The first word in the Holy Quran is “Iqra”, which means “read”. If that doesn’t give us some idea of the significance of education in our religion, then nothing will. For as we stand by, watching schools being blown up in the name of religion, there are very few of us who seem to be protesting.
Does that mean that we are okay with what is happening in Swat? Or are we just relieved that the girls’ schools being bombed are “up there” and not down here? Sadly, neither attitude serves us well. For Swat is not another planet; it is a part of Pakistan, only 100 miles from Islamabad. And over there, the Taliban reign supreme.
Over there, schools, shops, hotels, bridges and check posts are being blown up. Over there, remote-controlled bombings, lashings and target killings have become a way of life. In Swat today, people are beheaded, their bodies left on the streets with notes attached to them saying the fate of anyone who picks them up before a certain time on a certain day will be the same.
Swat is no more the land of butterflies, the picturesque valley where poets and artists once went to looking for inspiration. Today in Swat, bombs are the order of the day. Today, people starve there while locally grown vegetables lie rotting on the streets as curfews — up to ten days at a time — forbid all movement.
And since January 15, all girls’ schools have been closed. Today, there are approximately 120,000 girls in Swat who are out of school, sitting at home, afraid to leave their homes lest they have acid thrown on their faces or be murdered.
But there is no one to turn to. For the Taliban have set up a parallel judicial system, one that the criminal gangs they have recruited, to assist in terrorising the civilians, help them enforce.
So what does this say about our government?
And the fact that all the bombings and target killings occur during curfew — what does that say about our army?
One of the most heart-breaking things about the recent carnage in Gaza was the fact that the world did absolutely nothing about it. Innocent people were being murdered and yet it didn’t seem to matter. All that mattered was who had the stronger economy and the better propaganda machine. No one cared who the victim was, no one cared who the aggressor was, everything boiled down to perceptions. And, unfortunately, the Palestinians had an image problem.
Here in Pakistan, we too have lost the PR war (as for our economy, the less said the better). Today, it doesn’t matter whether we are in the right or the wrong, we have already been condemned. We have already been described as “an international migraine”. The fact that we have lost control over an entire district doesn’t help.
Recently in Mingora — again during curfew — five girls’ schools were blown up in five hours, one each hour. The army did nothing to stop the militants. This is the same army that expects aid from the international community.
So we have a government known for being corrupt, and an army known for dragging its feet when it comes to tackling the Taliban. Why would anyone support us if, say, India, were to “do a Gaza” — as has been suggested by their media — on us? Why would anyone come to our aid? The fact that we have nukes just makes us a bigger headache.
Over the past few decades, we have done much to harm ourselves. In fact, we have done all we can to destroy the ideology upon which this nation was built. If we are to redeem ourselves in the eyes of the world, as well as our own, we need to start rebuilding.
It is time to build our credibility. It is time to build our institutions, our civil society and our structures. We need a healthy economy; we need an effective propaganda machine. Yes, it is hard work. And it is so much easier to blame outside forces than to do it. But as Barack Obama said in his inauguration speech, eventually we will all be judged — not for what we have destroyed but for what we have built.
Ayeda Naqvi has been a journalist for 17 years. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reproduced by permission of Daily Times