KARACHI, Pakistan — According to our security analysts, the massacre of students and teachers at Bacha Khan University in Charsadda on Wednesday proves that we are winning against terrorism.
A month before that, Pakistan marked the first anniversary of the Army Public School attacks in Peshawar, where more than 140 people, the vast majority of them students, were slaughtered by the Taliban. Most were in their early teens. Never again, we said then. Parliament gave the military all the powers it wanted, and Pakistanis vowed to eliminate the killers of our children.
We marked the anniversary by honoring the dead and giving memorial shields to their parents. We put lots of flowers and candles around the young students’ pictures. Newscasters on television dressed up in the school’s uniform to express solidarity. The Pakistani Army’s public relations department released a music video with students waving flags and raising fists. The singing students pledged not only to defeat the Taliban, but also to educate the enemy’s children in revenge.
The army, however, did not answer the one question the parents of the dead students have been asking for more than a year: Who is responsible for the security of the children in a school managed by the army itself? Instead it released slickly edited music videos.
This year was declared the year that terror will end. Safe havens have been bombed into oblivion. Terrorists have been hanged and the rest are waiting for their turn, we are told. Hours after the attack in Charsadda, the Pakistani Army’s spokesman told the nation that Operation Zarb-e-Azb, its sweeping antiterrorism campaign, has been a success and the “results are there for everyone to see.”
Security experts, a group likely to find a silver lining in hell, say that the Taliban are targeting schools because these are soft targets – and that this is proof the Taliban have been weakened and can no longer attack cantonments or airports. Apparently, we are supposed to take solace in the slaughter of our children because our cantonments and airports are safe.
The language used to report and commemorate these massacres is sickeningly celebratory and familiar. The students are called martyrs. Their courage is applauded. Their parents’ bravery is praised. We are told these students laid down their lives for the sake of our future. But weren’t they our future?
How much courage does it require to take a bullet in the head? What are their brave parents to do except cry and ask questions? Why do we forget that these students went to university to study math and chemistry, and not become martyrs? Why does a chemistry professor have to die trying to save his students? This is imposed martyrdom, and it isn’t a sign of strength. It’s a sign of utter helplessness.
The army is not alone in its speed to celebrate its own failures. The Pakistani media and other opinion makers are close behind. Although the Taliban jostle to take credit for these atrocities, analysts deflect the blame onto our older enemies. Someone from abroad must be funding the attackers, they say. Surely, India is behind this.
But weren’t these killers our strategic assets until recently? Didn’t they pledge to fight alongside the Pakistani Army if India dared attack us? Thousands of suspected terrorists have been killed in Operation Zarb-e-Azb and dozens have been hanged, and not a single foreigner has been identified among them.
But that didn’t keep some of Pakistan’s most influential journalists from speculating, while the Wednesday attack was still underway, that India was involved, intent on avenging the attack on its airbase in Pathankot in early January. The same journalists were also screaming that India had staged the Pathankot attack in order to blame Pakistan. Do we really believe we have an enemy so cunning and so heartless that it kills its own soldiers so it can kill our children? And are we being told that our only option is to remain a martyr-producing factory?
The truth is that we do have a cunning and heartless enemy: Our brothers in faith and our fellow citizens. Some of them have automatic weapons and suicide vests; others have pens and TV shows, and rewrite history even as it happening.
Last week Pakistan’s prime minister and army chief were seen huddled together in a plane on their way to Saudi Arabia and then Iran. As the rulers of the sole Muslim nuclear power in the world, they were on a mission to bring peace to the region. Maybe they should lower their expectations at home.
Maybe they should try to ensure that when children go to school and university they don’t become martyrs. The Pakistani political and military elites are fond of reminding everyone at every opportunity that the country’s nuclear assets are safe. Could they one day make the same claim about our schoolchildren?
Mohammed Hanif is the author of the novels “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” and “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti.”