Akhtar Abbas


Gulshan-e-Iqbal is a big public park situated in Lahore’s Allama Iqbal Town. The place has long stretches of grass where families spend their leisure time eating home-made food over a spread bedsheet, or go boating in the lake, or explore the maze of inner Lahore or take joy rides in electric gondolas.


As a kid, I lived in a house just opposite one of its main gates; the park is featured in most of my childhood pictures.


Cricket was not allowed in the park area; even football was looked down upon by the gardeners. Mostly because the grass was fresh and the flower beds fragile.


However, near Gate No. 1, there was a secluded area, where the walls were a few feet higher and no one from the administration seemed to go there. We would often take out our cricket bat and play a game or two — the usual bet in summer times would be a breakfast of halwa puri and channay.


Recently, passing by the park, I wondered if kids still climb the wall and carry out their shenanigans the way we used to.


Yesterday, the place where you could not touch flowerbeds without a guilty conscience was riddled with human flesh and blood.


They chose the target carefully. Being Easter, the park was bound to be flooded with Christians. If their aim was maximum casualties, it was achieved without a doubt.


A year back, the Army Public School was attacked. The entire nation stood united in its message of fighting the war on terror. We even composed songs promising retribution against those who carried out these attacks and a safe country for our children.


Soon Operation Zarb-i-Azab (a joint military offensive conducted by the Pakistan Armed Forces against various militant groups) was declared a success and it seemed that issues like corruption in institutions and action against ’rogue’ political parties would be the talk of town.


The Lahore attack reminds us that perhaps we were too quick in celebrating that victory.


Perhaps, the enemy lives deeper among us than we imagined, and perhaps it might take more than a few years to cleanse the mess we have generated for years.


The only way blasts like these can come to an end is by dismantling the terrorist network of well-wishers, sympathisers, sleepers, logistic supporters and planners.


The Lahore park carnage is a grim reminder that we are far from decapitating the terrorist network. Their network is like a jigsaw puzzle and we are far from sorting out the full picture.


Is it possible that somewhere someone is still holding an essential piece?


We may have understood how different religio-political groups have distanced themselves from violence in Pakistan, but can we be sure that all within the ranks of those groups adhere to this ’strategically’ right proclamation?


There is a proverb in Pashto, “When an oven is hot, anyone can put their dough in it for cooking.”


Are we still keeping the oven hot enough for others to take advantage? Where do the real fault lines lie? Can we ever make a critical analysis of the situation we are in?


The biggest battle in this war is changing the mindset.


Recently singer-turned-evangelist Junaid Jamshed was targeted at the Islamabad Airport; a big mob is protesting against the hanging of Salmaan Taseer’s killer, Mumtaz Qadri; a Shia lawyer was gunned down in Dera Ismail Khan last week. These occurrences are reminders that perhaps the narrative of peaceful sects of Islam and violent ones is a convenient tool that helps us avoid the real problem.


If looked at closely, these three recent incidents are of the same origin: Our across-the-board inability as a society to accept the opinions of others.


You don’t have to agree with Junaid Jamshed or Taseer or the Ahmedis, Christians or Shias in their beliefs, but harming someone for their beliefs is where the trouble starts.


There are various degrees to this, the simplest by denigrating their epithets, the ultimate by blowing up near their festivals — and to some extent we are all guilty of it. Each layer is supported by the less violent one beneath it.


If we have to fight terrorist networks, we must fight extreme opinions.


The tools in the immediate battle against terrorists might be the guns and sticks of law enforcement agencies, but ultimately, it is the pen of the writers, the mic of the anchors, the voice from the pulpit and the clicks of ordinary citizens that will dismantle it.


The writer is an engineer from Pakistan.

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