Death visited Peshawar on Tuesday, the 16th of December, 2014. It brought one of the gravest tragedies that the city had seen so far. The school massacre may have ended 141 lives, but it put a halt also to a far larger number of dreams. As opposed to the routine and custom condemnations that came out of earlier massacres of relatively only little less proportions, large parts of the Pakistani public seems to have been stunned beyond horror this week. The grief in the country can be felt in the streets, homes, offices, schools, colleges, universities and in public spaces of protest such as vigils held across the length and breadth of the country.
As it looks right now, little positive change might accrue at the state level. Former state functionaries such as Pervez Musharraf and their reaction to the incident, publically championed by some segments of the youth, tells why that might be so. Angrily frothing at the American television channel CNN’s coverage of the massacre, he alleged that the militants who struck the school were trained by RAW, the Indian intelligence agency, and refused to admit that the state’s own past policy might have created an environment through which such a horrific massacre could have been enabled.
This denial is not only limited to former state functionaries but the cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s reaction to the incident also went short of naming the perpetrators of the massacre, namely, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the group that has admitted to carrying out the dastardly attack. Similar signs of restraint were shown by Islamists political parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. On the other hand, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has publically vowed to stop differentiating between militants who attack Pakistan and those who threaten neighboring, regional and other states. Although, the military has upped the ante against the Tehrek-e-Taliban, little can be done as far counter-terrorism measures are concerned unless a broad consensus is developed at the societal level. This might prove to be difficult because of the deep divisions within the society and the polity as mentioned above.
Despite the confusion raging within state institutions and political parties, segments of the public and the civil society as a whole, have stepped up efforts at confronting the confused and apathetic state narrative. Karachi-based human rights activist Muhammad Jibran Nasir organized an unbelievably successful and poignant protest on Thursday, the 18th of December, right outside the Red Mosque with a group of 500 Islamabad residents chanting slogans against Maulana Abdul Aziz, the preacher that has publically refused to condemn the massacre. The mosque management is known to have constructed a library in remembrance of Osama Bin Laden and its pupils have welcomed the Islamic State’s efforts in Iraq. Yet, the mosque stands untouched by the Pakistani state in the heart of its capital. This protest led by citizens’ hits unabashedly at the core of the problem, i.e., the lack of state effort at dealing with potential and operative Islamist militants of all hues. Other online campaigns have propped up as well. One such campaign is aimed at asking local Imam’s to condemn the Taliban vociferously and to speak up if they don’t. Rather than state support for civil society groups, what needs to be seen is whether initiatives such as the one in Islamabad and others can inspire the state to think clearly and spiral into action.