The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor
Even now, when our country has been brought to its knees by terrorists; when its very existence is under threat and the lives of citizens across the country have been reduced to ruin by the militants, there are those who insist the ‘path of compromise’ must be sought. And the Taliban engaged in talks and persuaded to sign little bits of paper.
These people, many of whom claim to be ‘good’, ‘moral’ people, or insist they are not extremists, do not appear to have any qualms about dealing with murderers and criminals. This is after all what the Taliban are. They ruthlessly kill their enemy. It seems that those urging talks with them apparently do not feel the grief of their victims.
A case in point is the recent attack on the Hazara community in Quetta in which more than 87 people were killed, the responsibility of which was accepted by the Taliban-affiliated Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Those urging for talks apparently don’t feel the desperation and grief of the hapless Hazaras.
They cannot place themselves in the shoes of a family which has seen the cracked, broken skull of a 15-year-old, who may have been rendered deaf permanently in one ear.
Nor can they imagine the trauma of the children of Mingora who saw heads pinned onto stakes at the Central Square in the city, under the Taliban or watched neighbours being dragged out of their homes and have bullets pumped into them, with blood splattering against the walls.
Maybe the reason for this is that the affected children are after all not their own. Nor are the little girls who are forced out of school and warned never to return. Those who speak the most about compromise have probably never visited Quetta’s Alamdar Road, where members of the desperate Hazara community take pictures as they visits each other’s homes, knowing they may never see each other again.
It is the young men who have of course disappeared most frequently from family portraits, leaving behind blank spots that can never be filled. Our ‘middle pathers’ need to imagine themselves as the parents of these young men, or of the children whose swaddled bodies are placed in coffins every few weeks.
What we are dealing with is pure evil, in its most naked, grotesque form. And on principle, no matter how hard things are, evil should never be allowed to triumph.
We can only imagine what would have happened in Europe had compromises been made with the Nazi forces – and for many nations this was possible at various points – or if the incredibly courageous resistance was not put up by ordinary men and women against these forces in the occupied countries.
We have seen similar courage directed against evil elsewhere in the world, in Latin America, in Ireland, in South-East Asia and elsewhere. We need to ask why we have allowed ourselves to give in against the forces that are gnawing at our country.
It is simply untrue that the Taliban cannot be defeated. This has already happened in Swat, where some normalcy has returned to life after the 2009 military operation – despite the flaws. The battle there was won by the military in weeks.
The notion that the Taliban are an invincible force is just an illusion. All we need is unity, cohesive thinking and an end to the confusion promoted by too many parties.
The PML-N ranks as the leading culprit. But will its leaders stand up and explain to us just what kind of ‘compromise’ they have in mind? Do these leaders and their supporters really think it is ‘ok’ to hand over a portion of the state to the Taliban, and allow them to impose their own warped version of religion there?
Would we suggest such a thing from Punjab because our own people are not affected? And because our children, especially our daughters, can pursue education without fear and because their schools are not blown up? And since we are safe from the terror that is unleashed therefore imposing horror on these ‘subhuman’ creatures, who live far away from us, it is acceptable, in order to save ourselves.
The people of Swat can narrate just what the Taliban rule meant for them, so can those who live in Khyber Agency or Waziristan. And, no, these people do not want such a life. It is a pity that they are not brought before the media to say just this, and explain that they want peace and progress, not revenge or a life in the dark ages. This is the stereotype pinned senselessly on them. Is this how we appease our own guilt.
As for the argument that the Taliban cannot be defeated, this is absurd. Naturally ‘defeating’ them does not mean wiping out each and every fighter. This has never happened in any war. It means targeting those key leaders who have organised illegal militias against the state, who seek to impose their own ideology and who have linked up with all kinds of sectarian forces to do so.
It is worth considering how the ‘pro-talk’ elements will deal with the LeJ and other elements: hand them a few caged Hazaras, a few caged Shias, to kill ‘peacefully’ each day in a compromise written out in the blood of others?
Of course military triumph cannot come alone. Development and the building of public opinion must come along with it. This is not necessarily a long-term plan. Public opinion in the country was altered within a decade by General Zia; it is possible to begin reversing the process, especially if the right-wing, reactionary control over the media can be eased.
And, while we still have the US locked in the region – the development process can move ahead remarkably quickly. This has been achieved in South Korea in the 1950s, in Singapore, in Kerala, in Cuba and elsewhere.
Meeting people’s basic needs is a task which requires money; Washington needs to be persuaded of this – combined with will and commitment at home. Yes, this commitment is not easy to find. But in part, rather than simply pointing fingers at the government, it is us the citizens who too need to act.
As the Greek philosophers emphasised, citizens are crucial to a state. Therefore, the citizens of Pakistan are crucial for the state. They can play an important part by thinking, by considering what a future under militants would be and whether it is just to impose the Taliban on any group anywhere.
The question of the rising militant might, especially as the time for a US withdrawal from Afghanistan draws near, also need to be considered. The Taliban has turned into Frankenstein’s monster; a few crumbs will not satiate it.
Perhaps this is why those who are ‘pro-talks’ have not said what their formula for a compromise would be or how they plan to tame a monster which is growing stronger as we hum and haw over what to do with it.
It is like watching a deadly cobra slither up our garden path and considering if a saucer of milk may tempt it not to strike or enter our home. Rather, we must act to capture or eliminate it.