This week I received a SMS text from a friend of mine. This forwarded message talked about how the “so-called” militant groups only attack schools, mosques and bazars and how this really proves that the attackers are not who they claim to be. After all, the TTP and others are Muslims and so their targets would have automatically been “places of obscenity” like bars and discos as well as gambling dens and brothels.
Therefore, the text message concluded, these attackers are actually foreign agents in the garb of Islamic militant organizations. Case closed. I would have laughed this off except that many people in Pakistan believe this. In fact, most swear that this is indeed the case. That is why they continue to silently support the militants.
There are some who are not even silent in their support. They believe in the cause and are happy to provide sanctuary as well as financial help. In most instances, al Qaeda operatives have been arrested from the houses of such people. And yet we are unable to wake up to this reality.
If there is any doubt about the commitment of these sympathizers, one only has to look at the video released by Jamia Hafsa students in which they have paid homage to the leaders of the ISIS and their fighters. The language, the tone and words used give one an idea of how committed such people are to turning Pakistan into an ISIS controlled state.
I remember a visit to Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar some years back where I talked to a policeman whose foot had been blown off due to an explosive device planted by militants. When I asked him how he felt, he said he was confused. On the one hand he was angry at his injury but he still didn’t blame the other side and said he was sympathetic to their cause too. This sums up our predicament.
Forget the few hundred who rant and rave on social media (which is largely in English) or those well-meaning commentators who write strong pieces for our English language media. The majority of Pakistanis, who have grown up on a diet of a sensationalist media and a hate-mongering school curricula, or have been moulded in their thinking by rabid religious or political figures that thrive on the anti-India, anti-West propaganda, their perceptions are entirely different.
You cannot make them believe that in fact the militants our government nurtured all along have turned against us. I once asked then president Asif Zardari why was it that when there was a drone strike there were several protests but when there was a terrorist attack, no one stood up to protest in the same manner. Not even the politicians. He did not have an answer for that.
This is a country that believes there were no Jews in the World Trade Center building on the day of the September 11 attacks, or that Neil Armstrong actually heard a call to prayer when he landed on the moon. They believe that a car can be run on water.
It is no surprise that in most terror attacks in the country, there is almost always a foreign hand to be found. It is either Central Asians or Afghans. But never Pakistanis. Never do we say that the terrorist killed was actually from South Punjab or Upper Sindh. It is always someone else. Never us. Strange tattoos are found on the bodies of these terrorists. As if they are part of some secret cult and not a militant organization.
As we enter a new year, maybe we can also come up with a new look at how to deal with the war of the minds. This is as important as the battle being fought in North Waziristan. Pakistanis have to be convinced that it is their war. And more important, they should be willing to fight it.
I am hopeful that the small civil society protests started by brave people like Jibran Nasir and Shan Taseer are able to gather momentum in the coming months. But most of those who attend these rallies come from an enlightened background. The masses are missing. There is still not enough anger against the losses we have suffered. We need to change that.
Published in The Express Tribune