Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in a TV interview has said that his government is trying to negotiate a peace deal with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan wherein they will lay down arms and become “normal citizens”. He has also called recent Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan attacks on the country’s soldiers “just a spate of attacks”.
Clearly, the life of Pakistani citizens is not worth much to the PM who has continued to advocate for negotiations with terrorist groups – Pakistani or Afghan Taliban. Some Pakistani militant groups have offered a ceasefire, but their crimes must never be forgiven by the state.
Where are the anti-terrorism laws? What are the anti-terror courts doing? What happened to the victory of the military in the former Federally Administered Tribal Area where terrorists were said to be defeated and millions were displaced for this purpose (they became internally displaced persons).
Terrorism wreaked havoc in Pakistan for nearly a decade, killing over 80,000 Pakistani civilians, policemen, soldiers and children. What gives the Pakistan Prime Minister the right to forgive butchers so easily?
Pakistan has a strict set of dedicated anti-terrorism laws, an anti-terrorism force and anti-terrorism courts. Why are these not being used to try terrorists in courts of law? Why are criminals, murderers, extortionists, arsonists, brainwashers of children and enemies of the people not being tried by the criminal justice system?
Forgiving the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan sets the wrong precedent. It sends out the message that those who commit crimes against the state and its citizens can be forgiven. Then what is stopping others from taking up arms against the state and its citizens? Will the same gratuitous amnesty also be extended to other groups opposing the state? Will at least peaceful movements be allowed to function or will elected Members of the National Assembly such as Ali Wazir who lost 17 family members to Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan attacks continue to be imprisoned for their speeches while murderers and butchers are allowed to roam free?
More importantly, who will guarantee peace and security to citizens once those who believe in violence to achieve their aims are allowed to roam free?
Pakistan’s supposed strategic considerations for supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan and the constant push by the current government for recognition and working with the Afghan Taliban is concerning, especially considering the known links they have with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Several Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan prisoners in Afghanistan have been freed in the past month, and this has coincided with the strengthening of their rank and file in Waziristan and other newly merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
This is demonstrated by the rise in attacks on Pakistan’s soldiers and policemen in the region, as well as the resumption of extortion by Taliban groups in South Waziristan where they are reportedly charging a percentage of contract money from contractors, traders and transporters.
The withdrawal of imperialist American and NATO forces in Afghanistan must not mean support for extremist political militants that want to impose their interpretation of religion on all citizens, as is already being seen in Afghanistan with restrictions on girls’ education and ban on shaving by men in some areas. Before such ideologies that violate the basic rights of citizens gain further ground here, the state must play its role to maintain its writ.
There needs to be justice for the murderers of the 144 children and adults killed in Army Public School, Peshawar. There needs to be justice for Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head for speaking up for her right to go to school and continues to be in hours-long surgeries to fix the damage those bullets caused her when she was a child. There needs to be justice for the widows and children of police personnel and soldiers who gave up their lives fighting terrorists.
There needs to be justice for Aitzaz Hasan who restrained a suicide bomber from attacking his school and lost his life while doing so. There needs to be justice for the shoppers killed while shopping for Eid, lawyers killed while fighting in courts, politicians killed while campaigning such as from the Bilour and Bhutto families, and countless political workers who were killed only for exercising their political rights.
The religious minorities who were killed while worshipping deserve justice and safety. The Turi tribe in Kurram, the Salarzais of Bajaur, the Bangash of Orakzai fought successfully to keep the Taliban out of their areas. Their sacrifices need to be respected; these are the Pakhtuns worth celebrating, not the Haqqanis who indulged in militancy.
Militants deserve to be arrested, tried in court, and punished for committing crimes against the state and its citizens. Imran Khan must respect the law of the land and the wounds of its citizens when solving the terrorism problem. Rule of law must be a fundamental part of any political solution to end militancy, rather than seeing only two extremes of military operations or surrender as viable options.
This article first appeared in Dawn.