Bina Shah


To survive as a country Pakistan needs to map out a road to peace, with the army, politicians and the people rallying under a unifying cause


Last week I wept with pride as Malala Yousafzai collected her Nobel Peace prize in Oslo, next to Kailash Satyarthi. The world stopped to listen as she gave her acceptance speech, in which she said:


“It is time to take action so it becomes the last time, the last time, so it becomes the last time that we see a child deprived of education … Let us become the first generation to decide to be the last, let us become the first generation that decides to be the last that sees empty classrooms, lost childhoods, and wasted potentials.”


We watched as Malala received the award and raised it high, able to smile with only half her face but all of her heart. She announced later that she intended to return to Pakistan in 2015, yet another marker of her triumph over the terrorists that tried to deprive her not just of education, but of her life.


We then saw a photograph of Malala as she toured the Nobel museum: when she saw her blood-spattered uniform, the one she was wearing when she was shot by the Taliban, she burst into tears. Kailash, who she calls a second father, had to comfort her as she buried her head in his shoulder.


And now, barely a week later, we are weeping as we see the images on our televisions of schoolchildren being carried out an army school in Peshawar in their blood-spattered uniforms, victims of a Taliban attack which has so far killed 126 people. Most of the children killed were between 10 and 16 years old, children of army officers who were listening to a speech being given by a senior military officer when the gunmen struck.


The Pakistani army has been conducting a “clearance operation” at the school, and says that it is determined to stop the terrorists from killing the rest of their hostages in the siege. The leader of the Taliban group claiming responsibility for the attack says it is in retaliation for the strikes against militants in North Waziristan. “They are killing our innocent families so we want them to feel the same pain,” he has reportedly said.


If anyone still thinks this is about religion, and not a political struggle with the barest patina of religion as justification for this war, they need only come to Peshawar to attend the funerals of the children, who will be buried before the sun goes down, in the Islamic tradition. They have only to hear what their parents will say, the customary response to the news of a Muslim’s death: to Him we belong and to Him we will return. The children who were killed are of the same religion as the attackers claim to follow. This is not about religion: this is about power, intimidation and revenge.


Every time there is an attack in Pakistan it prompts soul-searching, despair, revulsion and depression in the people. From politicians we only get the word “condemnation.” We have come to realise how impotent a word that really is over the past few years. It implies disapproval, not resolution to truly put an end to the situation. It calls for disavowal, instead of owning the conflict fully. It is a weasel word that, the more it is used, angers ordinary Pakistanis who have paid the price for this war with their blood and the blood of their loved ones.


The Pakistan army has shown the most steel in its attempts to batter the militants in their camps – some would say a response long overdue, while others would grimly point out that its strategic depth policy has now grown into a dangerously uncontrollable entity, and the entire nation is suffering as a result. There is so much to say about strategy and policy, about terrorism and counter-terrorism, that people have made their careers writing and lecturing on the subject. Yet no amount of expertise is able to come up with the solution to the crisis. Books, I am afraid, are not tourniquets.


There are urgent calls going out for people to come to hospitals in Peshawar and donate blood, especially O-negative type. Blood is being airlifted from Rawalpindi to Peshawar because supplies have already run out. What it will take, though, to stem the bleeding is a precise roadmap towards peace, one that combines the power of the army with the political backing of our politicians and leaders, that rallies the people and unites them under this cause. It sounds simple, and yet we still haven’t been able to agree on what that roadmap should look like, or even in which direction it should go.


Pakistan has, in fact, been accused of not wanting peace, but nothing is further from the truth. You don’t lose 40,000 people – plus 126 more, today – and want to continue to bleed out. After today we know that if we keep bleeding like this, we will not survive.


(The Guardian December 16, 201)

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