India and Pakistan must unite to fight terror…  

A student in Chennai prays for those killed in Peshawar. Schools across India held a two-minute silence on Wednesday. Photo: R. Senthil Kumar/ PTI

A student in Chennai prays for those killed in Peshawar. Schools across India held a two-minute silence on Wednesday. Photo: R. Senthil Kumar/ PTI

My op-ed in The Indian Express today, Dec 18, 2014…

Together we can 

By Beena Sarwar

In an unprecedented move, students at schools across India observed a two-minute silence on December 17, 2014 in solidarity with the victims and survivors of the barbaric attack on an army-run school in Peshawar.  

Immensely moved, Pakistanis have responded with gratitude for this humane gesture that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had appealed for. There is also gratitude for the hashtag #IndiaWithPakistan that began trending on the social media a few hours after the attack on the school began on December 16.

A Pakistani friend remarks on the “irony that our so-called arch enemy’s sympathy and voice seems more comforting in this time of need then our pious apologists”.

The dominant narrative perpetuated in Pakistan traditionally posits India as the enemy. Former army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf who usurped power in a military coup in 1999, is on record saying that he is “proud” of the Kargil operation that he masterminded earlier that year “in revenge” against India for 1971.

The Peshawar attack came on Dec 16, commemorated in Pakistan as a ‘black day’ to mark its army’s surrender to the Indian army in Dhaka in 1971 after being defeated in then East Pakistan by Bengali rebels aided by India.

Musharraf is the last military dictator to have ruled Pakistan (1999-2008) but even after he stepped down from the Presidency, the military establishment continued to call the shots in Pakistan.

This could change with a continuation of the democratic political process that will eventually, with time, correct the imbalance. Pakistan embarked upon the democratic electoral process when an elected government transferred power to the next elected government for the first time in the country’s history.

When Benazir Bhutto was elected to power the first time, in 1988 following the death of the previous military dictator Gen. Ziaul Haq (1977-88), she was not allowed to take oath as prime minister until she agreed to keep off three key policy areas – defence, economy and foreign affairs.

Over the next decade, a constitutional amendment imposed by Gen. Zia that allowed the President to dismiss parliament was used to prematurely topple three elected governments – Benazir Bhutto’s, then Nawaz Sharif’s and then Benazir Bhutto’s again. When Sharif was again elected to power, Musharraf overthrew him in what journalists like to call a ‘bloodless military coup’ (all coups in Pakistan have been bloodless takeovers).

Then Musharraf, the same one who proudly engineered Kargil, ruled the roost in Pakistan for the next decade. During this time he tried to mend fences with India and even came close to resolving the Kashmir dispute. However, the matter ended when he was forced to step down.

Surprisingly, Musharraf was quite popular among Indian intellectuals some of whom look nostalgically back at his stint in power as some kind of golden era between Pakistan and India. They seem to forget that he was a dictator and they are willing to overlook Kargil. He genuinely wanted peace, they argue, and with him, India and Pakistan came close to a rapprochement.

20130408 Mush Tamil UnrealTimesAs a one-man band, Musharraf could take whatever decisions he wanted. His “boys” unquestioningly obeyed his orders because that’s what soldiers do. Not so the “bloody civilians”. Democracy is a messy business.

A legitimately elected representative has to answer to a constituency. An elected head of government must obtain the consensus of elected parliamentarians before making policy decisions.

For far too long, the security establishment that has ruled the roost either directly or indirectly in Pakistan has made the major policy decisions.

Right. So why, argue Indians, should they even bother talking to an elected government?

For one thing: because only an elected government can legitimately make policy changes. It has taken more than 60 years to make this mess. It will take decades more to fix it. But with the 2013 elections, at least Pakistan is on the right track. The biggest blow to the terrorists besides the military operation would be for India and Pakistan to unite against them.

Over the past few years, a political consensus has developed in Pakistan among all key stakeholders that peace and good relations with India are essential for Pakistan. This consensus has always existed at the people’s level and at the level of artists, writers, activists and intellectuals. Now all the major political parties and the business community also support this view.

