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What happened in Peshawar was not a revenge attack, but blackmail. Pure and simple. Taliban is blackmailing us not to target them; if we do, they will respond and attack us in those areas where it would hurt as the most.

 

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D. Suba Chandran
Professor
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP)
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore

From the Archives: On the terrorist attack in Peshawar killing more than hundred students in 2014

Children are not only our soul and the most precious of our existence, but also our future – individual and collective. Children transcend all boundaries – social, political and religious; they have to be viewed, pursued and cherished as children. We send our children to school, not only to gain personal knowledge, but also to learn to socialise in a group, thereby preparing for the larger social role for all of us as a society.

School is the first institution of social construction, outside the family and relatives. School is the starting point of our individual and collective existence. School is the first cradle of all civilizations. Individuals do not make the society; schools provide the first opportunity towards building a larger social edifice.

Children and schools should be sacrosanct. There is no need for any special Conventions either at the national or international levels, which have to underline the above. Whatever may be the situation and whatever may be the nature of social, political and religious positions, children and schools have to be kept away from our prejudices.

Aristotle, in a different context wrote “he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god.” In the present context, one who does not understand the simple premise that the children and schools are sacrosanct has to be a beast, and should be treated and responded so.

Imagine being the father or mother of that unfortunate child in Peshawar school yesterday. After the children go inside the school campus, we all would love to hear the sound of that final bell, after which all those little angels come running out of the schools in their cute uniforms. As parents we love to hug them, carry them in our hands and then place them on our shoulders, bicycles, motor bikes and cars. They would start telling stories of the day, what they did with their friends and what their teachers taught. That should be a normal day, irrespective of whichever society we come from – West or East, rich or poor.

What happened in Peshawar should be considered as one of our darkest days. The bells did not ring. Instead a group of inhuman butchers (terrorist is too soft a term for them) let their machine guns make that noise. Some of us did take our children back from schools, not with their bags; instead we carried them in bags. The children did come running to us, but covered in blood and pierced with bullets. We did hold them, but some of them were not there to tell a story of what had happened that day. Perhaps, as a society we should be telling the story for the rest of lives on what had happened on 16 December in Peshawar.

How did we come to this stage? Was it all sudden and we did not know what was coming? Remember that famous verse – “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Perhaps, as a society, a section of us tried to justify what the Taliban did and is doing. Perhaps, we tried to ascribe reason for their violence. Perhaps, we tried to externalise the problem and tried to find excuses. We blamed the American war on terrorism. We blamed all the intelligence agencies in the world. We told repeatedly that this is not our war. We encouraged the Taliban by not standing up. We did not tell them as a society in a whole, that whatever may be the reason, violence cannot be justified. They killed in FATA. They killed in Swat. They brutally assassinated our leaders. They targeted our infrastructure and institutions.

When they targeted school earlier in Swat, we ignored. When they pumped bullets into Malala, we started slowly waking up. But then, we did not stand up in unison and condemn the acts as butchery and those who commit those acts as savages. When Malala received the Nobel peace prize, a section of us saw her as a Western conspiracy. We even celebrated anti-Malala day! When societies afar, for example in East Asia, converted her book “I am Malala” into Chinese, a section of us spread a venom in the minds of our children and made them stand with a placard “I am not Malala”.  We even tried to reason and comfort ourselves that not all Taliban are bad. We considered some as even “our Taliban” Hey wait, some are even Good Taliban!

And now they are coming for our children. And our future. The time has now come to stand up in unison and call butcher a butcher. There are few things and few institutions that should be kept way from all politics. Schools and children should be considered sacrosanct and this cannot be violated – whatever may be the circumstances and whatever may be the reasons. If we fail to do so, then there would not be much difference between us and them.

The Taliban may have already justified as a revenge act against the military strikes in North Waziristan. It appears more than revenge; this is a warning of how they will retaliate, if the military targets them. The Taliban is well aware, that the State will not be able to protect all the schools; even if it does, for a determined suicide bomb, any such measures are insufficient.

What happened in Peshawar is not a revenge attack, but blackmail. Pure and simple. Taliban is blackmailing us not to target them; if we do, they will respond and attack us in those areas where it would hurt as the most. Earlier attack in the Wagah border has to been seen with the same perspective. Given the South Asian way of life, movement and assembly is very common – whether it is market, or school or place of worship. We assemble all over in huge numbers for different reasons; no State can succeed in protecting all such meetings. In simple language, for a determined terrorist, we are sitting ducks and potential target.

We cannot hide and try to protect ourselves. Doing so is yielding to their blackmail. We have to tell them and act against their violence. Even if there are grievances, resistance and reactions will have to be bound by certain norms. We are bound by social norms. We are a society. We are a civilization.

Rest in peace, dear children. You did not die alone. A part of our history died with you. A part of our humanity died with you. We failed to protect you. We failed to protect our future. We will remember 16 December.

The above was originally published in the Rising Kashmir.