If there is anything more chilling than a teenage girl being shot in the head for merely demanding that she and other girls should be allowed to attend school, it is the twisted mindset that has buried the targeted attack on Malala Yousafzai in conspiracy theories. The initial outrage across Pakistan at the targeted shooting of the 14-year-old by the Taliban has degenerated into a slanging contest between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The ‘us’ are those who, at their generous best, see her shooting as ‘collateral damage’ — an inevitable by-product of drone attacks and Pakistan’s partnership in the U.S.-led war on terror. At their cynical worst, they see it as a western conspiracy to pressure Pakistan into conducting a military operation in North Waziristan. Some even claim the shooting was staged, and portray Malala and her father as western agents. On the other side are ‘them’, Pakistanis filled with revulsion that some of their fellow countrymen could target a child. But their hope that this would be a turning point has been belied; the ‘us’ are walking away with the narrative. The past few days have seen the reactivation of propagandists of the Pakistani establishment. Ironically, they did so at a time the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which claimed the shooting, began to feel the heat of public anger against it.
Once again, an opportunity to mould opinion against terrorism in Pakistan has come and gone. Clearly, it is not easy to abandon a studiously created narrative of a citadel of Islam that is built on the denial of geographical and historical moorings and an over-eagerness to align itself with the culturally alien Arab world. The Pakistan military has tried to sound committed to fighting terrorism, but it will take more than a few speeches by the Chief of Army Staff. Indeed, no one is convinced that the security establishment has turned its back on its strategic assets. Conveniently, the Army has declared it is for the political leadership to decide on a North Waziristan operation, knowing full well the limitations of these leaders, that too, in the months before a general election. There is no gainsaying that the civilian leadership should be more assertive, but it is also no secret that the current dispensation exchanged its right to frame security policy with the military for its survival. A year ago, an all-party meeting offered an olive branch to the Taliban as part of a ‘give-peace-a-chance’ strategy but in vain. The number of terror strikes has dropped but the clock continues to tick in the form of the quiet but steadily creeping radicalisation of society that provides terrorism its ideological space. It will take more than an operation in remote North Waziristan to deal with that.