A dialogue with mass murderers

Written by  Published by:Shiite News
Published in Pakistan
Saturday, 01 February 2014


talibanImran Khan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif want to hold talks with the Taliban. They may do so. And while they are at it, they should ask the Taliban why they assassinated my neighbour, Syed Alim Moosavi, steps from my ancestral home in Peshawar.

Molana Alim was assassinated on January 20 in Dhakki Munawwar Shah near Qissa Khawani Bazaar. He was heading to the mosque to lead prayers. Two gun men on a motorcycle shot and killed him. Like thousands of others who have died in targeted killings, Molana Alim’s murderers are likely to remain unknown and escape justice. While he was targeted for being a Shia, Sunnis have not fared any better at the hands of the Taliban.

The term ‘Shia Genocide’ has been added to the lexicon to describe the mass murder of the minority Shias in Pakistan. But it is not only Shias who are suffering at the hands of the murderous and regressive ideology of the Taliban. Almost seven years to the day, the Taliban assassinated the fearless head of the Peshawar Police, Malik Muhammad Saad, in a suicide bomb attack in the same neighbourhood. For every Shia murdered in sectarian attacks, several Sunnis have also been killed in terrorist attacks by the same Taliban. What could Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif hope to achieve in a dialogue with those who are committing war crimes against the people of Pakistan?

Molana Alim was a second generation religious scholar. His father, Molana Safdar Hussain, was one of the pioneers of sectarian harmony in Peshawar. The residents of the walled city of Peshawar distinctly remember Molana Safdar Hussain walking hand-in-hand with Ahl-e-Sunnat scholars in Milad-un-Nabi processions. Molana Alim, like his father, was friends with religious scholars of all stripes.

Molana Alim taught us to believe in non-violence, a fast fading tradition of the Frontier that finds its roots in the teachings of Bacha Khan. I have seen Molana Alim calm and respectful of others, even in times of great adversity. When the Taliban gangs attacked Shias in the summer of 1992, Molana Alim preached patience and respect to the restless youth in Peshawar who saw their friends murdered and their graveyards desecrated. And unlike other religious scholars, he lived without any security detail and walked alone and unguarded in the old city.

While others knew him as Molana, he was more of a friend to us. He never married and lived alone across the street from my maternal ancestral home. His true companion were his books, which he was always generous to share. He lived in self-sustained poverty. He would cook his own meals and wash his own clothes. My cousins in Peshawar had a much longer association with him. He would greet us with a smile and would ensure that we drink his patented Qehwa (green tea) that he’d prepare himself. He resented the fact that my Math and Physics were stronger than my Persian and Arabic. He wanted us to read the classic texts in their original Arabic or Persian. He’d help us whenever we’d get stuck in seventh century Arabic or 13th century Persian.

Molana Alim’s greatest strength was his willingness to embrace those who did not share his views or philosophy. He was not offended by the fact that I did not support Iran’s transformation into a theocratic state and favoured a secular outlook for Muslim societies, where religion and faith would be private matters. He had faith in his neighbours as he would sit outside his home on a chair and greet passers-by. His death is not a loss only to Shias. His death is a loss to the City of Peshawar that no longer resembles its diverse, multi-lingual and multi-faith past where once all were welcome.

Unlike Molana Alim, the Taliban follow the takfiri ideology where those who disagree with them by default earn a death sentence. No one is immune; neither the teenaged Malala Yousafzai, who by the grace of God survived the assassination attempt, nor the sons of soil like Malik Saad and Sifwat Ghayur, who laid their lives in the line of duty.

While Shias, Christians, and other minorities in Pakistan make easy targets for the Taliban, most Sunnis are killed in indiscriminate violence. Shias are being targeted all across Pakistan, especially in Balochistan where Shia Hazaras continue to sufferdespite tall claims by the State to act against the perpetrators. At the same time, the Taliban are bombing unarmed Sunni civilians in the Royal Artillery Bazaar in Rawalpindi and murdering polio vaccinators and those who protect them. It would be wrong to assume that the Taliban are attacking a particular sect. Their target is in fact the State and society in Pakistan.

Despite such overwhelming evidence of a revolt against the federation of Pakistan and its constituting units, and commission of war crimes against civilians, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan still insist on sitting across the table from those who murdered the likes of Sifwat Ghayyur, Malik Saad, and Lt. General Mushtaq Ahmad Baig, Pakistan Army’s surgeon general and a hafiz-e-Quran. Mr. Sharif and Mr. Khan should advise the nation of the agenda and goals for their desired parleys with mass murderers.

The Human Rights Watch in its latest report declared that militants are operating with “virtual impunity” in Pakistan, where the State is either unwilling or unable to stop terrorist attacks. Offering dialogue to mass murderers and denying security to the citizens hardly builds confidence in democracy. If the status quo continues, Pakistan is likely to descent even further into chaos where even the rich and powerful would not escape terrorism. Mr. Khan and Mr. Sharif should take note.

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