By Dr Ejaz Hussain
30 January 2016
Undoubtedly, Pakistan is passing through another critical juncture where extremism and terrorism have engulfed our society and state. The state initially nourished forces that believe in transnational jihadism to establish a universal Islamic state; the one claimed in parts of Syria and Iraq is just the tip of the iceberg.
When Pakistani military authorities decided to ally Pakistan with the US-led War on Terror (WoT) post-9/11, certain militant organisations, owing to their peculiar ideological and corporate interests, turned against the Pakistani state by launching suicide attacks on state institutions. Similarly, while there were some militant organisations whose top leadership did not prefer to take on the feeding hand, the lower cadre of such organisations decided against their leadership and got involved in terror attacks against the state.
Such an ideological and operational divide among militant organisations helped conceive categories such as the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban, and later good and bad jihadists. Factually, however, the good and bad categories are so superfluous that in the aftermath of a terror attack, the state, as well as citizens, keep wondering who the culprit was and on whose behalf they attacked.
The fact of the matter is that our state does not have a clear stance regarding nourished militant organisations. In some circles of the security establishment, certain organisations are still viewed as force multipliers vis-à-vis India and its subversive rule in Kashmir. This probably is the reason behind the non-existence of a clear-cut state-level policy that treats all militant organisations as a threat to Pakistan and regional peace and stability. Moreover, the non-clarity of policy hinders the growth of ideas in terms of generation and propagation of a well-argued and consensually concluded counter-narrative.
Since the state is uninterested in initiating and facilitating a counter-narrative, which will expectedly upset the prevailing militant discourse and its linkages with the state and society, there is a blind focus on the operational front by launching the army and Rangers’ operations in, for example, FATA and Karachi. “Such military operations can only help us win the battle but not the war,” argued the military analyst, Ayesha Siddiqa.
In addition, ad hoc policy has led policymakers to fight terrorism only through armed measures on two different levels. One, the police, along with other law enforcement agencies, are- in the wake of the terror attack on Bacha Khan University — seen conducting armed exercises in the heart of civil centres such as hospitals, universities and busy markets.
Two, the state seems to have abdicated its primary duty of protecting its citizens and, paradoxically, has shifted its responsibility back to society. Official notifications are being issued to schools, colleges and universities, both public and private, to enhance security and, importantly, train staff and teachers with heavy weapons. In my view, this policy of arming teachers will have the following implications. One, as mentioned earlier, shifting the responsibility of providing security to civilians onto the civilians will expose a weakened social contract between the state and society, and such a measure will be exaggerated by anti-state elements nationally and regionally. Two, teachers are, ontologically, trained and taught in the use of arguments, not guns. How can one expect a teacher to carry a gun in one hand and pen in the other? The mere sight of weapons will have a detrimental effect on young minds, especially at the school level. I never saw a weapon publicly displayed or privately carried during my seven-year stay in Europe.
Three, armed teachers will not be able to concentrate on their primary job and instead may use the provided weapons for wrong reasons. For example, corporal punishment is still practiced in many schools in rural and urban Pakistan. A video of a female teacher beating a female child in Karachi went viral on social media recently. What if a teacher shoots a student for not preparing a lesson or not obliging the teacher in carrying out his/her orders as is the case in our patriarchal society? Indeed, there have been reported cases of harassment of students and female colleagues in different parts of the country. Hence, provision of arms to such rough elements will have negative repercussions.
Four, students being trained in such an armed environment will, in the long run, never be able to compete with their foreign counterparts on account of having fear and hatred of the ‘other’, and less exposure to a liberal setting. Fifth, due to armed teachers and militarised educational institutions, students will struggle later on in life because their cognitive approach will be biased towards the application of military means. This then will compound our security problem, not solve it.
Instead of arming teachers and militarising educational institutions, our policymakers should pay heed to the following. First, we should keep a simple fact in mind: militarisation of an already militarised society will add to the problem. It is productive to arm and train the security guards of educational institutions; their number can be increased to guard main and other entry/exit points. Second, extra care should be taken not to let children observe weapons and their usage. Teachers in any case must not be allowed to carry arms within the premises and classrooms. Third, the police and other law enforcement agencies need to enhance their training, equipment and operational capabilities.
Finally, the state will have to come clear on the need for a counter-narrative. Without one, the radicalised majority from within society will be providing manpower and resources to terrorist networks and the tiny minority with an alternative worldview will be sidelined and finally eliminated. Until this mindset is reset through counter-arguments, Pakistan is most likely to witness more terror attacks with more innocent lives being sacrificed. To possibly reverse this, we need to arm our teachers with the pen, not guns.
Dr Ejaz Hussain is a DAAD fellow. He holds a PhD in Political Science and works as assistant professor at IQRA University, Islamabad. He tweets @ ejazbhatty