Kenya mall attack, and how our leaders let us down in Peshawar

Published: September 25, 2013
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Kenya and Peshawar have recently gone through similar tragedies, yet the reactions of their leaders were poles apart.

A mother and her two children lay hidden under the cold meat counter of the supermarket, terrified of being discovered by the militants that had just taken over the premises.

The mother had been shot in the leg and needed medical attention immediately, but her first priority was ensuring the safety of the children.

So when the terrorists made an announcement that if there any children alive in the supermarket, they would be allowed to leave, she made the decision to stand up and announce their presence, even though it could mean certain death for her.

Her four-year-old son Eliot’s protective instincts kicked in and he shouted at one of the attackers,

“You’re a bad man, let us leave!”

Surprisingly, the militant took pity on the family and bizarrely handed the children two chocolate bars before telling them,

“Please forgive me, we are not monsters.”

But what else would you call the men and women responsible for the senseless murder of over 65 innocent people?

Allegedly led by the notorious British terrorist Samantha Lewthwaite, also known as the ‘White Widow’, the militants laid siege to the Westgate Shopping Mall.

They told the hostages that those that identified themselves as Muslims would be let go. They verified this by asking them to name the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) mother. Those from other faiths would not be so lucky.

This ordeal lasted for four whole days and culminated in the deaths of over 72 people, including five terrorists. 11 suspects were taken into custody and one was arrested at the airport, trying to flee the country.

The siege in Kenya might be over, but for the victims and their families, nothing will ever be the same. Kenya has now entered three days of national mourning. The President, Uhuru Kenyatta, while paying tribute to the spirit of his people, said,

“We have ashamed and defeated our attackers. Kenya has stared down evil and triumphed.”

He added that “these cowards will meet justice, as will their accomplices and patrons, wherever they are.”

Closer to home, victims of the Peshawar church blast are equally trying to make sense of the carnage. The depravity that would cause a person to attack innocents at a place of worship cannot be fathomed.

Sadly, what truly was a national tragedy in every sense of the word, turned into an opportunity for point scoring, with the politicians and the media playing a game of ‘who got there first’.

The ruling party of the province, seemed to do everything right. Having been in Islamabad for a party meeting at the time of the attack, the leadership immediately left for Peshawar as soon as they heard the news.

They arrived at the hospital to console and offer support to those grieving.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Chief Minister directed all medical services to make sure they provide the victims with the best care possible. He also implored all party workers to come forward and donate blood.

The KP health minister, Shaukat Yousufzai, stayed at the hospital all day in order to oversee the medical assistance.

All the PTI leaders condemned the attack in the strongest possible terms. For once, the PTI machinery was doing everything right. Unfortunately, it was Imran Khan who was the problem.

At that moment in time, what Imran Khan needed to have done was unequivocally condemn the terrorists emphatically, without any ifs or buts. The focus of his speech should solely have been on the victims of this shameful act of violence.

There was absolutely no reason to bring up the completely unrelated issue of a drone attack that had also taken place that day.

His speech was interpreted by some as being publicity damage control for the Taliban, and I can understand why, despite knowing fully well that it was never his intention.

It was nothing less than a complete gaffe. With his words, it seemed that the victims that day were not only the Christian community, but also the so called peace loving Taliban, because someone wanted to derail the peace talks.

The problem with Imran Khan is that he allows his narrative to be hijacked and used to offer excuses for the evil and barbaric acts committed by the extremists, and absolve them of their crimes.

Predictably, on social media pages, there were already discussions about how the Taliban were being framed for this act by India so that the peace talks will be derailed and the army will be sent into North Waziristan and become preoccupied, giving India the perfect opportunity to attack.

Forget the fact that the Taliban have already accepted responsibility. This is the reason that the angry crowd at the hospital seemed to take out their frustration on Imran Khan, showering him with abuse.

I have always been a PTI supporter, and still believe it to be the best political hope for this country, but that does not mean that I will always agree with every decision the leadership ever makes. As brilliant as I believe Imran Khan to be, he is not infallible. As Fifi Haroon said, believe in God, not demi-gods.

Imran’s obsession with drone attacks and denial of the futility of peace talks is now worrying me. Let me clarify, I still believe that military solution should be the last option on the table and should never be utilised until all peaceful means have been exhausted.

This is not out of love for the lives of the militants, but to protect the innocent bystanders whose lives will be lost or affected due to an all-out war.

Those complaining about people dying in terrorist attacks while the army does nothing, must also realise that a lot more lives will also be lost if military action is undertaken.

However, peace talks can only succeed if all the parties at the table truly desire peace. This does not seem to be the case with the militants, and if it hadn’t been clear before, after the church attack it should be heard loud and clear.

It is also very hypocritical of other parties to be abusing the PTI for wanting peace talks, when that seems to be the national consensus at the APC. One shouldn’t be throwing stones from glass houses.

What shouldn’t happen is a knee jerk reaction, which might result in sending the army in without any plan. It is the government’s duty to come up with a comprehensive strategy that will not only eliminate the militant threat, but also take into account the innocent civilians and how their lives are going to be affected.

The government also needs to come up with a long term anti terrorism policy that is proactive in nature, rather than always having to react if and when a tragedy occurs.

Mani Khawaja

Mani Khawaja

A journalist and musician. He tweets @manikhawaja88 (twitter.com/manikhawaja88)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.