At the time of writing this, the operation inside the University of Charsadda is continuing. Mass casualties are feared. Escaped students have described to the media a scene of utter chaos and desperation. Students are reported to have been rounded up and shot in the head from close range. Media outlets, in a defiant show of utter idiocy, continue to provide information on the movement of security forces and students hiding inside the campus – information which helps no one but those directing the terrorists.
When 134 children were rounded up and slaugtered at the Army Public School over a year ago, there was a real sense of Pakistan having turned a corner. Taliban sympathizers started changing their tune. Extremists – even the non violent ones – were looked at with suspicion and mocked. Editorials were penned the world over on how this would be it – the moment Pakistan would stop dithering and strike these animals decisively. Our children were buried six feet under the ground amid wails of their mothers and mourning sisters. Tributes were paid, songs sung, vigils held, teary-eyed speeches given, hashtags trended, promises made. There was just one thing missing. Crucial, too.
‘Maulana’ Abdul Aziz of Islamabad’s Red Mosque is a man who threatened the state with suicide bombings in live televised calls during the Red Mosque siege. They weren’t empty threats either – a significant number of terror attacks in Pakistan in the years that followed, were directly linked to the Red Mosque, or carried out by those outraged by the army’s operation against the Red Mosque in 2007.
Despite all of this. Abdul Aziz is a free man. He was free to condone the attack on innocent children at the APS in Peshawar in the immediate aftermath. He is free to address thousands through his sermons at the sprawling Red Mosque complex that hosts thousands of extremists every friday. He is free to post hateful messages on social media. He is free to welcome Da’esh into Pakistan and declare his allegiance to Al Baghdadi. He is free to threaten the state and issue ultimatums. He is free to legitimize any action against the state, people and armed forces of Pakistan using Islamic texts.
And therein lies the problem.
When you fight a blaze, you spray at the base of the fire, not just at the flames. For Zarb-e-Azab to be effective, there needs to be a relentless, unwavering and brutal action against radical clerics such as Abdul Aziz, and sympathizers within the political class. Kill all the footsoldiers we can – please – but until the source of this poisonous ideology is dealt with, we’ll be fighting a long war and sacrificing more of our children.
There was hope in the aftermath of the APS attack that the heart-shattering sight of 134 tiny coffins would be enough for lessons to be learnt. But we’ve had to add a few more to that tally today. And will have to add even more unless we immediate and decisive action is taken.
If APS was a national tragedy, Charsadda is our national shame.