A few days after Dec 16, 2014, social media was overflowing with anger and despair at the attack in Peshawar — we individually and collectively mourned the death of our children. Peshawar was different for all of us because of the number of victims — and because it involved children, some as young as the six-year-old Khaula Bibi.
In that gloom, I saw some hope. That this time our narrative might change and we may look within ourselves to answer why this happened to us. My hope fizzled away in a matter of days after hearing people blame nearly everyone for the attack but the people who had claimed responsibility.
There is a very distinct pattern to the conversations that follow every terror attack in Pakistan. Like a distressed person, the nation goes through the standard steps of grieving.
First, there is denial, “how could this happen?” It is followed by anger, “why is this happening to us? Why are we so weak?” Then there is bargaining, “maybe if there weren’t drones flying above”, “maybe if India didn’t hate us so much”. Normally depression would come next, followed by acceptance and closure. I find with Pakistan, we get stuck at the bargaining stage unable to move forward and conquer our grief.
Somehow at the bargaining stage, something goes terribly wrong in Pakistan. A saner approach to these terrorist attacks would be to understand why Pakistanis are killing each other or blowing themselves up. Instead, from Facebook to the news channels on tv, we both hear and perpetuate conspiracy theories on who may or may not have been behind the attack.
In our grief-stricken desperation to seek closure, we start relying upon the most extravagant explanation to identify the culprits of each attack. So we get caught up in our own web of misinformation and never manage to complete the grieving process because we never put ourselves through introspection.
Fast-forward to March 27, 2016.
A suicide bomber detonates a bomb that kills over 70 people, including women and children. Immediately, Facebook is full of theories — a ‘who-dunnit’ drama. The popular one doing the rounds today is that a few days ago, an Indian spy was caught in Pakistan. So India, in order to divert attention from that story, detonated this bomb through their proxy terrorists in Pakistan.
If you ignore the fact that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s faction Jamaatul Ahrar has taken responsibility for this attack, the same group that in revenge for Qadri’s hanging carried out a suicide bombing on March 7, 2016 in Shabqadar (killing 14), then there may be room to blame India.
If you ignore the fact that the police have identified the suicide bomber as Yousaf, a young man from Muzaffargarh (at this stage this is merely a police lead), a Pakistani and a Muslim, then there may be room to blame India.
If you ignore the fact that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the same group that captured Swat once, is officially at war with the state of Pakistan, our country, then there may be room to blame India.
History has many examples of nations that have faced existential threats from within. Smart nations that have the courage to ask the right questions of themselves are able to identify where they went wrong and reinvent themselves. Japan and Germany after World War II, South Africa after apartheid and Rwanda after the genocide. They have all assessed their own characters after a horrible time in their history to become better nations.
Meanwhile, Pakistanis hold on to their conspiracy theories like a crutch. As if without it, we will not have the remotest understanding of why anyone would kill children in a park or in a school.
Who or what is Pakistan’s worst enemy? Or to put in another way, what is the single most existential threat faced by Pakistan? Environmentalists may say climate change, religious conservatives will cite the lack of Shariah or maybe Valentine’s day and Army will choose India.
I would argue that our lack of personal accountability, our default response of blaming external entities for all our tragedies is our single greatest threat. When people respond to terror attacks by asking in a sinister tone “who did it and who funded the attack?” it distracts us from even raising the possibility of questioning our own behaviour, ethics and morals. It is a threat because it leaves no room for introspection. So we are left dangling onto a false sense of victimhood unable to confront our demons.
Nations that tolerate an evil will always be haunted by their dark past. Whether it is Malala getting shot, a suicide attack in Lahore or the murder of minorities, our default response remains the same as ever, blame someone else.
Perspective is defined in Merriam Webster as ‘the appearance to the eye of objects in respect to their relative distance and positions’. For Pakistan, unless we change our perspective on what threatens our nation the most, we will continue to run around in circles, the attacks will not stop and there will be those that will continue to fuel a misplaced notion that our hands are always clean.
Here’s an exercise for you before the next attack happens: Rein in your suspicion of India, the West, the liberals, that other political party, or that other sect. For a few moments, accept the blame, let it fall onto you and embrace it. Recognise that Pakistan is not the centre of the world and everyone is not out to destroy us for some global geo-political game. Accept that a rebellion in our country has been destroying our home. Free yourself from all suspicion and conspiracy and then ask yourself a simple question. If we simply remove the Taliban and the religious extremists from our midst, will our situation still be as dire as it is today?
Self-accountability is not self-destruction. It is not losing face in the eyes of the world. It is not vulnerability and it sure is not unpatriotic. But if we continue on our current trajectory, history will condemn this time that we live in as our darkest ever. Future Pakistani generations will not be so forgiving to us. They will despise us for our conspiracy theories and for creating a past that nearly destroyed them.
Unless we accept that the Taliban are Pakistanis just like us, that they are Muslims just like us, that they are a murderous cult out to destroy Pakistan and that no external threat is greater than this internal threat, our children will continue to die in parks and in schools.
Related story: “Following the attack”