Friday, 22 January 2016

Those who were not meant to be martyrs, Zeeba T Hashmi

Those who were not meant to be martyrs, Zeeba T Hashmi
Daily Times    January 22, 2016

The fallen have been deemed martyrs, maybe rightly so, as our educational institutions have indeed become battlegrounds for our scholars. But does it really do any justice to those who had no intention to be martyred?

And so it has happened again. After the passing of a year and a month, another gruesome attack took place in an educational institution. This time, the target of the terrorists was Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, which is about 50 km from Peshawar. From media reports, we learnt that four terrorists had entered the university complex. About 21 people, including one professor, have been killed and more than 60 people injured. According to the Vice Chancellor (VC) of the university, there were 3,000 students present on the premises when the attack occurred. They were hosting about 600 guests who had gathered for a poetry recital to commemorate the 28th death anniversary of Bacha Khan. Though it has been a relief that a large death toll has been averted by the quick response of army personnel, it does not mean the terrorists have been unsuccessful. In fact, they have become stronger, availing every opportunity they find in our security loopholes.

We must not be oblivious to the fact that beside this and the Army Public School (APS) incident last year, there have been over 900 school attacks since 2009, depicting a dangerous situation for our children to face. The security of schools, to date, remains a huge concern for the authorities despite steps to improve it. Condemnations, as expected, have followed this attack. The fallen students, a teacher, security guards and security personnel have been deemed martyrs, maybe rightly so, as our educational institutions have indeed become battlegrounds for our scholars. But does it really do any justice to those who had no intention to be martyred? They were there to study and become future professionals, on whom many a hope was pinned. Have their lives been taken in vain?

Does singing patriotic songs in their honour really help? The mother of a fallen child in the APS school attack screamed in pain saying she did not ready her little one for this martyrdom but to learn at school. To call them martyrs is to sort of distract one’s attention from the real problem: the failure of the state to protect its people.

Exactly how serious is the role of the state in countering terrorism? Operation Zarb-e-Azab and the National Action Plan (NAP) have failed with this incident. The government cedes in to the demands of the military, yet it does not have the power to ensure the transparency and accountability of the security establishment’s operations. The controversial military trials of the terrorists or those accused of being involved in terrorism was a desperate attempt by parliament to aggressively address the violent menace by enabling the military to take them to task. But with the steps taken towards it, the inefficiency of the process has started to surface, sparking more questions on the extent of the army’s successes in eliminating terrorism. Umer Mansoor, the head of the Taliban in Khyber Paktunkhwa and also the mastermind behind the APS school attack, has been held responsible for this attack but, according to some media outlets, another faction of the Taliban has denied such a claim. The confusion created over this claim is worrisome, as it provides easy ground for our authorities to blame the “external hand” and relieve itself from the necessary focus on homegrown militancy. There is the question as to why a person like Umer Mansoor, who has vowed to take revenge against the state by targeting children, remains unaffected by Zarb-e-Azab. It should also be mentioned that this attack occurred just a day after a military check post was attacked by militants in Peshawar.

With a harrowing incident like this, the interior minister has become almost invisible as he remains incapacitated in issuing statements on his own. He even feels powerless to take action against Lal Masjid’s Maulana Aziz who has been involved in propagating jihadist mentality, justifying militancy and even in having links with terrorist groups, including Islamic State (IS). So far, banned militant groups are working with other names, and hence are not easily detected. Moreover, organisations like the Quetta Shura, Haqanni network and Jamatud Dawa are considered strategic assets that are hardly touched. The problem lies in their uncontrolled networking with other proscribed organisations, resulting in militancy that cannot be resisted by our security agencies.

In other words, all the policies made by the establishment in protecting the strategic assets has backfired, as they no longer are in their direct control. With the current security policies adopted by the military, the claim of the army chief to completely free the country of terrorism this year seems dubious.

The state considers raising the walls of schools, providing training to teachers on the use of guns and employing more security guards for duty at school gates but all this does not seem to be working towards deterring suicide bombers from attacking. The terrorists are in fact far more sophisticated and well-trained, standing invincible before the teachers who have been provided meagre self-defence training. It is not expected of the teachers to be commandos when an attack occurs even though there have been stories of the immense bravery of teachers who confronted the terrorists by sacrificing their lives for the protection of their students.

The real weapon is not the superficial policies of enhancing school security; in fact, it is better coordination and liaison between different security agencies to prevent an attack from taking place. There are various security agencies working on the ground who have links with militant organisations and know well in advance their intention or next moves through tips they receive from their paid informants. But it appears that every such agency is working on its own agenda, hence lacking cohesion and a central command.

It is nothing but a bit of sincerity and efficiency of the modus operandi that can play a decisive role in eliminating terrorism. This is not to say that the army as an institution is not sincere. In fact, it is the brave army personnel on the frontlines who have laid down their lives for the sake of their nation. It is, in fact, the lack of transparency and accountability of this institution by the state that fails to bring to surface those who are responsible for the army’s failures.

The writer tweets at @zeebahashmi and can be reached at

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