By Saleem A Sethi, Weekly Pulse, July 29, 2013
When the unsuccessful life attempt was made on Malala last year, GulRukh wrote in this magazine’s Oct 12-18 issue; ‘Attack on Malala is most probably the last call for us as a nation to wake up to the reality… that a brutal and savage enemy is at war with us from within. We have to stop it chasing outside…’ This seemed prophetic at that time. But little did one know that things would go from bad to worse or that we will start it chasing in Malala. Instead of waking up to the clarion call, this nation turned that little girl literally into a foreign, read Jewish, agent. It seems so ironic. But the reality is that a young girl who put her life on the line for the sake of this society and its values has become a castaway for all practical purposes.
But why all this narrative; why all this hate and venom, against someone who almost sacrificed her life for the cause of the nation? Why this confusion about friend and foe? There are so many questions that agitate the minds of the people. And answers to those questions, in fact, are the reasons for the so-called ‘great confusion’.
The list of these questions is something like this; Is Malala alone who suffered at the hands of Taliban? If not, then why only this issue is highlighted? Why not other cases of injustices being highlighted or addressed by the international community, the UNO and the media, etc? Why are the victims of Drone attacks ignored when a lone child is given so much coverage both internally and externally? At the top of this list lies the mother of all questions; who are the Taliban actually? Barring the last one, we will try to find answers to the rest.
There are two perspectives to answer these questions. One is that which looks at every shade of violence and terrorism against greater national interest and therefore regards all its manifestations unacceptable. On the other side is the prevalent narrative, sponsored by a huge behind-the-scene propaganda, which explains things in religious terms and sees a conspiracy and a foreign hand behind the current terrorism phenomenon. This perspective is better explained by the letter of notorious Adnan Rashid to MalalaYosafzai a few days ago. It is answered very well by Mohammad Hanif of ‘Exploding Mangoes’ fame. So, it is better to leave it at that.
To begin answering these questions from the ‘alternative’ point of view, it is a fact that Malala is not alone to suffer in this wave of terrorism; there are about 40,000 who lost lives in this war, even if we don’t count those who sustained injuries or lost limbs or suffered in any other way during this mayhem. In this backdrop it is natural to ask, ‘then why this focus on Malala alone?’ This question is mostly asked by people who are not as such familiar with what has happened or has been happening in the terror hotbed of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa and the tribal areas of FATA. How difficult and daring it was and still is to raise voice against the forces of darkness can only be experienced and explained by those who have had the honor and courage to do that. Malala’s audacity came in handy in the most difficult of times Swat ever passed through. She challenged the monster in its own den. Everybody, who had a mind to tell right from wrong, saw and observed that. But now, the Facebook warriors want to deny and erase this reality from the collective memory of the nation. One is a witness to that rare valor shown by only some of the humans in such demanding situations.
In fact, individuals like Malala become a symbol of all those who suffer the atrocities silently. This is practically impossible to name all the 40,000 persons who lost their lives at the hands of terrorists. But when the name of just a few individuals is mentioned, or they are paid tribute to, it embodies the resolve of a society to stand against the evil and to honor all those who suffered for the same cause or due to same reasons. This is the answer to our second question. In the 1965 Pak-India war, hundreds of our soldiers achieved martyrdom. Then why do we only mention just a few? Does it mean that we don’t recognize the others’ ultimate sacrifice? Or their names came to prominence because of some favoritism of the higher-ups? No. This is symbolism. They are symbols of our resolve to stand up for our due rights; just like Malala stood and symbolized our resistance against the forces of darkness. When army chief visited CMH, Peshawar on October 9, 2012 (to see her there after the attack) he explained this simple fact in the following words:
“The cowards who attacked Malala and her fellow students have time and again shown how little regard they have for human life and how low they can stoop to impose their twisted ideology… Malala became a symbol for the values that the army, with the nation behind it, is fighting to preserve the future generations… We wish to bring home a simple message: We refuse to bow down before terror.”
Now that’s another matter that the government of the time and all the country’s political parties didn’t lend the required support and showed their outright reluctance to take political ownership of the war the Chief intended to fight for the country’s survival in its present shape. And to his utter dismay, when General Kayani looked back, he found out that the nation was not behind him or the army on the issue of internal threat. This is because of the utter confusion about the identity of the enemy which the establishment itself promoted over the years and which has now backfired.
The question of why the UNO, international community or the media is not highlighting other injustices is a very complex and lengthy one which needs a separate treatment. But to mention only a few of the reasons; it should be looked at on case-to-case basis; there is a factor of dependency (for the UNO particularly); there are self-interests of different nation states which we collectively call international community; there are ideological factors and so on and so forth.
Even after appreciating all these, and many more, weaknesses in addressing the injustices on the national and international scenes, it is very astonishing when one hears screams from certain quarters about the victims of drone attacks every time the name of Malala is mentioned. The question that comes to mind is what is the relationship between 16-year old Malala and the controversial drone strikes? And why do we always remember drones when we hear the name of Malala? Besides, if looked at the coverage time from the media outlets and the government plus the political parties’ stance and protests against these strikes, it will need no elaboration that drones issue is on the priority list everywhere. It consumes more national and media time than anything else. And last but not the least, Malala represents the more than 40,000 innocent human beings who became victim of internal terrorism. On the other hand drone strikes victims’ figure is between 3,000 to 5,000 many of whom are known terrorists responsible for the killing of those thousands of innocent Pakistani civilians and khakis. The biggest objection, besides killing of innocent people in drones’ strikes, relates to the sovereignty of the state. But even then, it cannot be mixed with Malala issue by even the wildest stretch of imagination.
Most of the critics say that Malala is playing in the hands of foreign, read Jewish, lobby or lobbies. Or that the matter is blown out of proportion by vested interests to malign Pakistan further and damage it ultimately. One fails to understand this line of thinking. First, how Pakistan can be ‘further’ maligned or defamed? If it is not ‘defamed’ by silting of throats by terrorists, blowing up of human bombs, killing of worshippers in mosques, murdering innocent elders, children and women in market places, homes education institutions and hospitals, incarcerating and burning alive of religious minorities and those of one’s own faith disagreeing with you on matters religious, then how can it be ‘badnaamed’ by a girl informing the world she wants education and equal rights? As someone said, this country is defamed when someone among its citizens makes a film about acid throwing on women or releases a video about public flogging of 16-year old (again) girl by the Taliban. Now, it is again being ‘maligned’ by a girl who has raised her head in an ocean of blood to renounce the gore and tell the world that common Pakistanis are not part of it. That there are people still who love peace; that there are indeed individuals who will not fire on their tormentors even if they had both an opportunity and a gun in their hand.
If the world unites behind her and commits that it will help Pakistan on its road to literacy, we see a conspiracy in that. If UN General Secretary offers her his own seat, and walks behind her, we call it defaming. If she renounces violence on the largest international platform, we call it part of the Jewish plan to malign Pakistan further. And if she wins some honor for her country, she is accused of dishonoring it.
We have faulted many times in the past. We have honored and owned thieves and looters and murderers and scoundrels of every hue and cry, and made them our heroes. We have dishonored, disowned and killed many of our heroes. We should not do it this time. Let’s own the one, who belongs to us and wants to remain part of us; who is using her aura to help this nation get out of the abyss it is fast falling in. She is not doing any harm to Pakistan and Pakistanis. If she is maligning something or someone, it is Taliban and their retrogressive and twisted ideology. Let’s help her. Let’s help her help us.