PESHAWAR: TRAGEDY AND PEACE

By Brig Samson S Sharaf

The opinion, ‘Nowhere to Peace’ (Nation 21 September 2013) could not have appeared at a more opportune time. The amusement of a miracle round the corner swiftly came to an end the next day. Twin blasts at All Saints Church in Peshawar, targeting peaceful worshippers awoke the national conscience from slumber.

Earlier, Christians all over the world dedicated 7 September as a day of fasting and joined Pope Francis to pray for Peace in Syria, Middle East, Pakistan and the world. Churches in Pakistan were full to capacity. For militants this was an aspersion. They waited next Sunday to reassert their intolerance on people the Holy Prophet had affirmed his own. Stamping the seal with his hand at the Monastery of St Catherine in Sinai the Holy Prophet decreed: –

“Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them, nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world)”. (Nation,Tradition of St. Catherine’s Monastery, 23 November 2012)

As a student of conflict studies, the writer had no doubt that the next escalation would be religious minorities to a fire break point. The opinion in Nation had pleaded to build Inter Faith CBMs in line with the Holy Covenant. Nothing affirmative happened.

A militant group with a new name took responsibility later denied by TTP albeit on advice of their sympathisers in mainstream. But why did they do this to peace loving Pakistanis?

As Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Group and Gulbadin Hikmatyar inch closer to a Peace formula in Afghanistan, the TTP and its umbrella groups realise their ultimate isolation. If Afghan negotiations are successful, TTP would lose its save havens and sanctuaries in Afghanistan. With SWS, Orakzai, Khyber and Malakand Agencies firmly in control of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), there are sandwiched in some pockets in NWS. LEAs have effectively driven them out of Tirah with blocking positions in Orakzai and Khurram. To their chagrin, NWS is dominated by militant groups closer to Mullah Omar (now seen as a challenge in a post US withdrawal scenario). TTP led by Hakeem Ullah Mehsud with the active assistance of Punjabi Taliban (sectarian outfits) now contemplate to spread the menace in the heartland including Punjab, Balochistan and Karachi. This explains the rising levels of violence, sectarian and religious killings.

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Twin blasts at All Saints Church are a rung of this escalatory trajectory. This is to firewall the Afghan Negotiations and prevent groups of NWS to engage with the Pakistani establishment. (Nation, The Doha Initiative 22 June 2013, &Firewalls to Peace 13 July 2013). Seen in this context, peace negotiations with militant groups that are likely to ally with Pakistan become a corner stone of counter terrorism strategy. Is Pakistani establishment succumbing to some unfriendly friends?

All Pakistanis, opinion makers and media need to realise that peace is part of pacification to isolate the most hard-core elements within militant groups. 12 groups operate in tandem with Afghan Taliban and act as facilitators in the Afghan Peace negotiations. In a post withdrawal scenario these must be insulated from TTP.

There are 9 localised defensive outfits that operate against sectarian outfits of TTP. Two militant wings of political parties are localised to Karachi not part of the TTP. 10 Separatist movements in Balochistan have a loose alliance with TTP and are confined to nuisance. This leaves TTP with a gang of 25 banned outfits with supporters in political parties hardest to crack. The spate of violence in the past two weeks explains this frustration. Yesterday, a bus was targeted in Peshawar. TTP will suffer political attrition when peace negotiations become substantive.

As a first step to negotiations there are 34 non suicide bomber groups that can be engaged and pacified. By engaging them through their office in Pakistan, negotiations for peace are half done. The other half will be based on persuasion, coercion and limited use of LEAs. The strategy also has the reward of facilitating the US retrograde from Afghanistan. It is the responsibility of the federal and provincial government to consider this road map and ward off challenges to peace.

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Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Association through its member security companies has already taken the initiative of protecting maximum churches in Pakistan. Gradually, this facility will be extended to other minority groups.

Concurrently each government in its jurisdiction needs to provide security to all vulnerable groups including Shias, religious minorities and those susceptible to extortion, kidnappings and assassinations. It is their responsibility to impose vigilance on Afghans and other unregistered foreigners living in Pakistan through surveys, surveillance, registration and enforcement. Afghan slums around major urban centres need to be shifted to proper refugee camps. Nothing will succeed in FATA and PATA if the government does not give an impetus to pacification operations through local administration, tribal elders, LEAs and groups loyal to Pakistan. These operations include socio-economic development, infrastructure development, empowerment of Tribal Maliks and law enforcement.

Simultaneously, the government will have to take concrete measures to empower non-Muslims through application of Article 226 of the Constitution, restoration of Ministry of Minority Affairs to the Federal List and amendments in the Blasphemy Law. Already, the President of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf Mr. Javed Hashmi has spoken logically and emphatically against this law in the National Assembly.

With the arguments and empiricism above, it is evident that the counter terrorism policy of Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf is a well-articulated, incremental, egalitarian and communitarian initiative to bring a graduated end to religiously inspired violence in Pakistan. There is no confusion in this road map.

It is said ‘it is hard to accept the truth when lies are exactly what you wanted to hear’. In politics divided by narrow agendas, short term advantages and talk shows based on flimsy ratings, Imran Khan has the courage and conviction to invite flak on his chest to pursue peace. It is the obligation of every law abiding citizen to own this road map and become a viable member of conflict resolution.

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As for the federal government, the confusion that persists will remain ‘Nowhere to Peace’, till such time it does not offer its own chest to formulate a comprehensive national counter terrorism policy. Appointment of a new COAS will have an impact on this policy, lest the nation is amused once again to new wine in old pots.

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