on terrorism, actually isolated the foreign militants and terrorists from the mainstream of the tribal populace thereby denying the former operational space. Unfortunately, the state was not prepared for the shift of the terrorists operational milieu to Pakistan's center of gravity -- its urban areas, especially the capital and its ruling elite. This should have been anticipated but it seems even now the state is unwilling or unable to see the obvious linkages between the isolation of the Al Qaeda elements in the tribal belt to the terrorism in Charsadda and Peshawar to the terrorization of the urban areas by the Jamia Hafsa-Lal Masjid extremists. This is the disconnect within the state structures revealing why they seem adrift and why the enlightenment and moderation agenda has been lost sight of.
The leadership has also been ill-served by its sycophants who insist on aggravating prevailing crises through poorly chosen tactics. On a more personal note, the use of a non-credible businessman and stage producer as the state's standard-bearer against the chief justice serves no purpose. I was alleged by this gentleman to have taken a petty bribe through which I was able to pressure the Supreme Court bench headed by the chief justice to rule against the mini-golf project. For the record, this was not my petition and to belittle the chief justice of coming under pressure from an ordinary citizen, when he stood up to far greater pressure, does little to advance the government's cause. Ironically, my own petition against the CDA still awaits a hearing in the Supreme Court after a year and a half -- so much for influence! As for the issue of my taking a bribe, luckily I have never needed to on any count but that is an issue for the courts. Nevertheless, it is sad when respectable television channels allow all and sundry to slander respectable members of civil society -- and I do lay claim to being that. In fact if we were to familiarize ourselves with Article 26 of the Constitution we will understand why the mini golf project was undone by the Supreme Court. The CDA should understand this Article so that it stops contravening it at will even now.
Meanwhile, with the state adrift and terrorism reaching to our societal core, sycophants do no service to anyone. But has any leadership ever realized that?
(Dr Shireen Mazari is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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