Rudyard Kipling’s son had poor eyesight and on that account was disqualified from serving in the Army at the time of World War I. Kipling had brought himself up in grand notions of battle and valour and perhaps, sought to live them up vicariously by misrepresenting and then smuggling his young son into the Army so that he could fight the Great War. John, the younger Kipling, went missing in one of the earliest battles of the War, his body never to be found for as long as his father lived. Rudyard’s quest for secondhand glory had cost him his son. To want your child to live a glorious life is a universal instinct; death glorious or not isn’t. His catharsis (can there ever be one?) was perhaps to write “The Children”.
“THESE were our children who died for our lands: they were dear in our sight.
We have only the memory left of their home-treasured sayings and laughter.
The price of our loss shall be paid to our hands, not another’s hereafter.
Neither the Alien nor Priest shall decide on it. That is our right.
But who shall return us the children?”
On Tuesday morning in Peshawar, many children would have asked not to go to school on pretexts, real and fake, the undetectable headache and other assorted excuses; this is what kids do. Many mothers would have taken the strong maternal, no-nonsense position and sent them to school; just like Kipling, sent them to battle, albeit a metaphorical one, to get them ready for life and the world. How would you react the next time your kid doesn’t want to go to school? What is the catharsis for those mothers, who did only what real love and affection demanded? What is our catharsis?
“At the hour the Barbarian chose to disclose his pretences,
And raged against Man, they engaged, on the breasts that they bared for us,
The first felon-stroke of the sword he had longtime prepared for us —
Their bodies were all our defence while we wrought our defences.
But who shall return us the children?”

We do not know how to react to it yet. Anger, shock, horror, grief are all present and will be present for a while. However, for now, it is just numbness. Yet, we will have to reflect; anger at whom? The murderers? But we already knew of them as murderers, they have never left anything to doubt, they have never concealed their barbarism; the entire point of their medieval savagery is for it to be public. Is it that we expected them not to cross this red line? Yes, we expected rules of warfare to be applied to them, and not kill children. However, they have tried to kill children before. And we were not outraged. Malala and Kainat were shot by the same murderers and they gloated about it. Why did we not see the crossing of this Red line coming? We didn’t because we did not want to.
Our leaders cry for blood and revenge. Mian Nawaz Sharif is a man so accustomed to doing nothing, to merely surviving that he cannot summon himself to deliver strong words (only words) when our children are butchered. Mr Imran Khan cannot say words of condolences without bringing his petty quibbles of rigging and other imaginary tales.
What about Maulana Aziz? What about the local imam in the DHA mosque? What about madrassas reforms? What about the killers of Ahmadis and Shias? Both Mian Sahib and Mr Khan can gather crowds, as has been demonstrated amply. Why not use this political power to articulate a message of de-radicalisation? Why not ask for enforcement of hate speech laws, without any distinction? Can they channel their anger and the considerable support base to generate a conversation on the role of religion in matters of Statecraft?
Why cannot the Media cover the protests outside Lal Masjid? As a matter of fact, why cannot Mr Imran Khan do a sit-in outside the Lal Masjid or any large madrassas and demand their position on the Peshawar killing and for curriculum reform? Why cannot the prime minister order or Mr Imran Khan demand an audit of the major religious seminaries? Mr Imran Khan, is the cry for financial corruption limited to politicians? Mr Prime Minister says that there are no good Taliban or bad Taliban now. Very well, we believe you. Ask the GHQ to tell us that there will be no good or bad militants of any description; we owe it to our children. Failing that, can Mr Khan in his frenzied, thundering manner ask the GHQ to render the new doctrine and hold their word to the same standard as he does the government? Will the demand for a constitutional framework for Fata be put forward? Will hubs of sectarian hatred and violence in Punjab be touched? Instead of knee-jerk and cosmetic measures of executions, will the known patrons and teachers be restrained and investigated?
They can’t. They can’t because that is not good politics. They can’t, because both Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mr Imran Khan were beneficiaries of the rigged election of May 2013, with the murderers lending them a helping hand. When everyone else was picking up bodies during the election campaign, Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mr Khan roared on, with the explicit support of the TTP. They thought it was smart politics not to exempt themselves from the offer of protection by the TTP. It worked, and here we have both of them as the first and second most powerful leaders of the country; however gentlemen, do reflect, if you can and ask yourselves, did your victory come at the cost of some of those young lives. Is there real, painful soul-searching going on at the GHQ?
“Our statecraft, our learning
Delivered them bound to the Pit and alive to the burning
Whither they mirthfully hastened as jostling for honour —
Nor since her birth has our Earth seen such worth loosed upon her.
But who shall return us the children?”
No one can return us the children. Our powerful leaders cannot even mourn them.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2014.