Ours is the country where the 15-year old Aitezaz Hussain was left to engage the suicide bomber heading to blow up a school full of students. He sacrificed his life in the process. There is need to honour his courage and his memory. But that is not enough.
We need to ask ourselves how this country became a place so sick that requires ninth graders to demonstrate such courage? We get angry when the researchers place Pakistan amongst the worst places for children to be born. Maybe it is time we get angry at why that is.
Terrorists in Karachi have claimed Chaudhry Aslam, the anti-terror cop who was the bane of their existence. We can cry hoarse paying tribute to his bravery and his determination to lead from the front in full view of death lurking around him.
But he is gone now. He has joined the long list of iconic policemen like Safwat Ghayyur, Malik Saad, Khan Raziq and Abid Ali who were undaunted by the TTP-led terror syndicate and unflinching in their resolve to fight those viciously attacking their compatriots and colleagues.
Aslam, Safwat and Saad were who they were and did what they did not because the state incentivised them, boosted their morale and backed them up, but despite that. They fought tyranny and savagery with the courage of their conviction in full view of the state that continued to dither. They stood up for the state even when the state refused to stand beside them. And that is what makes them true heroes.
Men such as these, who can inspire themselves and everyone around them amidst complete darkness and despondency, are an endangered species.
What lessons would a rational law enforcement official draw from Aslam, Safwat and Saad? That heroism is costly, it claims your life and leaves your family mourning your loss and wondering for the rest of their lives how things might have been had you been around. That there is value in growing old and seeing your kids graduate from college, settle down, get married and have kids of their own. And that value of normal life trumps the value of heroism in a country that has no desire or will to build on sacrifices you render.
Where is the outrage at the tragic loss of Aitezaz or the assassination of Chaudhry Aslam? What kind of a state is one that can neither protect its officials nor its citizens and everyone is left to fend for himself?
It is a state with no red lines. There is no loss that is unacceptable. We have seen a schoolgirl shot in the head, we have seen a schoolboy tackle a suicide bomber, we have seen the TTP play with the severed heads of our brave soldiers and assassinate a serving general, we have seen policemen die fighting alone. We have now seen everything.
And we are unfortunately getting comfortable with this ugliness. Those opposed to the US mission in Afghanistan did not need to attack Aitezaz and his school. He had nothing to do with the US and its policies.
Chaudhry Aslam was not a target because he was directing drones to Fata, but because his job was to protect citizens against terror attacks and he was doing it well. However this started, there is a now a war raging across Pakistan wherein terrorists are attacking innocent citizens and law enforcement personnel trying to protect them.
In this war you cannot root for both sides. You cannot mourn the martyred soldiers and policemen who lay down their lives in the line of duty and citizens claimed by terror attacks and simultaneously sympathise with those who plan and execute terror attacks within Pakistan and call them shaheed when killed because they are inspired by hate for the US. The duty to protect the citizens of Pakistan rests squarely with the state of Pakistan and is not contingent on whether the US acts in an agreeable or abhorrent manner.
Whether it is the PML-N or the PTI leadership, it is not OK to continue trotting the globe and issue platitudes about the rule of law, tragic loss of life and need for peace while real people continue being killed in droves. It is also not OK for the PPP, ANP and the MQM — the so-called centre-left parties — to scoff at pro-talkers in private and support the lets-talk-the-terrorists-out-of-terror mantra in public.
A national leadership stricken by fear doesn’t fully explain our pusillanimous response to terror. It is a combination of fear, confusion, incompetence and indifference. The pro-talk all-party conference passed its resolution on Sept 8, 2013. Over four months later have we moved an inch? Talking to the terrorists can only be one component of an effective anti-terror policy. Where is our policy on tracking and eliminating terror funding? Where is our policy on monitoring and cutting off supply of guns and explosives? Where is our policy on disrupting the transit of terrorists from Khyber to Karachi and back? Where is our policy on blockading the supply chain of terrorists to the TTP syndicate?
The distress at Chaudhry Aslam’s death is fitting. In a fight between the state and the terrorist when the state itself picks the side of the terrorist Chaudhry Aslam automatically falls on the wrong side of the fight. All that is left now for society’s protection are more Aitezaz’s, till we run out of them as well.
The writer is a lawyer.