Mehsud: Your Hero, My Executioner

A country which should have been debating ways to overcome financial crisis and a vicious cycle of mindless violence that has killed tens of thousands of its innocent citizens in just a few years is fighting over a senseless controversy: whether or not Hakimullah Mehsud, Taliban leader killed in a drone attack – should be called a martyr or not!

Jamat-e-Islami (JeI), South Asia’s oldest Muslim party, had to face an unprecedented criticism when one of its leaders called Mehsud a martyr. Syed Munawar Hassan didn’t stop there; he said that men from the Pakistan armed forces who died fighting Taliban alongside the US soldiers shouldn’t be called martyrs.

Another leader of Hassan’s ilk, Maulana Fazl ur Rehman, who heads Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, had earlier hit a new low by saying that ‘anyone killed by the US, even if it is a dog, is a martyr’.

While such statements exposed these religious parties, it brought to fore a never-seen posture of the army: for the first time in its six-decade-old history, it was speaking in lucid terms against these parties. Pertinently, JeI has always supported the military dictators who have overthrown democratically elected governments in Pakistan.

“The people of Pakistan, whose loved ones laid down their life while fighting the terrorists, and families of shuhada [martyrs], of armed forces, demand an unconditional apology from Syed Munawar Hassan for hurting their feelings,” army said in the statement.

“Syed Munawar Hassan has tried to invent a logic based on his political convenience. Strong condemnation of his views from an overwhelming majority leaves no doubt in any one’s mind that all of us are very clear on what the state of Pakistan is and who are its enemies.”

The statement, which has led to a heated public debate on the Taliban issue, has divided the country into pro-and anti-Taliban lobbies. While the former are lionising Taliban and its leadership for what they see as a ‘holy war’ against the US, the latter are stating in lucid terms that Taliban are a threat to the State.

Pakistan armed forces have lost 3000 of its men and around 40000 civilians in last four years since the Taliban declared an offensive against the country. They have attacked mosques, churches, schools, military installations and not even spared hospitals.

One is amazed to see how these politicians, who knew Mehsud was a mass murderer, can lionise him, just for the fact that he was killed in a US drone attack. Had he been killed by a bullet from a Pakistan soldier’s AK-47, would he still be called a martyr?

One can’t also ignore the petty politics played by Imran Khan – chairman of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf party. Khan has been speaking against the US and is demanding an indefinite halt to NATO supplies after the killing of Mehsud. Many politicians have also been voicing their resentment saying that the US sabotaged the peace efforts of Sharif government by killing the wanted leader.

But that seems far from the truth in the light of a recent interview given to the BBC by Mehsud. For the dialogue to take-off with Islamabad, Mehsud had spoken of impossible pre-requisites, which include, inter alia, withdrawal of the army from Wazirstan, an end to drone strikes, release of Taliban insurgents held by the military and monetary compensation for insurgents dead in the conflict.

One of the positive sides of this debate, however, has been that a silent majority, which was earlier hesitant to speak against the savagery of Taliban, were now speaking in unequivocal terms against the insurgent group. And that is a good sign for troubled Pakistan!

Adil Riyaz studies journalism at a Bangalore college.

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