Militants in the tribal areas of the NWFP have established firm networking (with jihadi groups) in southern Punjab

An unknown terrorist outfit calling itself Fidayeen-e Islam has telephoned the Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV office in Islamabad to claim responsibility for the attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Saturday. The phone call was made from within Pakistan but not from Islamabad. But that doesn’t mean that Islamabad is free of terrorists and that the dumper truck that brought a ton of explosives to the Marriott came from any distant place. The killers are very much within us.

The investigators have lost no time in concluding that the explosives were brought piece-meal into Islamabad and then loaded onto the truck inside the residential area. The truck was not sent from the Tribal Areas where masked Indian agents may have loaded it with RDX “because Pakistan is free of such quantities of lethal material”. In fact, the truth is that Pakistan is full of lethal material and Islamabad is the centre of the ideology of Al Qaeda; and its exponents include people inside the organs of the state.

The governor of the NWFP, Mr Owais Ghani, visited Lahore on Monday and briefed a gathering of senior media persons about the state of terrorism in the country. He argued that Pakistan should counter the so-called Islamist ideology of the terrorists with the ideology of Pakistan as a bastion of Islam, by which he did not mean the ideology of India’s RAW but the ideology posited by Al Qaeda and followed by the Taliban and the jihadi militias once sponsored by the Pakistan state. But the problem is not as simple as that. Alas, this ideology of radical Islamists is also partly the propagated ideology of Pakistan, with a vast difference of interpretation. We have problems of deciding what terrorism means, whether jihad is to be practised by the state or by non-state actors, and whether suicide-bombing is illegal, because we share part of the Islamist basis of Al Qaeda’s case-making. So it might be a better idea to expose Al Qaeda’s Islamist ideology with a truer and more genuine expression of Islam in general rather than its particular self-serving national security version as espoused by the Pakistani state that is partly responsible for spawning it in the first place.

Governor Ghani also revealed a fact that most of Punjabis will deny. He said: “Militants in the tribal areas of the NWFP have established firm networking (with jihadi groups) in southern Punjab and most fresh recruits for suicide attacks are coming from there. Militant leaders and commanders are also coming from Punjab. The militants’ field commander in Swat too is from Punjab”. But was Peshawar safe? Even as he spoke, mosques in the posh areas of Peshawar were sounding with calls to jihad. The newspapers named a person allegedly belonging to Lahore-based “banned” jihadi organisation favoured by the agencies making the call for jihad against America in the capital of the NWFP. When people got scared and asked the caretaker of one such mosque to stop the outfit from spreading aggression, he said, “Under what law?” Needless to say, he spoke from the point of view of “Pakistan’s ideology”.

Who is going to counter this trend towards extremism and terrorism? Clearly, it is not just the job of the state but also of the media and opinion writers. And it has to be done in an environment of free discussion, even if it is becoming more difficult to speak out without fearing a violent reaction from the terrorists and those who now fervently believe in an aggressive “reactive” ideology. With all due respect to Governor Ghani, it is not ideology that has to be challenged with another ideology but the facts that are deployed to underpin the anarchic point of view of the extremists. This is where the media must play its role.

Tragically, it is not “unity” that is being created but a “uniformity” of opinion that is dangerous now as it was dangerous on the eve of the separation of East Pakistan in 1971. If the Quaid-e Azam wanted uniformity instead of unity he could have given us the slogan: “Uniformity, Faith, Discipline”, instead of “Unity, Faith, Discipline”. When an angry viewer rings up in an interactive TV discussion and starts eulogising the isolationist defiance of Iran and North Korea, it is incumbent on us to “correct” the facts. Without being impolite one can state the different situation of Pakistan and its compulsion of avoiding isolation. Similarly, when a caller rings and says “India never accepted Pakistan” and then links the current wave of suicide-bombings to India, one can politely counter him by saying that it is not so much India as Pakistan which never accepted an “incomplete Pakistan” and fought a number of “corrective” wars, the last of which was lost on the peaks of Kargil and was not even a popular war. It is very important to retain a balance of opinion and not allow the “common view” to tilt to one extreme. Already, the rising slogan is “do what the people want” and, according to one argument, there is no other way to go for the government but one, because “the people of Pakistan hate America”.

We can counter the oppressive order of Al Qaeda and its “school-destroying” minions through our freedom and free discussion. Governor Ghani has spoken frankly. More and more politicians must speak what they feel and not what suits their current strategy of toppling the party in power. (Daily Times)