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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Peshawar Massacre: Who will avenge our children, and how?

In Peshawar, the Army Public School must have been a prestigious institution. A place in the school will ensure good education fit for middle-class children. Today the school was attacked by seven Taliban terrorists who probably never saw the inside of a proper school. They went around asking who were the children of Army personnel and shot them dead. This must have been tiresome and slow as many children were not from  military families. Then, they killed indiscriminately.

In anger and desperation, I followed the twitter feed and various websites for more details. With each update, the count increased, my heart sank lower and lower.

I  remembered today a retired Christian officer from Pakistan Army and two civilians who I met a long time ago. He was a proud cavalry man if I remember correctly, the two civilians were much more intriguing.

In the early-1990s, in my college days I had the opportunity to spend some days in a Pakistan Army guest house in Rawalpindi. It was adjacent to the 'Artillary Mess' which offered lounging and dining for the officers. Here I met Major Anthony. He must have been in his late 60s then. He told me the stories of his younger days, when he used to study at Gordon College, run by the Christian missionaries in Rawalpindi. He used to be a long distance runner in his college days. The college was famous for its sporting and academic excellence. He remembered fondly how the students finally persuaded an ageing professor to get married. They found him a match, another teacher from Lahore. They celebrated the marriage in style. The whole college went to Lahore and brought Mrs Professor back in the best wedding precession he Anthony ever took part in.
'Those were the good old days'. He used to say.

He never mentioned the nationalization of the college in the 70s and its inevitable decline. Anthony also remembered vividly his great luck, when as a young officer in the Army, he was appointed as the protocol officer to the visiting Queen Elizabeth during the Ayub Khan dictatorship.

'Those were the good old days', he would say.

Then his conversation would move to how he lives his retired life in peace and how his wife is still enamoured with the Royal family and collects all the memorabilia she can get her hands on.

I remember him well, because I never met anyone like him since. I met other Pakistani Christians, mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds. And I felt ashamed to see their plight. Post-Islamization era Pakistan is no place for minorities. No respect, no life.

In the same Army mess, I once saw two young men. Confident, educated and civilians. One day, they dropped by for a cup of tea with a friend, and they found me in the sitting room watching TV. Greetings were exchanged. They wore shalwar qameez and waist-coats and had beards. I knew the type from my personal experience. Middle class, religious types. 'Jamaat-e-Islami' types. I sat with them while they chatted away with their friend. One of them mentioned the conspiracies being hatched against the Ummah by the Jews. It was a common excuse for all the misfortunes of Pakistan.

One of the bearded gentlemen mentioned the Protocol of the elders of Zion. 'They (Jews)  buy out all the copies of the book as soon as it is published'. I had heard of the book and must have read about its content by that age, but never took it too seriously. But this man was making his argument with such force that I still remember the whole meeting. Both of the visitors believed in a global conspiracy, Pakistan being its prime target. They left after tea. Their friend who remained behind mentioned that both his friends were in ISI, the Inter Services Intelligence agency.

There was a Pakistan where Major Anthony thrived, made a life and retired with honour and dignity. And then there was a Pakistan of conspiracy theorists, religious zealots who fantasized themselves to be playing a great game.

And these middle-class Jamaatia types had now a foothold in Pakistani deep state. ISI was swamped by such ideological zealots, both uniformed and civilians. Zia era Islamization had a profound impact on the composition of the ranks in Pakistan Army. Megalomaniacs like ISI's DG, Gen. Hameed Gull inherited the hubris of Afghan 'Jihad' victory and created a monster which no one could tame, even the ISI.

As a college and university student, I witnessed the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and its slow creep into Pakistan from the frontier region. Like a damp patch on a wall, it keeps growing, gathering mould. Taliban  were now accepted as genuine and rightful rulers of Afghanistan. ISI had its allies providing the much needed strategic depth against India, while they kept mutilating and maiming the minds of a whole generation of Afghans and Pakistanis.

The generals who resisted a coup during the successive, spineless democratic governments had kept a strong control on all the things that mattered to them. They nurtured a poisoned generation which fought a proxy war in Kashmir. I knew another middle-class Jamaatia-type in university who trained for Jihad over the summer holiday and was killed while crossing the line of control in Kashmir. I knew many more who didn't want to go, but were happy to glorify those 'brothers' who went and became martyrs.

There are Jamaatia types and then there are the Taliban types. Jamaatias are middle-class, educated, from the urban centers of Punjab and KPK. They are happy to facilitate the lesser classes to pick up the gun and fight for whichever Jihad is underway at the time, the Taliban types; from the tribal belt or rural Punjab. They are the side product of a village welfare system, where the Madrassah takes on the surplus child from a poor family. The child eats leftovers, gets abused and radicalized.

The same abused, radicalized children grew up, and in the name of a fantasy cause, murdered over a hundred middle-class children in cold blood in Peshawar yesterday.

Pakistan seems to have woken up after this massacre. Only a year ago, the same city saw over 120 Christian worshippers killed in a similar attack on All Saints Church. But no one cares for them. No revenge for the Christians. Almost 100 Ahmadis perished in Lahore in 2010, and it went unpunished even when one of the assailants was handed over to the police.

There will be revenge for the children, for right or wrong reason. This will bring an end to the Taliban fundamentalist at least in the tribal areas for now.

But who will punish the middle-class Jamaati types who have caused this mess in the first place?


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