A Case For Fatalism

Of the many ignorant and morally offensive words spewed out by Imran Khan after the Peshawar church attack none were more egregious than his castigation of the ANP for criticising the provincial government and politicising the situation. Imran Khan was not just being hypocritical – his party was the first to blame the ANP and the PPP’s policies whenever there was an attack – but also dead wrong.
Doesn’t Imran Khan get it? The brazen attack on the church was nothing but political and how to deal with militancy is a purely political question and our politicians must have a robust debate over which political solution to pursue. The faux-politeness behind closed doors at All-Parties Conferences will not do. There must be a public reckoning of the options the political parties want to pursue.
We have always known that Imran Khan is a stubborn man. He is so determined that negotiations with the Taliban are the only way forward that he sees conspiracies where none exist. Isn’t it strange that these attacks take place whenever peace talks are close at hand, he asked rhetorically? This is not only factually wrong, since we suffer attacks on a nearly daily basis, it is also cowardly. If Imran Khan is implying that someone other than the Taliban is behind the attacks he should come right out and say so. Then let the rest of us judge him by his words and dismiss him as an unserious political pygmy.
At least now we can debate the strategy to tackle the Taliban in its proper context. You want negotiations? Fine. But please explain how you can deter a group that just slaughtered more than 80 Christians and has promised more to come. We also need to know what the expected outcome of peace talks will be. Will we be expected to give up territory to the Taliban and will they remain armed and dangerous, ready to deploy their fighters at any imagined provocation? Are we willing to accept their demands to enforce their narrow brand of Islam throughout the country? Or, as a best-case scenario, are we merely buying time till we feel ready to militarily defeat the Taliban?
One sleight-of-hand the pro-talks crowd frequently uses is to pretend that talks are an outcome in itself, not merely a tactic to reach the desired goal. This allows them to claim they are offering a solution when really they are only providing a broken-down vehicle to reach a faraway unknown destination.
Here’s a depressing thought, those being the only thoughts we should allow ourselves after the church attack: maybe the debate over military action and talks turns out not to matter at all. Appeasement or belligerence, there is a possibility that neither will work. Talks can give us a reprieve for a few weeks and military action can produce some territorial gains but our recent history suggests that any notions of victory will be illusory.
In terms of ideology, it is convenient to speak of the Taliban as a monolith but in practical terms, the TTP is simply a grouping of different groups with different geographical bases. We can decide if we want to chat with them or unleash our fury on them but the fact remains that they operate in all our provinces and have deep roots there. We may have to confront the terrifying reality that this may be it for us and that the cancer eating away at Pakistan may never go into remission.
There is more reason to be pessimistic since the Taliban is the logical endpoint of our evolution as a country. Our worst nightmare has been created out of our dreams for this country. Over the years we have increasingly wanted to become a place where citizens would be sliced and diced according to their religion, ethnicity, sect and gender. Rights were granted or snatched based on these divisions.
We have systemically eradicated any hope of pluralism and tolerance in our country, from the Objectives Resolution of 1949 to ZAB’s constitutional amendment against Ahmadis and last-gasp surrender to Islamists followed by the entirety of Ziaul Haq’s rule. There is no public clamour to reverse any of these policies and much reason to believe that they are widely supported. This is what we wanted and now, in the form of the Taliban, we have been given it hard and good. The Taliban themselves may be hated and feared but the mindset that allowed them to flourish is alive and well.
Take the case of the blasphemy laws. A few brave, lonely souls like Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti and Sherry Rehman suggested amending the laws to prevent them from being misused. The first two were killed for their views while the third had to go into self-exile for a while. It was the Taliban and their acolytes that threatened and murdered but let us not forget that the body politic had no use for their ideas either. Yet all they wanted was to slightly change the laws, not do away with them altogether. There is nothing as depressing as technocratic solutions to tinker with a law here or there when everything is so rotten.
This is not to say that those of us who envision a different Pakistan should just give up. We won’t give up; indeed we can’t give up. But let us not delude ourselves into thinking that simply neutralising the Taliban will serve as the ultimate victory. We have to be realistic and admit that the Pakistan of our dreams will not come into being – at least in our lifetimes.