The Pakistanis who insist on clinging on to the outdated pro-jihad, anti-India narrative are to be found among the security establishment and extremist and their protégés, the religious groups the army once nurtured in order to gain “strategic depth” in Afghanistan and the upper hand over India.

This brings us to the confusion created by the ‘good Taliban, bad Taliban’ narrative. As long as they didn’t attack Pakistan, the ‘good Taliban’ were seen as “non-state actors” that served as “strategic assets”.

A military-mullah nexus of the 'enlightened moderation' kind...

A military-mullah nexus of the ‘enlightened moderation’ kind…

The Musharraf that so many Indians admire for his ‘forthrightness’ played a duplicitous game here. Pakistan was the last government to cut off diplomatic ties with the Taliban who ruled Afghanistan, and that too when pushed by Washington after 9/11.

Musharraf went along with the USA when it came to casting off Pakistan’s erstwhile allies the Taliban in Afghanistan, but looked the other way while allowing home-grown groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) to function.

The LeT is known to be behind the horrific attacks in Mumbai in November 2008. Pakistan has banned it but allows it to function as a “charity organization” Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD) that openly holds rallies in major cities like Lahore and keeps the anti-India narrative alive.

But as Hillary Clinton famously said, “You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard.”

When Indians ask why the Pakistan courts keep acquitting people like Hafiz Saeed, the JuD leader, they forget that our court systems are after all  much the same. To obtain convictions is not that easy. Pakistan also has no witness protection programme. This, coupled with poor forensics and prosecution techniques, makes it quite easy for criminals to literally get away with murder.

Certain Pakistani ‘analysts’ (several known to be in the pay of the security establishment) also perpetuate the anti-India narrative through op-eds, television talk shows, and social media. As soon as something horrific happens, their spin doctoring goes into overdrive to push the view that India is behind such attacks or that it’s a western conspiracy.

Will the jolt administered by the horrific Peshawar attacks change this? Will Taliban apologists and conspiracy theorists move aside to let the nation get on with what needs to be done? Pakistan must treat every single criminal act as a criminal act and move to punish those who perpetuate it, whether in the name of religion or any other pretext. Let not those precious lives have been lost in vain.

3 Responses

  1. Please allow me to post a statement issued by the Delhi-based People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS):

    People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS)
    New Delhi
    Statement on Peshawar Massacre

    PADS condemns the ghastly attack on school children in Peshawar (Pakistan) by Tehreek-e-Taliban in which over 140 innocent lives were lost. It is a plain case of murders by the people spewing venom in the name of religion and ideology with no regard for human life. PADS demands that such fundamentalist violence be dealt with firmly by the authorities in Pakistan and expresses its solidarity with the parents of the children whose lives were snatched away by the murderous gang which, only to hoodwink the people, claims to be fighting imperialism. By their act they have shown how dangerous they are for the common citizens of Pakistan.

    It is also important to note that people in general in Pakistan have to stand up against all kinds of violence. There is no acceptable violence and unacceptable violence. Violence, under the illegitimate legal cover of Blasphemy Laws is being perpetrated, and celebrated in the name of religion in the country. Condoning any kind of violence against the innocent people in the name of religion, provides raison d’etre to the forces like TTP. The ghastly murders in Peshawar is a signal for the Pakistani society to look inward and work in unison to keep religion away from State to avail the benefits of the democratic rule.

    The Indian school children and Parliament have shown solidarity with people of Pakistan by keeping a two minutes silence, on the suggestion of Prime Minister Modi. Such solidarity, however, should be expressed not only at the moment of grave tragedies, but should become a normal state of affairs between the two countries. The political and military leadership of the two countries should avoid aggressive rhetoric and militarisation and peacefully settle all outstanding issues.

    PADS notes with the sense of urgency that the Taliban-like Hindutva forces have grown in size, influence, and impact in India orchestrating killings and triggering mass displacement of the people. PADS would like to forewarn the people of India that communalists of any religion have the same traits and ultimately, it is the members of the same community, whose interests such groups claim to espouse, become their targets. This is the time for the peoples of India and Pakistan to unite against the use of religion for committing murders of the innocent.

    Issued on behalf of PADS


  2. […] build schools named after the more than 141 children and teachers whom militants killed in the Peshawar attack of December 16, […]


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