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December 21, 2014

Ending Terrorism in Pakistan

By Dr. Abdul Jabbar

The news of mass killing of 142 innocent people (132 of them students) in the Army Public School in Peshawar is shocking and painful beyond words. The curse of terrorism has to be addressed in a systematic manner. Some steps need to be taken right away. Other measures need to be initiated but will take time to have their effect.

Disarming terrorists

To end terrorism in Pakistan, the first immediate step that the government needs to take is controlling the availability of weapons and all means of such mass killings. All who have any weapons should be asked to surrender them by a certain deadline. Those who fail to do so should be put in jail. Repeat offenders should be given life sentences. It will be difficult to disarm those who, through centuries, have kept weapons as a part of their culture. But that was before we had regular armies and police for our protection and had to protect ourselves. Now there is no justification for possessing deadly weapons.

Addressing the root causes

Secondly, we should address the root causes that are very complicated but must be addressed one by one. Everyone knows that one major cause of terrorism by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan against Pakistan is the government’s support of the US “war on terror” that has resulted in thousands of deaths of innocent people. It was hoped that the declared US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan would remove one pivotal cause of terrorism against Pakistan. But that withdrawal is not going to happen according to the new agreement between the US and Afghanistan governments. When Barack Obama became President, he clearly and wisely differentiated the Taliban from al Qaeda. The Taliban had never threatened the U.S. But soon this distinction was blurred and US drone attacks started killing both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda members indiscriminately. The US thus transformed friends into enemies because the Taliban had been the friends of America and fought and defeated the Soviet Union on America's behalf.

Pakistan was dragged into the US "war on terror" when Pakistan government started letting US launch drone attacks that killed hundreds of innocent civilians in the process of killing just a few militants. People who just wanted all occupiers (NATO and the US) to end the occupation and stop killing their friends and families were wrongly called "terrorists." The Taliban wanted Pakistan's government not to cooperate with the US drone attacks, but the Pakistan government continued to permit drone attacks. That is how the trouble started between TPP and Pakistan’s government. Drone attacks are a serious breach of international law. Law Schools of Stanford University and New York University have compiled a comprehensive report “Living Under Drones” that questions the legality of drone attacks and points to its barbaric nature.

It is important to understand that it is not just the Taliban who oppose US drone attacks. According to a PEW Research Center report, as a result of drone attacks, “74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy.”

Adding insult to injury, according to “Living Under Drones,” the US government counts all adult males killed by strikes as “militants” unless there is exonerating evidence.

With such a high percentage of the country’s population opposing the US invasion of Pakistan’s sovereignty, the Pakistan government must reconsider its cooperation with US drone attacks. When these drone attacks stop, one main cause of terrorism against Pakistan by the Taliban will be removed.

Taliban’s unreasonable expectation and grievance

In addition to Pakistan’s participation in the US war on terror by attacking and killing its own people, the second grievance that the Taliban have is really not a legitimate one at all. It has to do with their desire to impose their own very strict version of Islam on the entire country. The hallmark of civilized coexistence is accepting differences and not coercing and terrorizing others to conform to something they do not believe in. However, this kind of maturity and understanding comes with education. It is a slow process, but it has to begin right away and nurtured by all available means. Taliban should be free to practice their own version of Islam in their own homes and regions if that is, indeed, what their people want. However, they have no right to impose their way of life on others. Through the slow process of education, they have to be made to understand this important condition of peaceful coexistence.

Zero tolerance for terrorism and giving protection to judges and witnesses

Pakistan’s government should make it clear beyond any shadow of doubt that it is absolutely wrong of the Taliban or anyone else to express their anger at the Pakistan government or at any rival religious or ethnic group by massacring innocent people. Unfortunately, many terrorists are still at large. Many have managed to be released on bail. Judges are afraid that they would be killed by fanatics if they gave a verdict against them. For the same fear, witnesses are reluctant to cooperate in judicial processes. The government should provide adequate protection to judges and witnesses so that they can do their jobs honestly and without fear.

We must isolate the criminals from the rest of the group

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resolve to end terrorism is heartening, but his statement that the government will no longer distinguish between good and bad Taliban is wrong-headed. Clearly, not all Taliban support such gruesome acts. Afghanistan Taliban have already condemned TPP's horrible and heinous act, and some segments of TPP have also condemned the brutal massacre. Those among Pakistani Taliban who are opposed to such acts of terror should be encouraged to speak out and condemn such actions and make a clean break with the criminal members of the group. It has been reported that the Imam of Lal Masjid, Islamabad, has not condemned this deadly attack. If he fails to genuinely condemn the attack, he should be removed from his very important position because he can poison the minds of so many of his gullible audience. Any other person who himself may not commit terrorism but harbor support for it in any way needs to be prosecuted.   This way, the offending and terrorist elements can be isolated and punished. The Prime Minister’s statement does not sound promising. What does he plan to accomplish, one wonders? Kill or banish all Taliban? After all, they are citizens of Pakistan and have rights. Those among them who break the law and commit horrible acts should be brought to justice, but collective punishment of all Taliban is not only unethical but also illegal and will lead to a civil war in Pakistan. 

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