When Allama Iqbal and Mohammad Ali Jinnah dreamed up to create a homeland for the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent it was to be a nation based on Islam’s most egalitarian principles of justice, equality and progress that was to preserve the distinct ethnicity and identity of the six hundred year old Indo-Islamic civilization. Both were concerned that Muslims being one-third of the population of the subcontinent, they may get overcrowded by the two-third majority Hindus in independent India. Yet all leaders of the Pakistan movement stayed clear of orthodox Islamic elements. That belief reflected in the high minded constitution of Pakistan that Jinnah framed with his own pen.
Pakistan continued on that path until its breakup in 1971 with the eastern wing breaking away under the shortsightedness and negligence of the people in power then in West Pakistan. In 1979 President Ziaul Haq added further fuel to the fire by forming alliances with the extremist Muslim groups whom Jinnah and Iqbal had completely steered clear of. It is reported that during one of his visits to Aligarh Muslim University in the 1940s, the university students asked Jinnah as to what he had done for the Muslims of India. Jinnah replied that he had kept the Indian Muslim politics free from the influence of the ultra religious Muslim preachers.
Unfortunately in the last ten years the scourge of terrorism and violence in the hallowed name of Islam has proliferated in Pakistan. Despite the army being a strong and dynamic entity in Pakistan, the policies of the government and the ruling classes has been of tolerating violence in the name of Islam, fearing that attempts to eradicate religion based violence may not be welcome by the common man. This fear has been hyped by a small number of Muslim extremists whose bread and butter was first hatred against non-Muslims (Hindus and Christians) and now it is against minority sects like Shias, Barelvis, Ahmedis etal.
The Pakistani Taliban group has maximized the fears of the government and political parties and the violent conditions in neighboring Afghanistan, to impose their extremist and coercive policies on the society in Pakistan with the power of the gun and terrorists imported from other countries. In recent years the Taliban who had earlier coerced minority Muslim sects by claiming the upper hand of Sunni Muslims in the country – the majority population of Pakistan- started to coerce other Sunni Muslims, the major establishments of the military (eg the army GHQ) and government (eg the huge Karachi international airport), the huge Marriot hotel in Islamabad etc with large violent attacks. In real terms they became a state within the state whose power was driven entirely by terrorism and extreme violence.
The Nawaz Sharif government elected with popular vote about two years ago and the Zaradri government before that buckled under the coercion of Taliban. They suspended the death sentences of hard core terrorists and murderers who were convicted and sentenced to death after years of trials including at the Supreme Court. The small number of sympathizers of Taliban coerced the balanced national mainstream media (eg Dawn newspaper), the Civil Society, the Universities, the intellegentsia into accepting Taliban and other terrorist groups as being of value to the national interests of the nation by acting against external aggression.
Since their coming into power two years ago Nawaz Sharif government has conducted negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban to eliminate high level terrorism in the state of Waziristan, where their heavily armed forces have been running an extra legal authority and coercing the public into following their draconian ultra orthodox social customs under the garb of Islam, using high level violence. It should be noted that the Nawaz Sharif government has also protested several times against the US army drone attacks on terrorists in Waziristan and FATA (Federally Administered Territory) that has caused the loss of life of some civilians.
After two years of negotiation the Taliban spurned the government’s offers and increased their coercive methods further. That forced the Nawaz Sharif government and military to launch the Zarb-e-Azb military action in June 2014 to uproot terrorists from Waziristan state and FATA. This operation has been moderately successful. In the last two years mindless terrorism has become so commonplace and terrorists are acting without any fear of government or military to such an extent that they are really a law unto themselves
In a continued upsurge to function as the boss of the government and the powerful military, Taliban attacked the Army’s highly regarded school in Peshawar in early December 2014 and mercilessly massacred 150 innocent children and women. In a press conference the same day Taliban leaders proudly claimed success for this heinous operation even as the nation of Pakistan went into a state of shock and despair. Unlike in the past the reaction of all segments of population has been so intense that even sympathizers of Taliban like Imran Khan’s Tahrik-e-Insaf party, who had earlier advocated accommodation with Taliban and other violent Islamic groups, have been forced under the widespread public anger and international reaction to agree to support the move of the Nawaz Sharif government to continue the military operation against terrorists in Waziristan, FATA and other areas in Pakistan.
In recent weeks Nawaz Shariff Government has taken some courageous actions like removing the moratorium on death sentences awarded to terrorists who have been convicted of murder and mayhem through the long court process culminating with the rejection of their appeals in the supreme court and by the President. They have executed some of these convicted terrorits and are planning to carry out death sentences against others despite threats from Taliban to carry out widespread terrorist attacks in the country. The government with the consent of a conference of all major political parties has decided to conduct trials of terrorists in military courts in order to speed up the process.
As expected some elements in Pakistan are unhappy with the swift and strong actions of the Nawaz Shariff government and the military to finally crack down on the violent terrorists with a view to truly eradicate terrorism from Pakistan. Finally most of the civil society, media, courts, government, political parties and military seem to join hands and support the Nawaz Shariff goverment’s actions on the ground to eradicate terrorism. The sympathizers of Taliban may yet exploit the legal process and manipulate public opinion to make the Nawaz Shariff government to back down from its firm resolve of stern action agsinst Taliban and the other terrorist groups.
However the Nawaz Shariff government must call the bluff of the sympathizers of Taliban, and realize that with so much unbridled terrorism today the nation of Pakistan is standing at crossroads, the same as in 1971 when Pakiistan broke into two parts. Today with substantial support from all segments of Pakistani society and most countries on the international scene, the government has the unique opportunity to redeem the nation and save it from further destabilization and loss of faith in the nation by its 200 million people. And to put Pakistan on a path of a law and order society and socioeconomic recovery to redeem the vision of Iqbal, Jinnah and countless others who built the nation with their sweat, blood and tears. Indeed today a very large number of people in Pakistan are capable, enterprising, enlightened and dedicated towards making Pakistan a modern and successful nation. The government and military should help them fulfill their aspirations.