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VIEW: Aftermath: Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t

PUBLISHED IN THE POST JULY 18, 2007 AS OPERATION SILENCE - THE AFTERMATH


No crystal ball was needed to predict that violent or peaceful, the end would come for the anti-State movement initiated from the Islamabad mosque. It was also very apparent that all the patience in the world or negotiations for that matter will not prevent many from affixing the label of ‘Brute’ on the State.

Barely had the operation ended the critique began. The fact that such negotiations could have lasted for 51 days without any positive outcome, like the Waco Texas incident of 1993, suddenly became inconsequential; as did the rescue of some 1350 people. The collateral damage however brought the clerical group on the streets. It was between the gun and the gallows for the identified militants in any case. The State will argue that it proceeded with extreme caution and much has been said about their delaying tactics but suddenly, and not surprisingly, the fortitude of 6 months has become an ineffective trump card in front of the remonstrating clerics. By screaming blue murder, the clerical group can perhaps absolve itself from its role in this situation, but in fact, it was as much their failure to convince their fellow cleric to a timely compromise that led to this day. In the end, everyone’s silence at the wrong time was the cause of this unfortunate ‘operation silence’.

The operation that ended the 8 day siege and 6 month crisis, was in retrospect neither reckless nor precipitous, but still provoked an aggressive debate among media and the general public on the demerits of the outcome. So they stormed in to save the hostages. After 8 days. They had always meant to. Many of us however were blindsided by the operation because the media had inadvertently given the impression of an upcoming peaceful resolution. But what other options were there? Wait, till the supplies/ammo of the militants ran out. That could have been a while. How much longer would the besieged residents have held out? Or the hostages for that matter? Accept the ever changing demands of the cleric and give everyone inside, foreign nationals included, had they been present, a blanket clemency in exchange for the safety of hostages? Imagine the consequences of such an act?

Then there is the cleric, who also spent more precious time on media interviews than on the negotiating table, so to speak and one wonders how much of that contributed to the drawn out and ultimately unsuccessful negotiations. Ironically, the negotiators themselves were accessory to the clerics’ place on the media centre stage by sending in battery after battery and cell phones instead of one walkie talkie. If cutting off communications of the militants was the main concern then giving the cleric a mobile phone was equivalent to letting the militants have free access to the outside world.

It may have been simpler to deal with the initial symptoms of the crisis but in the advanced stages nothing short of a serious operation was the solution. A lot happened in this time. The frequent media appearance of the cleric managed to shift the focus from misdemeanors to self-professed morality; there may have been little sympathy for the death of a nameless rebel; the same cannot be said for a well known public figure and as a result his end came as a shock. The girls who surrendered in the early days, appeared on a local news channel and demonstrated that far from being grateful or remorseful they have come out hardened in their resolve, convinced of the morality of their actions and determined to carry on the path they have chosen; one going so far as to ask 'arsenal? What arsenal, God and God alone rained bullets on Pak Army. The psychological effect of picking up dead bodies of peers coupled with the vice like grip of their mentor has created a bigger problem. These girls, while no doubt suffering from deep shock also remain steadfastly loyal to their ideals. There is nothing benign about them or their beliefs. In their modified mental condition, those who proposed rehabilitation of the students should also give serious thought to their mental reconditioning.

Where legitimate questions have been raised about the whole incident, many irrational arguments are also making the rounds. A leading newspaper carried an article on 15 July 2007 asking an oft repeated question; why the media was not led in the instant the operation ended? If the answer is not readily apparent then people first need to look up the word ‘booby-trap’. Then consider that intelligent militants resided within, not just nerdy students. After that they might understand that in such a situation the existence of such traps was a real possibility, one that could never be overlooked. Also, sanitizing the area is a common procedure and therefore, restricting media access should not come as a surprise, unless one considers them to be an expendable unit. In the same article, a misleading statement has also been attributed to Edhi concerning the delivery of 800 kafans, to establish the death toll, where in fact Edhi himself has dismissed any such claim.

In all fairness, once the matter came to a head, the overall strategy was commendable. It was a no win situation for the State though. They were first called ineffective for reasoning with the cleric and are now tyrants for taking a stand.

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