LAHORE, Pakistan – Two weeks removed from the Lahore Easter massacre, enraged Pakistanis need a government willing not just to combat individual jihadis, but uproot jihadi ideology from Pakistan’s mainstream.
It has to start at the top and trickle down to where it needs to be heard and understood. Pakistan needs an effective counter terrorism narrative that is clear, consistent, and widespread. The government must initiate and support the dialogue needed to affect change.
An off-shoot of Pakistan’s Taliban took responsibility for the gruesome attack. This group’s forte was targeting minority Christians, who they don’t believe matter. But for those who knew them as neighbors, co- workers, or friends, they mattered – not as minorities, but as fellow Pakistanis who were out enjoying a day in the park with their children.
Everyday Pakistanis that I have spoken to about the attacks are outraged and have labeled the attackers as animals, not humans, let alone Muslims. The government has promised to go after these animals and has made some arrests but how far they will really go in the pursuit of the behind-the-scenes organizers, benefactors, and sympathizers remains to be seen. As with the US and the international fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), it has not been as holistic and all-encompassing as it needs to be. It has barely looked beyond those who carry out the attacks. Going after the financing, ideology and inspiration is not seen as an integral part of the fight.
Waiting for that comprehensive effort will take time and, to make matters worse, the current Pakistani government remains compromised directly and indirectly. They are funded by actors in the region (Saudis) who exert influence on internal and external messaging. Regional countries also fund extremist groups, bypassing the government of Pakistan altogether. These influences have given way to two kinds of Imams and teachings: those that stick to the same conservative agendas without speaking to the outrage of what is happening in the name of Islam, and those that defy the authorities and preach extremism and sympathy with the Taliban outright. The government is not doing much about either.
The state needs to be pushing the mosques in the right direction, but if they aren’t seen as doing enough to combat terrorists, the mosques stay clear. But when you have a large illiterate population as you do in Pakistan, this needs to happen at the grassroots level across the nation.
The uneducated, vulnerable, and at risk look to the mosques for guidance and inspiration. The moderate majority is silenced by fear and indifference, knowing full well that change is not allowed to occur. They point out that these violent, gruesome attacks are the workings of a small deranged minority and shouldn’t be associated with the larger peaceful religion, but they know these disclaimers have to go hand in hand with a larger public campaign to get that message across, which is not happening.
It is only when governments are committed to combating terror and encouraging the imams to denounce and condemn violence that real change can come about.
Nadia Al Sultani, an international development professional having worked in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and now Pakistan. She is the author of Baghdad Stories: An Iraqi-American Memoir. Al Sultani, an Iraqi-American, holds an MA in International Economics and spent several years working in international banking on Wall Street before beginning her career in public service.