Friday, October 23, 2009

The evil in our midst

Depressingly, though perhaps not unsurprisingly given the beliefs of militant extremists, an educational institution has been targeted by two suicide bombers in Islamabad. That the institution happened to be the International Islamic University may be doubly shocking to some. But the dastardly attack against innocent students on Tuesday is indicative of the fact that the fight for the future of Pakistan does not just pit the ‘godless’ against the ‘true believers’; it is actually a war by a radical minority in society that is bent on imposing its millenarian ideals on the rest of the population, including those trying to educate themselves about Islam in a modern environment. Since the middle years of the Musharraf era, the Islamic University has seen a number of changes in its administration and outlook that have put the university in the ‘moderate’ camp of Islam, a change that, to the militants, amounts to heresy, or even apostasy. And it is now well known that anyone who holds even a slight difference in interpretation of Islam with the militants is a ‘legitimate’ target.

The bomb disposal team survey the site of a blast at the International Islamic University in Islamabad October 20, 2009. Two suicide bomb blasts at an Islamic university in the capital killed six people and wounded at least 20, officials said. –Reuters Photo/Adrees La

The motive for the bombing of the IIU is not known yet, but two things are known. One, Tuesday’s attack is another in a wave of suicide bombings and fidayeen attacks since the state indicated its intention to enter the ground zero of militancy in South Waziristan. Two, while the IIU has not issued a statement in support of Operation Rah-i-Njiat, it is known that the government and the security establishment have reached out to the media, civil society and other civilian institutions for support. Perhaps, then, the militants have decided to demonstrate their anger at the lack of support for their ‘cause’ among the public.

The wickedness of Tuesday’s attack, however, raises fresh fears for the public. Security officials have in recent weeks repeatedly warned of the possibility of attacks against civilian targets, including educational institutions. Until Tuesday, there was no way to independently assess how real that threat was. Now we know that the war is widening. Many schools in the country were closed at the start of the week in apprehension of violence in the cities and towns. After Tuesday, more schools will close temporarily. But here is the terrifying reality: schools, colleges and universities are soft targets and securing them against the threat of suicide bombers is all but impossible, especially in the short term. The country is not sinking, but we are slipping towards the very ugliest terrain of urban militant violence. And at this time of great danger, we must also ask: what else will shake leaders such as Nawaz Sharif, who are still on the fence, to take a firm stand against militants and support the effort to subdue them?

Dawn Editorial

No comments: