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Growing support for suicide terrorism


Pakistan: Killing Carte Blanche

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Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed *

In its latest killing spree, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) targeted an army public school in Peshawar. As many as 142 innocent human beings, predominantly minors and most civilians, were executed in a singular display of gory savagery. We, at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), took out a silent mourning procession to Laalik Chowk, which has become a venue of political manifestations in our neighbourhood.

We learnt that the terrorists shot most of their victims in the head and when a lady teacher pleaded for mercy for her pupils, they burnt her alive. The TTP’s justification for this latest crime is that the military operation and drone attacks in FATA are killing innocent non-combatants, including children. Therefore, it is within its rights to avenge those deaths. Less than two months ago, 60 spectators at the flag-lowering ceremony at the Attari-Wagah border were blown up by suicide bombers, and the same justification was given then too.

As Pakistan mourns this latest slaughter, the question that keeps coming back is the following: what next is on the menu of the merchants of death? Our enemy is a past master in using brute terror to force its ways on a subjugated people. Just look around where it has its enclaves. There, people live in a prison, shackled by values and norms meant to break the will of freedom and independent thinking. We, therefore, need to pose this core question: can the state win the battle against veritable incorrigible killers or will this dance of death continue to be performed with impunity?

I will step out of the realm of emotions and instead make some critical remarks in the light of my training as a political scientist and my research on why Pakistan has evolved into a self-proclaimed “fortress of Islam”, which is nothing but a sure recipe for implosion and self-destruction. The problem derives from muddle-headed theorisation and conceptualisation about what a middle-range state like Pakistan can and cannot achieve. My book, Pakistan, the Garrison State: Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), has been out of stock since April 2014, a critical period when it is most needed. A conspiracy theory appeals to me that somehow the book has been removed from bookstores because it steps on too many toes. However, Oxford University Press has assured me it will soon be on the shelves again. I hope that happens.

Our Prime Minister (PM), who not very long ago had included the TTP among stakeholders in the Pakistani state project, has now recanted and the distinction between good and bad Taliban has been given up. I must say, to the credit of General Raheel Sharif, that he was quicker to realise the bankruptcy of such categorisation than our prime minister.

Thomas Hobbes’ (1588-1679) classic Sovereign is a person or an institution that can effectively command complete obedience to its will within its territory from the population. Later, Max Weber (1864-1920) developed this line of argument further by asserting that the legitimate use of force in a political community is the exclusive right of the state; all other entities maintaining force at their disposal have to be liquidated if the state is to be considered sovereign, reliable and responsible for what goes on in the domestic sphere. Therefore, when political analysts describe Pakistan as a failed state they are not necessarily out to malign Pakistan but to point out that the most palpable property of the modern state — its ability exclusively to maintain the means of legitimate force and it ability to protect its citizens from recurring violence and terrorism — is grievously impaired.

I, for one, fully support our military’s offensive against an enemy that is out to capture power and impose a barbaric regime upon us. Such support is not comparable to the support some people gave to army action when a democratically elected party, the Awami League, was denied the legitimate right to form a government in 1971. This time, the Taliban and similar other outfits with their sleeping cells spread throughout the length and breadth of the country are out to impose their will through the use of terror. The analogy with East Pakistan is based on a fallacy that some quarters on the left are toeing.


Returning to the nature of the modern state not permitting competing centres of power to challenge its writ, we have the example of Sri Lanka using overwhelming force to destroy the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Sri Lankan government has been accused of inflicting collective punishment on the Tamils. I do acknowledge that the military operation and drone attacks in FATA have claimed innocent lives. I can only implore our military strategists to take all measures necessary to limit collateral damage — a fancy term popularised by the Pentagon to include the loss of non-combatant life in military operations — to the minimum. No state ever wins hearts by killing innocent people. Ultimately, we need a whole range of economic, educational and political inputs to make extremism repugnant to our sensibilities and instead build a society based on justice, fairness and the rule of law.

The future of Pakistan can be secured only if we accept our obligations under the UN Charter. It requires the state to undertake necessary measures to protect the rights of citizens in the domestic sphere and in the external domain accept international law that outlaws the use of force to conquer and expand. A superpower like the US can violate the UN Charter as it did under George W Bush to invade Iraq in 2003 because it has the means to launch aggressive wars. However, these are changed times. The US has since long forfeited its moral leadership of the world, and its role as the global hegemon will progressively diminish. Bush and his cronies have greatly hastened that decline.

I am convinced that the best interests of Pakistan are served by a normalisation of relations with India. Granting that the Indians too bear responsibility for these 67 years of mutual suspicion, fear and sense of insecurity, it is time now to adjust to contemporary realities. The Indian parliament and school children observed moments of silence and offered prayers for the victims of the TTP terror. Prime Minister (PM) Modi rang up PM Nawaz Sharif and expressed his sympathies. Enlightened public figures in India have expressed their solidarity with the victims of that mass execution. Perhaps this can be the moment when we muster the courage, intelligence and foresight to seize the moment and close ranks with all peace-loving people of the world, especially the Indian people, to defeat terrorism once and for all.


* The writer is a visiting professor, LUMS, Pakistan, professor emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University, and honorary senior fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Latest publications: Winner of the Best Non-Fiction Book award at the Karachi Literature Festival: The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed, Oxford, 2012; and Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Oxford, 2013. He can be reached at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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