This post was originally posted last year the day after the massacre. What parts are now irrelevant and what remain unchanged? judge for yourself.
ہے زلزلہ زمیں کو گہن میں ہے آفتاب / بارش ہے خون کی چشم فلک اشکبار ہے
ہے عنقریب پھونکے سرافیل صور کو / بس حکم کبریا کا فقط انتظار ہے
The Earth is shaking, the sun eclipsed, the sky is raining blood
The time is nigh when Israfeel will blow his trumpet (to end the world).
All that is awaited is a signal from God… (Mir Anis)
I saw a pair of big black boots coming towards me, this guy was probably hunting for students hiding beneath the benches.
My body was shivering. I saw death so close and I will never forget the black boots approaching me – I felt as though it was death that was approaching me.
I folded my tie and pushed it into my mouth so that I wouldn’t scream. The man with big boots kept on looking for students and pumping bullets into their bodies. I lay as still as I could and closed my eyes, waiting to get shot again.
When I crawled to the next room, it was horrible. I saw the dead body of our office assistant on fire.
She was sitting on the chair with blood dripping from her body as she burned.
(a surviving student’s account)
7 men drove up to the Army Public School in a high security area fo Peshawar. They poured petrol on the car and set it on fire, then entered the school and started shooting people. They were not psychotic loners. They were trained soldiers, fighting for a cause.They were “moral” men. They were following rules and making distinctions. According to their handlers, they had been told not to kill underage children and in this they were following Sharia law (the example of the massacre of the Banu Qurayza was specifically mentioned). They cold-bloodedly went from room to room, shooting school children cowering under their desks (per one journalist, most of the dead had been shot once….in the head). And while students were shot calmly and the assassins may even have confined themselves to older children, some teachers faced a more horrendous fate. A couple of them seem to have been set on fire in front of their students. Whether before or after they were shot is not clear. Perhaps because they were female.
This is not a psychotic loner going nuts and shooting up a kindergarten. It is not even the same as Chechen terrorists taking a school hostage and causing the deaths of hundreds of children in the subsequent firefight and explosions (started accidentally or during the rescue attempt). This is atrocity at the Nazi level. People following orders, systematically and ruthlessly, for many hours. Shooting school kids. Burning teachers.
And proudly accepting responsibility and promising to do more.
They were also talking to their handlers all the time. The last time they called, the terrorist told his handler “we have killed all the children in the auditorium, what do we do next?”
These are the attackers, posing before they go to kill kids
There has been an explosion of outrage in Pakistan. Even Imran Khan managed to condemn the TTP by name (though PTI’s offical account still tweeted that “Whoever” did this, did something awful). The Pakistani state has reportedly stuck back already at Taliban targets. The PM and the army chief have promised action (and are likely sincere, as far as that goes). The media has condemned the attack. Social media has been on fire. So far so good.
But within hours, the narrative has already started to fracture. First the media groups managed to invite people like Hamid Gul, Hafiz Saeed and Maulana Abdul Aziz (of Red mosque fame) to comment on this terrorist attack. And they managed to muddle the issue with references to the Indian hand and the eternal enemies of Pakistan (Afghanistan, Jews, America, that sort of thing). And on ARY (the most pro-army of Pakistan’s many pro-army channels) the anchors themselves have been leading the charge. Mubasher Lucman, for example, angrily demanded that the first step needed at this time was to ban Indian overflights to Afghanistan! Top Military propagandist Ahmed Qureshi and loonies like Zaid Hamid have been busy blustering about how India will be made to pay for this latest atrocity.
The more things change. .
I wrote a piece three and a half years ago about the Pakistani anti-terror narrative and it’s confusions and it is depressing to find that little or nothing needs to be changed in that article. The entire piece, unedited, is pasted at the end of this post.
There is a lot of talk about how this particular horrendous event is SO horrendous that now things really HAVE to change. Maybe. But do keep in mind that this is not the first mass casualty attack. There have been attacks on the Marriot hotel, an Ahmedi mosque, a volleyball match, a meena bazar, a church, even a mosque near GHQ (where the son of a corps commander was among the civilian victims killed in cold blood). And of course there have been countless massacres of Hazara and other Shias. Literally thousands of people have died in these attacks. But until now, there is no evidence that the army has changed it’s basic “good terrorist/bad terrorist” policy. Terrorists who kill schoolchildren and shoot up railway stations in Kabul and Mumbai are good. Terrorists who kill children in Pakistan are bad. That policy has not worked for 13 years. It is not going to start working now.
How can we tell that GHQ is really changing policy:
1. Ahmed Qureshi and Zaid Hamid are suddenly out of a job and publicly disowned by the army.
2. Omar Saeed Sheikh, who was sentenced to death years ago for the killing of Daniel Pearl (a terrorist act he may not have committed, though he has surely committed many others). He has not been hanged. In fact there are intermittent reports of him living it up in prison. If he is hanged, that will be a sign of change. Especially since his handler was the famous brigadier Ejaz Shah (a close associate of the father of the double game, Pervez Musharraf himself).
3. Mumbai attackers rapid trial and punishment. Outside of Pakistan, everybody and their aunt knows that a group of ten terrorists from Pakistan landed in Mumbai in 2008 and cold bloodedly killed a 168 innocent people. In a famous picture, one of the attackes is calmly walking down the platform at Mumbai Railway station, shooting random civilians sitting on the platform.
Because of international pressure, the FIA (federal investigation agency) in Pakistan actually carried out a very thorough inquiry in Pakistan and identified several people who arranged things for the killers, who trained them, who sent them on their way. The FIA may not have reached all the way to the top, but they certainly made a case against some of the lower level people involved. But 6 years have passed and the trial of these terrorists has not moved forward. The prosecutor has been shot dead. And the supposed military mastermind (Zaki ur Rahman Lakhvi of the JUD/LET) is living it up in prison, and reportedly even got married and conceived a child in prison. If the army has changed it’s mind about terrorism, then the trial of these terrorists has to move forward.
