Pakistan has been heading towards total anarchy as war has been broke out in several parts of the country and adjoing tribal areas. Daily, hundreds of people are losing their lives. But there is still discussion as to the reasons of this mess. Interestingly, it not yet clear who is right in this war.
According to a political writer Rafia Zakaria, we are a nation bred on war. Not simply because we have been ruled by the military for much of our sixty-year existence, but also in terms of the national myths that sustain our national identity.
Every Pakistani child learns early to venerate the army and to idolise the martyrs that have sacrificed their lives for the country. We name streets after them and commemorate their birthdays. Even those of us who were born decades after the wars fought against India in the sixties and seventies, learn of heroic acts by our soldiers.
These images and practices of nationhood that sustain and create our identity through textbooks, the celebration of Defence Days and the commemoration of martyrs are all pivoted against fighting the non-Muslim and usually Indian enemy. In this war, Pakistani forces fight against enemies of Islam that are threatening our national integrity. Parallels are often drawn between those fighting and dying for Pakistan and the early Muslim fighters who were martyred in the name of Islam in the Battles of Badr, Uhud and Karbala. Undeniably, the “shaheed” who put the sanctity of his faith, and hence the interests of his nation, above his own life is the ultimate Pakistani hero.
But now Pakistan faces a new battle, and a new enemy. The national myth of a valiant Muslim army fighting against the enemies of Islam that has sustained us in interminable wars and hostilities against India can no longer serve us. This is because the new enemy, which has claimed over two hundred innocent Pakistani lives and left more than 600 injured and maimed since September, is not an “other” defined by religious and national difference; he is situated within our own territorial boundaries, connected to us by culture, ethnicity and language, and making claims to the same concept of martyrdom in the name of Islam as our own army.
More worryingly, today’s enemy was the vanguard in our battles against the infidels and while the state might have chosen to redefine some parameters of Pakistani nationalism, he holds the ideals aloft and considers the state and its functionaries treacherous — not only because the state that sacralised itself by making the narrative religion-heavy is now reneging on those parameters but because by doing so it is also undermining the bigger ideal of pan-Islamism.
It is this final fact that poses the biggest challenge to Pakistanis in facing down and defeating the new extremism that has led to us to be entitled by Newsweek magazine as “the most dangerous nation in the world”.
The increasing death toll from suicide bombings, the burning down of music and video shops, the overt threats of more violence by the likes of rebel cleric Maulana Fazlullah and Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud are all desperate signs of the urgent need to reassess how we will redefine our ideologies and our sense of national identity to truly understand that those who commit acts of aggression against innocent civilians are our greatest enemies.
Most crucially, it requires us to define clearly the difference between a “shaheed’ and a “terrorist, such that the confusion that currently pervades our understanding of this distinction does not drag us deeper into the morass of senseless violence.
In other words, how do we turn into the “other” what belonged to us, indeed defined us?
The first task in delineating this crucial distinction is to recognise the battle being fought against extremism as our own distinctly Pakistani struggle. Much rhetoric has been expended on how the battles being fought in the tribal areas are being fought at the behest of the United States and have little do with Pakistani national interests. This ignores the blatant and glaring reality that the 222 dead in the past two months have been innocent Pakistani citizens who had no stake in the US or its strategic interests.
While the imperialist influence of the United States is certainly worth denouncing and resisting, it should not dull us into supporting the scourge that is condemning our nation to a grisly reality. If we fall into the illogical and self-sabotaging trap of denouncing the war against extremism and suicide terror simply because of our opposition to the imperialist actions of the US, we would be doing our nation a great disservice.
Secondly, it is important ideologically to refine our definitions of who constitutes an enemy to Pakistan. In the past, for a variety of reasons, such definitions have pivoted on our identity as Muslims and the identity of our enemies as non-Muslims. Since this is no longer the case, we must create the ideological iterations that see the misuse of Islam and the use of its doctrines to justify violence as something unequivocally intolerable and reprehensible.
I began by arguing that every Pakistani child is taught to venerate and respect the shaheeds who gave their lives for their nation. This fact bears important clues regarding how the future of Pakistan must be shaped. The new enemy, the Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders that have unleashed a spate of bombings on innocent civilians across the country, are adept at using our own identity and our national veneration of death and martyrdom as a weapon against us.
Unless we, as a nation, can define clearly the difference between a shaheed that dies for his nation as part of armed combat, and a terrorist who misuses religion to justify an act of aggression against innocent civilians, our future generations will fall into the deceptive trap of believing that the distinction between a shaheed and a terrorist is perhaps just a matter of opinion.