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Denial, anger, bargain

A saner approach to terrorist attacks would be to understand why Pakistanis are killing each other or blowing themselves up. Instead, we hear and perpetuate conspiracy theories

Denial, anger, bargain

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.

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.

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” 




Turab Hasan


  • I am ultimately not in favour of terrorist attacks, or I am supporting any doctrine, but I am trying to draw a conclusion. The narrator has marvelously tried to make us believe that we need to change our perspective on terrorism , we need to do self- introspection rather than blaming others.
    Brussels and France also need to do the same. They are also playing the blame game then, why are they doing the search operations. Why don’ t they just sit and think that what caused these attacks. What’s wrong with themselves which they don’ t understand and blame others.

    • @abid hafeez

      Brussels and France have launched anti radicalisation programs and are trying to involve both muslims and non-muslims to ensure the programs are credible and enable the providers to ‘connect’ with the recipients – who can be migrant muslims, first and second generation muslims as well as local converts. The UK is working on similar programs with limited success: in their attempts to balance respect of other cultures and religions with their own traditional beliefs they have given too much importance to the ‘respect’ and we are all paying the price.

      Is your point that we will only do it if France and Brussels do it? Let ourselves and our children burn in the fires of intolerance and bigotry we’ve fanned to an inferno because well, why don’t they do it first?

      • No, my point is absolutely not that we will do it if they will do it first. My point is, we criticise others so easily without looking at what we are doing with others. Jews were treated badly when they were living with Germans “Hitler’ s era” but what they are doing in Palistine, exactly the same what Germans were doing with them. Still they criticise Germans for their hatred for Jews “anti- semitism”.
        Now what Americans are doing, putting restrictions on third world countries, barring them from developing nukes where on the otherhand encouraging them to buy ammunition. They created Taliban to destroy U.S.S.R and later declared them terrorists and now calling Pakistan their safe heavens. Once they had got what they wanted they started withdrawing from there leaving their allies in plight.
        I believe, if Europe have started such programs, and those programs are intended with positive purposes and not to intimidate or force their doctrines on migrants, that would help, else its useles

        • Mr. Abid Hafeez, thank you for elaborating on your earlier response. Right there lies the problem with Pakistan as the writer describes it. You have failed to understand this article completely. You are doing exactly what the writer said we do, blame others and refuse introspection. What has Pak got to do with Israel and their problems?

          • @meena sabzwari that was just a reference to emphasize what people do when they get power. The same thing they do what they criticise themselves first.
            The writer says in this article that Pakistanis are killing each other. How is he so sure that Pakistanis are killing each other and isn’t he blaming and criticising Pakistanis. Infact its the same problem which Socrates tried to describe, we are unable to see a sculpture from different perspectives.

          • meena sabzwari go through the article once again. Please this time analyze it critically. I am just quoting few lines as a reference “why Pakistanis are killing each otheror blowing themselves up”.

    • @AbidHafeez, in one sentence you basically described what the author of this article is trying to point out about our country, stop blaming others and look at only yourself.
      Wouldn’t your time have been better spent if you had asked yourself that introspective question rather than direct it towards France and Belgium. If France and Belgium are fools and refuse introspection, does that mean you should also become like them?

      • Absolutely not,that’s what my point is, if I talk about myself,I am always trying do find out what’s wrong with myself and once I know it I try to change myself.I accept my shortcomings and try to improve.This is the first step towards progress I believe.If we want to progress as a nation,we must first accept what’s wrong with us individually and then as a whole.I am trying to emphasize that religion has nothing to do with what’s happening in the world.Its basically vested interests what’s diverting the world into chaotic and segregated mess. People are bent upon proving that they are better then others. On both ends people are extremests, they are polluting their new generations with hatred.I would quote an example here”Dubai”wich is considered and awarded peaceful country,yet they fill their offspring with hatred for expatriates. This would never end unless we give others space and respect.Unless we consider others very much like ourselves. There is a lot to be discussed yet,no space

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