The coalition of terrorist groups that is waging war against Pakistan, struck Lahore on Easter Sunday. Children were playing in a public park overseen by their parents amidst a profusion of spring flowers: the fragrances, the colour, the laughter merging into a symphony of life and hope. Then the suicide bomber hit. It was another massacre of the innocents, another trauma for a beleaguered nation.
The same question recurs: what is to be done? The first step is to recognize that this is a defining moment for Pakistan and its people. How we face this challenge to the country and the values in terms of which we experience our humanness, will shape our future existence.
General Raheel Sharif as Army Chief has been steadfast in his determination to fight and win this war against terrorism which he and indeed the citizens consider to be the principal threat to Pakistan’s state and society. After the atrocity in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, General Sharif is reported to have said, “We must bring killers of our innocent brothers, sisters and children to justice and will never allow these savage [dehumanized beings], to overrun our life and liberty.” In the context of this statement it is possible to identify three essential features of the present conjuncture.
First, in prosecuting this war, the state aims to establish its writ. The fact is that armed militant groups have emerged in Pakistan as rival powers to the state within its geographic domain. Max Weber has defined a state as an organisation which has monopoly over the legitimate use of violence. So that if armed groups are allowed to establish control through violence and terror in areas contested by them, then the integrity of the state ceases to exist in any meaningful sense of the term. That is why Zarb e Azb, the military campaign against the militant extremist groups that has been undertaken since 2014, under the leadership of General Raheel Sharif, is a war of survival for Pakistan.
This particular military operation was a brilliant success in so far as it decimated the Taliban forces, destroyed their havens in FATA, and resettled the Internally Displaced Persons in their homeland within a remarkably short time. However as a series of recent terror attacks against soft targets have shown, the coalition of militant extremist groups retains the ability to launch high profile suicide bombings against isolated and relatively undefended urban targets, resulting in scores of civilian deaths. For example the attacks against the Charsadda University, on 20th January this year, the district courts in Charsadda town on 7th March, the bombing of a bus carrying government employees in Peshawar on 23rd March, and now the Gulshan e Iqbal suicide bomb attack in Lahore.
These attacks indicate that networks of facilitators in urban centres exist which provide logistical support to the terrorists. The attack in Lahore has brought to the fore the imperative of addressing the grave danger of this urban terror support infrastructure, to the integrity of the state. Therefore the logic of Zarb e Azb points to the need of addressing this problem in the Punjab now that the problem in Sind has to some extent been overcome. Thus the suspected links between political organisations and terror support networks would have to be investigated and disrupted through selective intelligence based operations. It is only right and proper that the military high command has now announced their intention to undertake this operation.
Second, the principal functions in terms of which the state establishes its legitimacy i.e. the right to rule, and which underlie what Rousseau calls the “Social Contract”, are the protection of the life and liberty of citizens. That is why putting into effect General Sharif’s statement of preventing the terrorists from trying to “...overrun our life and liberty”, is essential to the legitimacy of the state. Protection of the life and liberty of citizens involves physical protection, but also involves safeguarding the institutional environment in which citizens can engage in social life that enriches human civilisation and thereby make life and freedom meaningful.
The third dimension of the challenge of terrorism is the need to develop a counter terror narrative. This is necessary in order to defeat the terrorists in their ideological capacity to mobilize support, recruit and then indoctrinate young malleable minds to put on suicide belts. Religion, from the Latin religio means to re-establish the ligament with God. In Islam, the fabric of this ligament is love. God loves His creation and in His infinite mercy has granted to humans, His attributes of freedom, creativity and love. God says in the Quran, “there is no coercion in religion”. One can understand this as there cannot be coercion in love. Rehman (merciful) is the attribute in terms of which God describes Himself most frequently in the Quran. The well-known religious scholar Dr. Reza Shah Kazemi has observed that the mercy of God is drawn not from pity but love. As the Viceregents of God on earth, humans are expected to show loving care towards other humans and indeed all of God’s creation on earth. Fulfilling this function of loving care towards others, requires that humans exercise the God given capacity to reason, to nurture their sense of beauty, truth and justice.
The terrorist ideology extrudes the spirituality of love out of religion. So that religion becomes an empty form that the terrorists use as an instrument of coercion to achieve the mundane ends of political power and wealth. Religion enjoins love and care, the terrorists preach hatred to kill; Religion calls for the pursuit of enlightenment and truth, the terrorists rely on ignorance and falsehood; Religion calls upon humans to nurture their God given sense of beauty to be able to apprehend the magnificence of nature as a means of experiencing the transcendent: the terrorists destroy beauty in destroying life. Thus the terrorist ideology is actually the very antithesis of religion. It is on the basis of this macabre inversion, that the terrorists were able to kill those beautiful children, the flowers of a nation, before they could come to full bloom.