Our children today deserve safety and protection from all evils.
Until I sat down to write this piece, I thought I would write something about the country’s maritime security and interests, mainly because I just returned from the Maritime Security Workshop hosted by the Naval War College in Lahore, which left an indelible effect on my mind. That was until I looked at the date and realised that that story would have to wait another week. Today is a sombre day of reflection. No matter what we do, the scars of this day cannot and should not be forgotten. When we ignore it, we lower our guard and let our enemies return to a position of power.
December 16 will remain a day of infamy in the annals of Pakistani history for two reasons. First, the loss of its eastern wing. Second, the murder of our children by terrorists. Our collective imagination has found interesting ways to deal with this double whammy. For the fall of East Pakistan, we have found ways to reinvent history. Day after day, we come up with remarkable excuses to justify the characteristic lack of imagination with which we mishandled the grievances of our Bengali brethren and to blame one individual or one institution for our collective failure. This helps us in rationalising and continuing our insensitivity towards prickly subjects. Look at India. We are wired this way. If Nathuram Godse were alive today, he would most likely have become president for life in India. Likewise, if we had prevailed in East Bengal, the person who could trigger the Bengalis the most would have been ruling the country. Be that as it may, the fall of East Pakistan is an old wound, and a lot has already been written on it, even though we refuse to learn the right lessons.
The title of this piece has promised to talk about the other tragedy. The one that our media elite wants you to forget for good. The APS Peshawar atrocity, the heroic effort to forge political consensus in its aftermath, and the ferocious attempts to dismantle it brick by brick before our eyes.
It is not easy to forget such a heartrending incident where so many children were murdered in broad daylight just to make a political point. Everyone loves children. Then, who are the people who want to delete the memories of this tragedy and the resulting trauma from your mind? Obviously, the same people who made every effort to normalise Talbanisation in the final days of the PTI’s rule. But why? Because everything else can be rationalised in the name of ideology. I have written before about this political tendency to normalise every crime in service of an ideology. Islam clearly and categorically prohibits the murder of unarmed civilians in conflicts. But Bin Laden found one exception to the rule and magnified it. One woman was killed due to suspicion of supplying arms to the enemy. And that was all it took to justify 9/11, 7/7 and countless other barbarities, including those against coreligionists. Crime, guilt and sin are not transferable. Accept that they are, and you end up justifying every evil villain in history and every crime against humanity. But while your collective sensibility may learn to stomach every other crime for the alleged greater good, the image of a child’s bleeding corpse is too much to swallow.
Remember, there is a reason why so much outrage revolves around ostensible injustices, real and imagined, done to kids. A child’s innocence is an antidote to all kinds of prejudices. That is why you find various advocacy videos against poverty, hunger, disease and displacement featuring children. As long as a child is in the video, your empathy is guaranteed. That is why the likes of the QAnon conspiracy movement raise slogans like ‘save our children’. That is why both Israel and Hamas have made sure that the image of every child killed by the other side is preserved and distributed. Amazingly, the American and Western right, which wants to police women’s bodies to save unborn children from abortion, refuses to condemn the open and often targeted mass murder of Palestinian children. Perhaps this has more to do with race than politics, religion, or any other identity. If a child is of lighter skin, its birth has to be ensured no matter how it was conceived, but children of other shades can do with some extermination. But I digress.
Since the murder of children is so abominable and no one in their right mind can justify it, it has to be buried deep in our memories. So what tricks do those seeking to obscure the memory of December 16 employ? They first try to use their most valuable and trusted obscuring tool — conspiracy theories. As long as you can punch holes in the story and sow seeds of suspicion in people’s minds regarding the culprits, you can obscure anything. But somehow, it did not work.
The second trick, deflection. Use your victimhood, real or imagined, to divert attention. Charlie Hebdo’s incendiary campaigns were used to deflect. Again, that did not help.
The third trick, complication. When the National Action Plan was adopted with the then army chief promising that the new powers would only be used against jet-black terrorists, our outrage machine run by TV punditry began to talk about economic terrorism (a euphemism for corruption). We saw the arrest of Dr Asim and then the pushback against the MQM. But the fight against terrorism continued. So, failure again.
The fourth trick, inundation. Constant emotional bombardment about disparate political developments through television and social media. With time, this scheme has found modest success. Ergo, the need for this piece.
The blood of slain children cannot and must not be forgotten. They deserve absolute justice. Our children today deserve safety and protection from all evils. Which means terrorism cannot be tolerated. It is an ideology we have to vanquish. As we learned to our detriment in the past two years, you cannot allow such ideologies to take root in your neighbourhood and stay unaffected. So remember the faces of the innocent children that were so brutally taken away from you. Hear their racing heartbeats as they were subjected to this terrible atrocity. We have no right to forget them or to forgive the criminals who did this. Feel the anger and outrage. And pledge to crush this clear and present evil for good. Our state is now determined to fulfil this obligation. Are you?
This fight is not against religion, as your detractors would like you to believe, but an opportunist school of thought that seeks to pervert everything beautiful to get what it wants. Never forget!