Unless you see some of these happenings, things will go back to “normal” ….
A dissenting note about the double game from a friend on facebook:
no, not a double game any more. they are being played by the taliban now, manipulating the internecine fault-lines inside the ISI and the army. they don’t mind a few casualties in the mountains, if that is the price (in fact their foot-soldiers welcome the chance for martyrdom). they have the indomitable resolution of a madman doing god’s work, while the army has the emptied ideology of a failed religious state being devoured by corruption. by day the generals pay hollow homage to the motherland and at night send tithes to their new fathers in the mountains, hoping to buy personal protection from the next suicide attack for themselves and their families.
A more sober take from the redoubtable Ahsan Butt on Five Rupees.
POSTSCRIPT: it is not looking good for those who thought some great sea change is coming. The script on the media has changed on PTV and to some extent on GEO, but remains the same on other channels and especially on the army’s favorite channels like ARY and Dunya….. Blame India, CIA and the Jews. Invite Hafiz Saeed, Hamid Gul and other similar jokers to fog everything up. Bomb someone in the tribal areas and generate suspiciously exact body counts.
Until the next bombing.
Unfortunately it does look like the song remains the same…
Postscript2: Got some feedback from people focused on the role of Islam in these outrages. I would like to emphasize that while various forms of Islamism are causing problems in many parts of the world, Islam is NOT the proximate cause of the choices made by the Pakistani establishment. Hard Paknationalism is the primary driver. Someone like Musharraf (father of the infamous double-game) was not too bothered about Islam. What caused him to maintain the Taliban and other Jihadist groups was Paknationalism; specifically the “hard paknationalist” belief that we have to defeat India and to do that we need certain force multipliers/strategic-assets/deniable-non-state-actors and the Jihadis are the only people who will do that job. It is this belief that drives the “good-taliban/bad-Taliban” policy and the double games it entails. Commitment to fundamentalist Islam has little or nothing to do with it. (though of course, no Islam, no partition in the first place, so there are other turtles below the first one)…
Postscript3: Lakhvi granted bail by anti-terrorism court. He many not actually walk free if tremendous pressure comes from Uncle Sam, but signals are (or are being misread in Pindi) that Uncle Sam is OK with India-specific terrorists. Lets wait and see…
Postscript 4: Some explanation is needed of two positions that seem contradictory to some people.
1. I seem to imply that the Pakistani establishment is not going to change, at least not soon.
2. I objected to right-wing Indians who wanted to shut down “IndiaStandsWithPakistan” because they felt sympathy for a terrorist-supporting nation was unjustified or naive.
I tried to explain this on twitter with limited success. So trying again:
1. Simple human empathy caused most humans (EVERYWHERE) to feel intense sympathy for the parents of those whose children were so callously and brutally murdered in one of the most awful and bone-chilling atrocities, even in a world filled with atrocities. That simple human empathy is worth preserving and should not be dismissed. Without it, what will be left?
2. Pakistan is a state in crisis. It’s core establishment is fracturing. There is a very real constituency for changing course. That constituency is not just in the so-called liberal parties like the PPP, ANP, MQM etc (not to speak of the tiny but culturally significant Marxist and Post-Marxist Left) but even (and sometimes more so) in mainstream civilian parties like the PMLN and even the JUI. The paknationalist hardcore (defined by complete loyalty to the “hard-paknationalist” agenda of permanent war against India, colonization of Afghanistan, dreams of power projection in Central Asia, etc etc) is still in control of key policy areas, but has to FIGHT to stay in control. Among the civilians, they mostly get their way via manipulation of media, pakstudies brainwashing, taking advantage of the foolishness of young PTI supporters and so on. True ideological clarity is limited to a relatively small faction of the army, it’s pet journalists and think-tankers and touts like Sheikh Rasheed.
3. That fracture will increase with time anyway (since the Paknationalist hardcore cannot deliver what most pakistanis want: peace and development) but it is helped, not hindered by gestures like “IndiaWithPakistan”. I suspect that some understanding of this lay behind the Modi government’s willingness to express sympathy and make positive human gestures. Of course, they are also human, so some real human sympathy was probably involved. But beyond that, the cynical calculation is also in favor of such gestures.
4. When and if the hard-Paknationalist establishment spits in their face by doing something like bailing out Zaki Lakhvi, the fact that they made the gesture only goes in their favor. It does not hamper any other action they may or may not take.
5. With Uncle Sam desperate to get out and save face, options are limited. Planning has to be long-term.
“Dark house, by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street,
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, waiting for a hand,
A hand that can be clasp’d no more –
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.
He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro’ the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day.”
― Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam
My older post from 2011…unedited. Original at 3quarksdaily.com
The Narratives Come Home to Roost
Most countries that exist above the banana-republic level of existence have an identifiable (even if always contested and malleable) national narrative that most (though not all) members of the ruling elite share and to which they contribute. Pakistan is clearly not a banana-republic; it is a populous country with a deep (if not very competent) administration, a very lively political scene, a very large army, the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal and a very significant, even if underdeveloped, economy. But when it comes to the national narrative, Pakistan is sui-generis. The “deep state” has promoted a narrative of Muslim separatism, India-hatred and Islamic revival that has gradually grown into such a dangerous concoction that even BFFs China and Saudi Arabia are quietly suggesting that we take another look at things.
see more at http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/MondayMusings.html (scroll down a lot till you see my articles listed)