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DAWN Editorials – 29th March 2016

Women in sports

THE showing with which they have gladdened hearts across the country during the Women’s World Twenty20 has been such that their losing to the English team can very easily be forgiven.

We refer, of course, to the recent defeats meted out by the Pakistan national women’s cricket team to India and Bangladesh, where the players in green showed mettle that was thrown in especially high relief in comparison to the performance put up by their male counterparts.

The women’s team played with resolve and fortitude, turning in an admirable overall performance and holding out the promise of more prestigious wins in the future.

Above all, they demonstrated that it is not winning or losing that matters but the manner in which the game is played.

While the national women’s cricket team is being praised for its grit, it should be noted that although Pakistani sportswomen have often done their nation proud, they are generally starved of either the sort of recognition or the institutional support that they deserve.

Whether it is footballer Hajra Khan and her colleagues, squash player Maria Toorpakai, tennis player Sarah Mahboob or a whole host of others across the sporting spectrum (including sports that have traditionally in Pakistan been the preserve of men, such as weightlifting, boxing and swimming), women are signing up like never before.

Yet as far as the state and those of its institutions that are meant to promote sports are concerned, our sportswomen might as well be invisible.

The support our women require in terms of training and practice opportunities, funding, marketing, and changing societal mindsets, can be of a much higher calibre than is currently the case. Where this has been forthcoming, even if in dribs and drabs — as has been the case with women’s cricket — much has been achieved.

In fact, besides possessing the talent to excel in sports, Pakistani women have also demonstrated a determination to succeed. Is the state doing anything about tapping into this vast potential?

Violence in capital

EVEN as tragedy struck Lahore with full force, a disturbing set of events was transpiring in Islamabad on Sunday.

A situation requiring the state to act delicately but firmly turned dangerous when rioters stormed an area that is supposed to have watertight security.

While organisers had earlier claimed that the chehlum of executed assassin Mumtaz Qadri was going to be a peaceful affair, it turned out to be anything but, as protesters marched from Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh to parliament — a considerable distance — largely unhindered by police and paramilitary forces that were deployed in the area.

The mobs caused much damage and army troops had to be called in in aid of civil power. At the time of writing, many protesters continue to occupy D-Chowk.

Handling such large crowds gathered for an emotionally charged event was never going to be an easy exercise, although having experienced the tension and violence of the PTI-PAT dharna days, the state should have had some plan in place.

Yet the state seemed to lack any strategy, in contrast to the protesters who appeared to have a fairly good idea of what they were doing. Apart from the state’s ineptitude, the religious parties contributed a great deal to the ugly turn of events.

In the days leading up to the chehlum, all over the country the religious right whipped up the emotions of its supporters through statements and public events organised in memory of Mumtaz Qadri. In fact, the breaking out of violence on Sunday was not a question of if, but when.

While the bulk of the violence was witnessed in the capital, other parts of the country were not immune. For example pro-Qadri demonstrators in Karachi attacked the Press Club; the gates of the institution had to be locked until police showed up and dispersed the mob.

People have a right to peacefully protest and express their emotions. But there is no justification for resorting to violence.

Such incidents are indicative of the high intolerance levels in society. While the majority of the population may be moderate in its outlook, all it takes is a tiny minority of charged-up obscurantists to cause mayhem.

For the state, the challenge is how to handle this fringe with minimal force but unambiguous resolve. As for the religious right, through its inflammatory rhetoric, it is only aiding the cause of religiously inspired militancy.

Lahore blast

TO the despair and horror of a nation it has become clear that not all terrorist acts are equal.

While all lives are equal and the loss of every citizen, young and old, is rightly and necessarily mourned, some terrorist acts are so grotesque and shocking that the mind struggles to comprehend them.

Terror once again struck Pakistan on Wednesday, but this time it attempted to tear at the very fabric of humanity. A crowded recreational park on an Easter Sunday overflowing with families, non-Muslim and Muslim alike, was what the Jamaatul Ahrar deliberately and purposefully targeted.

As the scale of the carnage that apparently a suicide bomber left behind became obvious, it was clear that something in Pakistan had changed.

The long fight against militancy has entered an even darker and uncertain new phase. The immediate question, though, was how? With the political and military leaderships vowing week in and week out to prosecute the fight against militancy and terrorism relentlessly and everywhere, how was a suicide bomber able to operate so easily and reach the middle of a huge crowd?

Critical as that question is, past experience suggests that neither are lessons learned nor is accountability practised.

The country’s leaders simply tell us that absolutely everything will be done to keep the public safe — until nothing is done and something terrible occurs. Then the vows of action are renewed. This time perhaps the military and political leaderships of the country do mean to do something more to fight terrorism — particularly in Punjab, but across the country too. The TTP faction/splinter group Jamaatul Ahrar originated in Mohmand Agency.

It is believed to have found sanctuary along the Pak-Afghan border in eastern Afghanistan and has recruited militants from Punjab to its cause. To defeat groups like the banned TTP, a truly national action plan will be required — not the piecemeal actions that have been taken so far.

Yet, Punjab has long loomed as the biggest unaddressed problem. Fata has witnessed multiple military operations, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have been zones of conflict for well over a decade and Karachi is undergoing a sustained anti-criminal, anti-militant operation.

Punjab — because of its size, because of the scale of the militant problem there and because the problem has largely remained unaddressed over the years — is where the war against militancy now needs to be seriously fought.

But the war will not be won if the military and civilian leadership do not learn to fight together and in complementary ways.

In the recent past, when the military has insisted rather than tried to convince the civilian leadership, the results have been uneven: the National Action Plan; Fata reforms and IDP resettlement; and the Karachi operation.

If the same happens with a new, bigger counter-terrorism phase in Punjab, the results could be devastating for Punjab — and the country. The political and military leadership must act quickly, but definitely together.

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