Rawalpindi mosque attack: It is time to take stock, gentlemen – by Kamran Shafi

We must come together — now
By Kamran Shafi
Tuesday, 08 Dec, 2009

Army troops gather as an ambulance drives back to a hospital after taking victims from the site of a suicide attack in Rawalpindi. –AP Photo

Or sink, the lot of us, lock, stock and barrel, the whole blessed country and all who sail in her. Why, I ask myself, did the recent massacre at the Parade Lane mosque in Westridge, the heart of the Rawalpindi cantonment, trigger this thought when the Peshawar Meena Bazaar bombing was more ghastly because it killed a lot more innocent human beings, mainly women and children?

Why did I not say what I am saying when the attacks on the Punjab police and the ISI regional office in Manawan and Lahore, and the tens of other attacks happened, killing hundreds and maiming thousands?

Was it because a very dear friend lost a young nephew, just 18 years old, a ‘remarkably good boy’ as he told me, who was just now starting his higher education at NUST?

Was it because I consider myself very much part of the army family, and so many officers and men died in that one attack, some friends of my good friends? No.

This thought came to me now because of the utter audacity of the attack; which if one can see through the fog of dissembled statements, was carried out with military precision. According to a retired infantry brigadier who appeared on one of the TV channels on the day, and who was present in the mosque, the terrorists first lobbed grenades at the worshippers and then started firing with semi-automatic weapons.

Simply spoken, this thought came to my distraught mind because the murderous yahoos who carry out these heartless attacks seem to be getting bolder and more deadly by the day, even increasingly targeting the army itself, its officers and men and their families. And getting to GHQ itself, for God’s sake, the headquarters of the fifth largest army in the world, a highly disciplined and trained army which, leave us –’bloody civilians’ – aside, has the wherewithal to protect itself.

It is time to take stock, gentlemen, those of you who look down upon everyone else and think only you have all the answers. You cannot succeed without the help of all of us, the people of the country, those who have been kicked about for too long. We are your strength because we are yours and you are ours. But you must realise before it is too late, that you will not have the support of the people unless you give respect to their democratically elected leaders who can then galvanise their political workers and supporters to stand behind you.

This is simply done. Please immediately foreswear, publicly, your ever again taking over political power; ever again attempting to destabilise the system by stepping into areas that are simply not your concern.

Please say loudly that the army and its agencies are under the complete control of the elected government and parliament which is made up of the representatives of the people as is the case in other civilised countries. Most importantly, show that you are one of us, I beg you, by either charging the hundreds of the disappeared in courts of law, or releasing them so that they can join their distressed families.

And another thing. Tell us, the people, the whole truth all the time so that we do not assume that you are not forthcoming because you have something to hide. For example, why do we not know days after the attack, just who the attackers of the Parade Lane mosque were?

Realise please, even at this late date, the power of the Internet and the SMS which seems to have completely escaped your attention. More than anything else, please know that for most of us, Pakistan is the only country we have. In Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s immortal words, said when it was suggested he might jump bail and escape abroad, if memory serves, ‘This is the land I sprang from; this is where I will be buried.’

This country is yours and ours; tell us how we can help you win this war against the murdering yahoos. But please give us the respect we deserve as citizens of this country.

I write this from Kabul where I am attending a trialogue between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India for finding common grounds for peace under the aegis of the Delhi Policy Group, organised and conducted by Prof Radha Kumar, director of the Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution at Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi, and a trustee of the Delhi Policy Group. The discussions are mainly aimed at finding ways and means by which the three countries can stabilise the region.

One of the obvious ways, of course, is for us to go after the terrorists with a new zeal so that they can no longer threaten us or our neighbours. In the good Afrasiab Khattak’s words said to me the other day in Kabul: ‘We should go after the factories (which produce the terrorists) and not just the product.’

The Indian government can help by reciprocating the friendly sentiments expressed by the elected government, particularly by President Asif Zardari, very soon after his election. Instead, Mr Manmohan Singh, who I respect very deeply, said recently and very unhelpfully that he did not know who to speak to in Pakistan, broadly hinting that there were multiple power centres in our country.

Still more unhelpful was the statement by the Indian COAS that a ‘limited war under a nuclear overhang is still very much a reality in the subcontinent.’

In the context of finding common grounds for peace in the subcontinent, it should be obvious that the only way is for the Indian government to talk to the elected government of Pakistan, and thereby to strengthen it.

Indeed, instead of sabre-rattling, India should withdraw some of its troops into their cantonments so as to give the Pakistani government and security establishment the confidence to commit more troops to the fight against terror which is the major destabilising factor.

India should know that there are growing numbers of people in Pakistan who feel that the Indians are more comfortable talking to dictatorships! More on the conference next week.