On Saturday, the Pakistani Army announced it had captured Kotkai, a town “important for both its symbolic and strategic value.” Kotkai, the home of the new Tehreek-e-Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud and militant commander Qari Hussain, was reportedly taken after “intense fighting” between the military and Taliban in South Waziristan. According to the NY Times, “It was the first notable sign of progress in what military analysts say will be an arduous slog for the army against a resilient enemy.”
While these tactical victories are necessary for the military to gain ground in South Waziristan, they are overshadowed by the continuing onslaught of terror attacks in the rest of Pakistan. On Saturday, the same day as the Kotkai capture, at least 32 people were killed in three separate attacks throughout the country. Pakistan’s information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira told reporters that recent attacks have killed about 200 people total. And, while much of the violence has targeted Pakistan’s security apparatus – from the Army’s General Headquarters to Pakistan’s Aeronautical Complex – devastating bombings also struck Islamabad’s International Islamic University last week, killing 6 students and causing the government to shut down all schools, colleges and universities for five days.
Amid all this chaos and confusion, Pakistan’s crisis of leadership has been made all the more apparent. In his column, aptly titled, “Where Are You, Our Leaders,” Cyril Almeida wrote,
We’ve heard a thousand times how a successful counter-insurgency needs the support of the people. But right now it feels like it’s us, the people, against the ubiquitous suicide bombers and fidayeen attackers, with our leaders hiding inside their bombproof houses and cars and behind walls of impenetrable security.
Within this vacuum, local citizens are taking the reins. This weekend, students in Islamabad and Karachi took to the streets, denouncing all acts of terrorism and protesting the closure of educational institutions. In Karachi, Pakistanis from various universities formed a group, Jaag Meray Talib-e-Ilm, and demonstrated outside the Karachi Press Club on Saturday. On the Laidback Show, bloggers Faisal Kapadia and Awab Alvi interviewed some of the students at the rally [see the video here]. One passionate girl told them, “We are requesting the government to provide us [universities] with security. We are appealing to the students of Pakistan to stand with us…this cannot go on..education is essential for our future.”
Tazeen, who teaches at a private university in Karachi, wrote at A Reluctant Mind,
In two days time, they [students] managed to not only mobilize other students and made their presence felt with out any prior activism experience; they did so in face of opposition from their parents and families who tried to discourage them from stepping out of the secure confines of their homes. They did it when a local TV channel aired the news that a suspected bomber wearing a suicide jacket was seen in the vicinity of the area of protest.
In Islamabad, Pakistan Young Journalists Forum (PYJF), in collaboration with the Pyaam Foundation and Future Leaders of Pakistan (FLP) organized a peace rally at the International Islamic University on Sunday. The rally, led by Pyaam Foundation founder Basit Subhani, PYJF President Rahat Kazmi, and FLP’s Faiz Paracha, stopped at the sites where the attackers struck the university, showering rose petals and praying for the victims of the bombings, as well as the army and police officials killed in terrorist attacks. According to the Daily Times, the protesters “said the people would not succumb to terrorists, who wanted to destabilize the country. They expressed resolve to get together against terrorists.”
This inspirational, awe-spiring show of citizen resolve by no means absolves our government of blame. Pakistan’s leaders should be the figures encouraging these movements. While our Army is fighting the war against the Taliban, they should be ensuring that universities and schools are provided with security, that suicide attackers are not falling through the cracks in Pakistan’s cities. They should be providing food and shelter to the hundreds of thousands displaced by the conflict. So far, they have failed in every regard. Meanwhile, the country’s youth has stepped forward, showing that, despite efforts to instill fear in the nation, they at least will not be terrorized.