No way to win a war

Who is developing and propagating the counter-narrative to the vile bigotry and hatred spewed by our savage enemy?

No way to win a war
In years long past, my wife and I took our children to the UK for a holiday. My daughter was then only ten and my son was not yet five (both are adults today, pursuing their respective careers). In London, we took the children to Hamley’s, the oldest and at that time the largest toy shop in the world. Occupying seven enormous floors on Regent Street in London’s crowded West End, this establishment was and is a toy wonderland, delighting the hearts of children and adults alike.

We meandered through wondrous aisle after wondrous aisle, the children examining or trying out whatever took their fancy. Moving up from one floor to the next, we noted down what we could consider actually buying on the way back down, budgets permitting. Eventually, on the top floor, we sat down to enjoy ice cream and milk shakes. Suddenly, store assistants began to direct us back down again and announcements over the tannoy asked all shoppers to return to the ground floor. Quite quickly, we found ourselves in the alleys and parking courts behind Hamleys, evacuated along with the many other shoppers. Through the back alleys, we made our way to Piccadilly Circus, from where we took the Tube back to where we were staying, my children deeply disappointed at the failure of that day’s shopping expedition.

Just before I led my family back through the alleys, I had briefly peeked out at the front side of Hamley’s. Regent Street, normally jammed with motorised traffic, was starkly empty and eerily silent. The broad footpaths were devoid of the bustle of shoppers and pedestrians. And, surrealistically, what looked like men in space suits were thrusting hand-held devices into trash cans. We learned from the TV News that evening that members of the Bomb Squad in protective clothing, searching for explosives with their metal detectors, had found bombs, in three separate trash cans, a short distance up Regent Street from where we had been.

And that brings me to the first point I wish to make in my piece today. The London authorities had been tipped off about a Bomb Plot engineered by the IRA (provisional) terrorists. They quickly and efficiently acted to locate and defuse the explosives and thus prevented a terrible tragedy. The source of the intelligence in question was the ordinary police of the London Metropolitan area.
Where are the Noor Jahans, Aslam Azhars, and ZA Bokharis of our time?

Contrast the London police’s intelligence-collecting effectiveness, and the efficient manner in which tragedy was averted, with the successive massive atrocities at the Wagah spectator stand, the Peshawar Army School, and now the Shikarpur Imambargah – all of which were successfully planned, organised, and perpetrated at a time when everyone was expecting retaliatory terror strikes to distract and/ or derail the Army’s Zarb-e-Azb operation. Nearly 300 Pakistanis have died in these three incidents. Where was the police? The government? If the authorities had no actionable intelligence to predict these particular atrocities, one must ask: Why not? Why have no heads rolled?

Does the government not realise that we are at war and, in wartime, exceptional vigilance is needed to obtain intelligence at the ground level, the neighbourhood police level, in order to prevent such incidents? This is a clear and flagrant failure of the government, both the present one and, despite their belated rhetoric, also the previous one.

There is another aspect of wartime (other than the actual fighting, which is the military’s responsibility). Does anyone remember the 1965 War? This commentator, then youthful, and two friends had rushed from Karachi to Lahore on hearing the news of the war. Here, we voluntarily set up something we called the Emergency Mobile Corps: youngsters with motorcycles or with access to family cars, who could rush to any part of the city that had been bombed or shelled to help in giving first aid, fighting fires, or evacuating the wounded. We were not called upon to demonstrate our prowess but it is the spirit of the times that’s worth noting. And – let us clearly understand – this spirit was certainly stimulated by the programmes on Radio Pakistan, by ZA Bokhari and Aslam Azhar over the then new PTV station at Lahore, by the songs written for and performed by the extraordinary Madame Noor Jahan.

Now, one is neither defending nor decrying that particular war. One is only pointing to the fact that, in parallel with the actual military campaigns, there were highly successful media campaigns to engage and motivate the nation’s citizenry. The power and extraordinary creativity of these campaigns can be gauged from the fact that they are still remembered all these years later, despite the fact that the entire war lasted a total of seventeen days!

Contrast this brevity of 1965 with the longevity of the present war. Whether you regard it as having begun back in 1978 with the Mujahedeen campaigns, or in 1993 and the Taliban eruption into Afghanistan, or 2001 and Parvez Musharraf’s alleged U-turn, or with Operation Black Thunderstorm against the TTP in Swat in 2009, or Operation Rah-e-Nijat in South Waziristan in 2009, or Operation Zarb-e-Azb in June 2014, the fact is that, barring periodic ISPR releases, the media has been amazingly silent about what is undeniably the longest and most destructive war in which Pakistan has ever been embroiled. Media responses to this war have ranged from being almost apologetic to an attitude bordering on culpability. This failure of the media is the second key point I wish to make in today’s piece.

Finally, it needs to be noted that the simultaneous Azadi and Inqilab marches of Imran Khan and the bizarre cleric from Mississauga were announced in mid-June 2014 – by coincidence, almost immediately after the opening salvoes of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan. The actual marches, followed by the Dharnas, the uncompromising nightly container-top rhetoric, the Jalsas, and the later city shutdowns, saturated the media full time until almost the end of the year. The phony petrol crisis in Lahore and the still phonier one in Karachi then became grist to the media mills for a while. To cap it all, the rage over the blasphemous Charlie Hebdo cartoons has since kept our streets seething with agitation and our media loud with protests.

Who, then, is informing the public about, and motivating them in favour of, this war? Where are the Noor Jahans, Aslam Azhars, and ZA Bokharis of our time? Or, if they exist (and they do), why are they unheard and unseen on prime time? Who, finally, is developing and propagating the counter-narrative to the vile bigotry and hatred spewed out by this most savage and determined of enemies?Let’s be clear. This is no way to win a war.