The ides of December

For Pakistan, the month of December has somehow become synonymous with tragedies

William Shakespeare, in his epic play ‘Julius Caesar’ has a soothsayer declaim ‘Beware the ides of March’ warning Caesar to take heed that his life is in danger. The Ides of March is a day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to March 15, marked by several religious observances and was notable for the Romans as a deadline for settling debts. In 44 BC, it became notorious as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar.

For Pakistan, the month of December has somehow become synonymous with tragedies. On December 16, 1971, Pakistan’s eastern wing was severed and became Bangladesh. India’s machinations in exploiting the sensitivities of the Bengalis of erstwhile East Pakistan and the callousness of the West Pakistani politicians whose myopic vision contributed to the debacle are still fresh in mind to be repeated here in detail. What is worse is that while the wounds of the separation had apparently healed, Sheikh Hasina Wajed’s Awami League government and her demand of obtaining an apology from Pakistan Army and the government for the alleged genocide of Bengalis deepened the void. Sheikh Hasina’s sham trial of her political opponents, condemning them to the gallows for supporting Pakistan in 1971 has only exacerbated the trust deficit.

The date of December 16, 1971 is perhaps the bleakest in Pakistan’s history, and images of Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi signing the instrument of surrender in the presence of Indian Army’s GOC-in-C Eastern Command still haunt the mind when rekindled by Indian media triumphantly displaying them on the anniversary of the event each year. Then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had jubilantly proclaimed: “today we have sunk Jinnah’s two-nation theory in the Bay of Bengal.” It was indeed the saddest moment in Pakistan’s history and gave fodder to Pakistan’s detractors, who were critical of the creation of the country. Pakistan survived and has made progress despite the criticism of cynics and doubting Thomas who keep painting pictures of doom and gloom.

16 December, 2014, is a tragic day in the brief history of Pakistan. On this dark morning, six terrorists affiliated with the TTP penetrated the Army Public School (APS) Peshawar and in the carnage that followed, 141 persons were brutally slaughtered including 132 innocent children

On December 6, 1992, a frenzied mob of ‘Hindu Kar Sevaks’ demolished the historic 16th-century Babri Mosque in the city of Ayodhya, in Uttar Pradesh. In Hindu mythology, the city of Ayodhya is the birthplace of their god Rama. In the 16th century a Mughal General, Mir Baqi, had built a mosque, known as the Babri Masjid, at a site claimed by some Hindus to be Ram Janam bhoomi, the birthplace of Rama. Later excavations did not produce any conclusive evidence to support the Hindu claim. Law enforcing agencies failed to control the zealots whose agitation had been heightened by extremist Hindu leaders, who tore down the place of worship. The sad incident brought condemnation by Muslims all over the world. India faced communal riots which claimed thousands of lives. This scribe was accredited to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) when this heinous act took place. Meeting HE Ishrat Aziz, then Indian Ambassador to KSA at a diplomatic event the same day, I sought his thoughts on the subject. Being a Muslim he was saddened by the tragedy but obviously guarded in his response. In the current milieu, with an extremist and still active apostle of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Narendra Modi at the helm of affairs in India, even more mosques are in danger of demolition.

16 December, 2014 is yet again a sad day in the brief history of Pakistan. On this dark morning, six terrorists affiliated with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) penetrated the Army Public School (APS) Peshawar and in the carnage that followed, 141 persons were brutally slaughtered including 132 innocent children. The gruesome act was perhaps in retaliation to the military operation Zarb-e-Azb to decimate TTP terror mongers entrenched in the treacherous terrain of North Waziristan. The APS attack is considered Pakistan’s 9/11 as it rallied the people, the government and the armed forces on one page to combat the scourge of terrorism. Prior to the APS attack, many politicians and some analysts were questioning Pakistan’s participation in the war on terror and considered it an alien phenomenon from which Pakistan should distance itself.

The APS bloodbath transformed the nation into one solid edifice, determined to eradicate terrorism from Pakistan. National Action Plan (NAP) to stamp out terrorism was promulgated in January 2015. The broad spectrum plan was welcomed by all and sundry. It envisaged foreign and domestic policy initiatives aimed to crack down on and eventually eliminate proscribed organisations across the country. The plan comprised actions ranging from lifting the moratorium on capital punishment, the establishment of military courts, and cracking down on the financiers, facilitators and abettors of terrorism, sectarian and ethnic strife.

Readers can gauge how much progress we have made in eradicating terrorism; we are still burying martyrs from schools, colleges and the law enforcing agencies but the frequency of assaults has diminished.

The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF. He is a columnist, analyst and TV Talk show host, who has authored six books on current affairs, including three on China

Published in Daily Times, December 16th 2017.