#PESHAWARATTACK – Making sense of the madness

The chaotic morning

10404323_382857955220866_1147176278697049364_nIt was the morning of Tuesday, December 16th. I was taking it easy, because the night before I had graduated as an Atlas Corps Fellow.  My day changed when a friend from Peshawar informed me of the attack that killed more than 130 children. I searched the news for more information and came across harrowing stories of kids from APS Peshawar, as they experienced the brutality firsthand. The rest of my day was spent calling family and friends to see if they and everyone was fine. Even though none of my friends and their families experienced immediate losses, all my friends from Peshawar were in a state of shock. One friend was traumatized because many of her colleagues lost their loved ones. “It is absurd” She recounted in a state of shock, “I saw people frantically calling everyone they knew to get news… someone lost one person, another lost two… it was death and _79783134_025145611-1despair all over”.  She went on, “They didn’t even go in looking for hostages. They (Taliban) went in with the intention of not
making it out alive!”
She was right. Never before, has Pakistan experienced such a deadly attack and that too in the form of mass slaughter of school students. I never thought going to school would become a life threatening act. How do you make sense of it?

Making sense of it all  

It takes me back to a conversation I was having with my housemates in DC, who were trying to understand what was really going on because the incident suddenly brought Pakistan into the limelight, once again. My country wasn’t always this way, as I explained to them. Sure, we had religious right and extremists but in an institutionalized and organized form, it took birth during the Afghan Jihad (1979).  The refugees from Afghanistan, were trained at the border camps in Pakistan by ISI and CIA to overthrow the pro-Soviet PDPA government, in Afghanistan. Imagine, a child growing up in these camps, who grew up on hate literature that was prepared by the United States Government  to create that prevalent mindset of hatred. It took its roots then and over the years has metamorphosed into what it is today. More than three decades have passed and now we can witness manifestations of this extremist mindset in all forms.

(Here’s a video prepared by my comrades from LAAL that accurately summarizes the roots of extremism)

There are regional groups that focus solely on Kashmir, India or minorities. Then you have the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has its guns pointed internally and many more. It is so pervasive that there is no one coherent label that we can apply. The #PeshawarAttack was orchestrated by the TTP, as a retaliation to the army operation  that has been underway since June to root them out of the FATA region. The TTP’s inability to attack military installations led them to target an army run school in Peshawar. The attackers who went in and butchered these students were there to die. How does one come to this mindset? How do you carry out a dialogue with them? The answer is very complex and in my view a symptom of immense poverty, mass displacement and people seeking revenge.

Contribution of poverty: Ever since the Afghan Jihad, Madrassas (religious seminaries) have popped all over the country. In a nation where 50 percent of the population lives below the abject poverty line, these Madrassas are an easy recourse for parents who cannot provide for their kids. Seminaries offer the parents money. The child gets food, shelter, clean clothes and a place to sleep. Some of these madrassas become recruiting grounds for extremist organizations. These schools are spread out all across the country. Imagine a child who has nothing to lose and is told that there is a better future awaiting them in the hereafter. It is very easy to give up your life as a suicide attacker if you have nothing to lose because you are promised a better afterlife and your parents receive money if you carry out the attack.

Displacement & Vengeance: Pakistan Army, for all its valiant efforts to root out extremists, is still a conventional army and not a counter-terrorist expert. It uses blunt force and raises whole villages to the ground before it can go in and carry out an operation. Imagine you lost someone in the cross-fire, or you lost your livelihood or home in the process. You are likely to join the first call from a Taliban recruiter who promises you revenge against the army. This is just one example, I wrote about many others when I visited the Jalozai Camp near Peshawar, last year.

What needs to be done?

These are just some of the reasons that have contributed to more recruits who go and join these organizations and are ready to throw their lives down. It is hard to carry out a dialogue with someone who has been raised on hate.  An intensified operation may be the solution for now but the long term solution to a problem that has taken 30 odd years to fester is more holistic and must address issues of poverty, lack of education and deprivation that allows for these extremists to thrive on the misery of others. Much needs to be done on that front. For now, we can only stand by the families who have lost their loved ones and push the government to step up its efforts to root these barbarians out. #DownWithExtremism.

The writer is a Pakistani social activist and the Director of Laal Theater. He is currently based in Washington, DC, as an Atlas Corps Fellow. He tweets at @younaschowdhry

This post was originally posted at the writer’s personal blog

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