The recent massacre of school children as they sat in their classrooms, by an armed militant group that seeks to take over the state, has articulated with tragic clarity the critical challenge that the nation faces. Critical in a two-fold sense: first there is a threat to the survival of the state within whose geographic domain the nation functions. Weber has defined a state as an organisation which has a monopoly over the legitimate use of violence. The non state armed groups which have emerged in Pakistan as rival powers to that of the state within its sovereign territory, therefore pose a mortal threat to the existence of the state. At the same time these armed groups by killing innocent citizens with impunity seek to undermine the very legitimacy of the state. This legitimacy based on what Rousseau calls the "Social Contract" is drawn from the capacity of the state to guarantee the fundamental rights of citizens, with the most important being the protection of their lives.
The second aspect of the critical challenge faced by the people of Pakistan is that the shared values in terms of which a people become conscious of themselves as a nation have been violated. The literature of the four provinces bears testimony to the fact that underlying Pakistan's cultural diversity is a unifying sensibility: the loving heart combined with reason as a mode of knowing the self and the world. For example the mythical lover- hero, Ranjha is seen by Shah Hussain as one who transforms society by seeking his path through love but guiding it with reason: "Haathi Ishq, muhawat Ranjha, Unkuss De de Horriye". For Sir Muhammad Iqbal the development of our human consciousness, the creative potential, enables us to reach transcendent heights. This rise of Man through love and reason completes Creation. In a poignant couplet he says, "The rise of earthbound Man is awaited, by these mountains, these stars, these azure skies. "(Arooj e Khaki e Adam ke muntazir hain tamaam, ye kehkashaan, ye sitare, ye neelgoon aflaaq").
The consciousness of love and reason that lights up the human potential of our community is counter posed by the demonic mind set of the protagonists. Their actions signify hate and bigotry amidst a darkness in the soul wherein they are divorced from their humanity. They have turned religion into its antithesis. Religion, from the Latin, religio, is re-establishment of the ligament with God. The most frequent characteristic in terms of which God reveals himself in the Quran, is Rehman-arr-Rahim. The One who is merciful and exercises mercy. The well known scholar of Islam, Syed Reza Kazem argues that God's mercy is drawn not from pity but love. Indeed the root of the Arabic word Rehm is drawn from the idea of loving care. So the ligament with God is love. This is why in the literature and folklore of cultures in Pakistan, the path of experiencing the transcendent is love. This is why the core values of our nation are diametrically opposed to the ideology of the violent extremists.
Thus it is that those who massacred our children in Peshawar pose a critical challenge to the state as well as the sensibility through which we apprehend our nationhood.
There comes a time in the history of a people when they are faced with a challenge to their very existence as a society and state. Such a time is upon us now. How we respond to this challenge will shape our future. Victory in this war of national survival will require bringing to bear the finest elements of national consciousness and mobilising the entire human and material resources of the nation. Toynbee in his magnum opus traces the rise and fall of nations in terms of the dynamics of challenge and response in history.
The bloodbath of children in the Peshawar school has united the nation in its outrage. As John Barrington Moore has argued, outrage occurs when a value a people hold dear has been violated. This indeed is the case in Pakistan. There is a spontaneous popular expression of the national will as never before: an iron determination to defeat the militant extremists who threaten their country and all that is of value to humans. The first to give expression to this great resolve were some of the children who survived the attack on their school. One student came in his smart school uniform, green and white as the national flag and declared on camera that he wished to return to his classroom as an act of defiance against the killers. Another child not yet in his teens, spoke with an inspiring resolve, challenging the terrorists to come and fight him bare handed if they dare. Still another said that he was not afraid of the terrorists and he would join the army and avenge the death of his school mates. Such is the mettle of this nation.
The political leadership better wake up and give expression to the great potential and passion of a people to live by and fight for the highest principles of human civilisation. School children with their blood have drawn the line clearly between us the people of Pakistan and the militant extremists. The people are ready to fight the aggressors. Those worthies amongst our political leadership who regarded the extremists as "our own people", or to negotiate a peace must learn from the courage and clarity of our people. There is no middle ground left after the Peshawar outrage. We must fight in every valley, in every street in every school, for all that we hold to be of value. Amidst this war of survival, the political narrative must also change. Those who sympathise with the ideology of the enemy, or facilitate their evil designs are on the other side of the battle lines. Ours are the universal values of human civilisation, of love, tolerance, reason, a sense beauty. Theirs is the ideology of hate, ignorance, an ugly brutality. Each Pakistani now has to make a choice.