Statistics don’t lie. They offer a mirror to anyone interested in seeing their features in it. Statistics also tell volumes to those prepared to draw the right inferences from them.
Figures are damning of the latest spate of Taliban-triggered violence, terrorism, murder and mayhem in Pakistan, and this is happening on the watch of PM Nawaz Sharif who’d assumed power — for an unprecedented third innings—nearly 8 months ago on the slogan that he’d save Pakistan and its befuddled citizens from the scourge of the Taliban, who go around flaunting themselves by the title of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or The Pakistan Taliban Movement. However, while Nawaz has nothing to show on his side of the ledger in his putative plan to rid Pakistan of the Taliban terror, the terrorists are thumbing their noses at him and his government. They are obviously making minced meat of his claim to steer Pakistan away from the nightmare it has faced for so long at the hands of the blood-thirsty marauders.
Nawaz donned the mantle of leadership of his country on June 5, last year. That adds up to 235 days, to date. But in this period, at least 235 terrorist attacks have been perpetrated by the Taliban through the length and breadth of the country. That works out to almost one terror attack a day. The death toll is a horrendous 1,350, and still counting.
The Taliban seem to have come out of their fox-holes and hide-outs with palpable vengeance with the ushering in of the New Year. In 26 days this year, they have mounted 35 terrorist attacks, or more than one-a-day, and their murderous rampage is exacting a horrendous toll in the lives of innocent citizens. The death toll in 26 days is close to 200, a harrowing figure by any standard.
The Taliban hordes are having a field day against a diffident and lackadaisical government that seems totally helpless and paralysed in the face of the Taliban challenge. No place in Pakistan is beyond their reach: from the sprawling megapolis of Karachi, in the south, to the far reaches of the tribal belt, in the north, they are cherry-picking their targets, attacking places of worship — especially those of the minority Shiites and Christians — convoy of pilgrims, police check-posts, convoy of soldiers, school buses, shopping malls, et al. The gates of hell seem to have opened in Pakistan. It’s a classical exercise in striking raw terror in the hearts of the people and hold them to ransom.
As these lines were being written, news has just come in of six children killed in a field outside Hangu, a busy city in northern Pakistan. The kids found a toy-like bomb in the field, started playing with it and were soon blown to bits. The Taliban have accepted responsibility for the crime.
Public health workers operating in the field to achieve the much-desired target of a Polio-free Pakistan aren’t spared, either. India has been Polio-free since 2010. Only Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria make up an unholy triumvirate where Polio is still active in the world. The Taliban would like the Pakistani parents to believe their gospel that Polio drops would make children impotent and incapable of procreating when grown-up. So, poor Polio-eradication workers are fair game for Taliban murderers. Three female workers were gunned down in Karachi last week. This kind of stone-age violence forced a man as apolitical as Bill Gates to publicly remonstrate that the “Pakistani violence is evil.”
Why the government is so horribly lacklustre in its response to the Taliban terror is a legitimate question in any mind. The answer lies in the attitudes of the so-called stake-holders in the arcane game of power in Pakistan.
Nawaz is known to have conservative, if not ultra-orthodox, religious leanings. His long years of exile in Saudi Arabia seem to have added an extra layer of orthodoxy to his religiosity. The Saudis have always had a soft corner for the Taliban, who were nurtured in the Pakistani seminaries — madrassas — generously funded by them. Younger brother, Shehbaz, who holds the largest Pakistani province in his thrall, was roundly pilloried some time ago for beseeching the Taliban to spare his ‘friendly’ province from their wrath. Nawaz’ option of choice to deal with the pestilence that Taliban have become is still negotiations. But he isn’t even moving on that path with any alacrity despite a clear mandate, given him five months ago, from an All-Parties Conference. To the chagrin of those who’d like to see him deal decisively with the murderers, Nawaz is busy building alliances with Taliban-friendly religious parties. He has just inducted members of one of them in his cabinet.
The army — the most powerful stake-holder in the game — is also biding its time. The brass, perhaps, prefers to let the ‘bloody civilians’ stew in their own juice until driven to the point where they would come begging for help.
The brass, presently, has its hands full of their former boss, General Musharraf, holed up in the VIP suite of the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology since January 2. To date, no serious ailment has yet been diagnosed; they haven’t even done a simple procedure of Angiography on him. But the military doctors wouldn’t let their former ‘chief’ appear before the special court trying him.
They say he’s under tremendous stress and shouldn’t be disturbed; and they have recommended that he be allowed to seek treatment in a place of his choosing. In simple language it translates that the bird be allowed to fly out of its coop.
Only the Air Force has, occasionally, been engaged in bombing raids against the Taliban hide-outs in the tribal belt. But that is anathema to the right-wing religious mullahs sheltered under Nawaz’ wings as political allies. They met in Islamabad, on January 25, and angrily decried the military for targeting ‘the innocents.’ They want an immediate halt to any punitive action against the marauding Taliban. That leaves the ordinary people of Pakistan in a bind. They’re bemused, bewildered and stranded, literally, between the devil — the Taliban—and a hard rock — a clueless government that promises no succour to them. The politicians have their moral compass lost; the army is playing politics. The stake-holders, without exception, are fiddling while the country is burning. The murderous Taliban have them all by their tails.
Karamatullah K Ghori is a former Pakistani diplomat.