The world at large and particularly the majority of the people of Pakistan are holding their breath as the 14-year old Malala Yousafzai struggles for her life after suffering grievous injuries at the hands of Taliban gunmen, who on October 9, 2012, stopped her school bus, in Mingora, Swat and shot her in the head and neck. Two other girls in the bus were also injured. Malala received the best medical care that Pakistan could offer, and once her situation allowed, she has been sent to a specialist hospital in Birmingham, UK, where the reports suggest that she is slowly but steadily recovering. Other victims of Taliban terror have not received the same attention. Thus she is lucky because her activities in the international media, beginning with the blog at the BBC in early 2009 that exposed Talban atrocities, had made her famous.
Government and the middle of the road political opposition have been quite vocal in condemning the assassination attempt. Army chief General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani went to the hospital to express his sympathy for Malala. Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf also visited her in the hospital and President Zardari has described her as a symbol of Pakistan’s resistance to ‘Talibanisation’.
With regard to the Islamists of different varieties, the situation is, as always, full of circumlocutions. Thus for example, 50 clerics of the Barelvi-Sufi Sunni Ittehad Council have issued a fatwa (religious edict) against those who tried to kill her. They have opined that Islam does not prohibit females from acquiring education. In the same fatwa, however, they have declared the United States as an enemy of Islam and Pakistan.
The logical connection between the two stands is difficult to figure out, but it seems to be a way of saying that all the troubles in Pakistan originate from its alliance with the Americans, who have been firing missiles from their drones, thus killing many innocent Pakistanis. The Jamaat-e-Islami’s Syed Munawwar Hassan and the head of the banned Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and many other Deobandi-Wahabi clerics have also spoken in similar terms.
However, the Taliban seem undeterred and unrepentant. They have found support for their vile crime from sacred sources. They have asserted that a female who plays a role in the ‘war against the mujahideen’ can be and should be killed. They invoke an example of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):
“[W]e can see the incident of the killing of his wife by a blind companion of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) because she used to say demeaning words for the Prophet (PBUH) and the Prophet (PBUH) praised that act.”
Moreover, they refer to a Quranic verse, which according to them justifies their decision to eliminate her: “If anyone argues about her young age, then the story of Hazrat Khizar in the Quran (states that) while travelling with Prophet Musa (AS), (he) killed a child. Arguing about the reason for his killing, he said that the parents of this child were pious and in the future he (the child) would cause a bad name for them.”
Now, if both sides can refer to the same sources to reach diametrically opposite conclusions then how on earth can such controversies now or in the future be resolved through discussion and consensus? For 1,400 years, this mode of argumentation has effectively killed self-criticism and independent thinking.
However, far more worrisome is the Pakistani ruling class’s ambivalence and indecisiveness. Pakistan has been shocking the world by recurring acts of terrorism carried out by the Taliban and their associates and the power elite remaining paralysed and apathetic. Who can forget that when Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer was mercilessly gunned down by his own police bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, some of his own colleagues in the federal and provincial cabinets issued statements that seemed to condone the action of that culprit. The presiding judge, Pervaiz Ali Shah, who found Qadri guilty of murder, has since then been on a visit to the holy land, and as far as I know has not returned. The killers of the federal minister for minority affairs, the Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti, have similarly not been punished for their crime yet. Then, of course, gruesome attacks on religious and sectarian minorities have been going on for years. Much worse, the Taliban recently beheaded Pakistani military personnel and yet nothing decisive happened. One can see on YouTube the shocking execution of these men being carried out in a barbaric manner.
So, how can one explain that a nuclear weapons state possessing one of the biggest and best trained militaries in the developing world is unable to strike and destroy the scourge that brutalises its citizens and has the temerity to kill its military personnel with such unmitigated savagery? I have no answers or explanation. To believe that these demented killers please God through their crimes against humanity and are somehow strategic assets that in a post-US-NATO Afghanistan will help restore our ascendance in that country is sheer lunacy. At some point, the whole system will explode. If there is a will not to let this happen, then the Taliban-al Qaeda enclaves in North Waziristan and elsewhere must be destroyed.
It may be noted that on facebook, fans of the Taliban are busy pedalling theories that the army has itself masterminded the assault on Malala Yousafzai in order to justify an invasion of North Waziristan! More ludicrous conspiracy theories cannot be imagined, but in Pakistan, perverted imagination has been having a field day since a long time.
The writer has a PhD from Stockholm University. He is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. His latest publication is The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy through Secret British Reports and First-Person Accounts (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012; New Delhi: Rupa Books, 2011). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org