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Coping with terrorism: Why moving on is not enough!

As Pakistan recovers from the harrowing Peshawar Mosque attack, Ahmad Maudood Ausaf reflects that frequent terror attacks have left the nation desensitized to terrorism. "Our history may be grisly and flimsy but our only response to terrorism cannot be to move on" - Mr. Ausaf writes.

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One might come to believe that being away from home — mine being called Pakistan — makes it easier to get past tragedies that strike therein. In reality, they dig deeper. Having the time to contemplate the socio-political reality of Pakistan away from the political antics and emboldened panglosses makes it categorically harder to try and not draw parallels between the current times and the anathema of terrorism that we just powered through.

On the evening of the Peshawar Bombing, I called a friend back home to talk — rant rather — about the incident and its more inherent and lasting consequences. She listened in fraught silence and belatedly responded, “Move on.”

Though her words left me struck, it was the despair in her voice that caught on. She began to explain her position, “I survived a bomb blast outside my school in Model Town (a municipality in Lahore). It had become a new normal then. It might as well become now.”

Read more: Pakistan in anger over Peshawar suicide attack

Post 1979 – owing it to the deliberate policies of General Zia and its after-shocks – Pakistan descended into a period of darkness that would grow bleaker, and more stark decade by decade until the Pakistani military forces actively engaged in the form of Operation Zarb-e-Azb and Rad-ul-Fasad.

While the law-and-order situation stabilised, we forgot to take note of one of its wider implications: a nation desensitized of terrorism. And the conversation that I had on the day of the Peshawar attack was precisely a result of it. Growing up witnessing hundreds dying in suicide bombings every day until it culminated in the form of the APS Attack in Peshawar, it had more so already bedeviled everyone – especially the youth.

A nation hardened by terrorism?

If we consider the ‘move on’ notion in hindsight, it exhorts towards a layer of potent fear and neglected past trauma on a level deeper than the surface. We are the generation that got directly affected by different phases of terrorism at different times. The reality of Pakistan to us – as we grew through our childhood years – is one that’s reeking of political instability, economic meltdown, and lack of any law-and-order.

It should be worth mentioning the years of schooling when none of my friends or I would be allowed to go play outside in the park because it was simply too dangerous. If the circumstances of the time were not normal, how can its future implications be? The mere thought of returning to what we left behind, a time so seemingly far away, is maybe the premise of why somebody would want to ‘move on’. Because that night was ‘dark and full of terrors.’

Read more: Understanding terrorism of bondage to past

And yet, there must be ways in which we can confront the long shadows of that night. Our history may be grisly and flimsy but our only response to terrorism cannot be to ‘move on’. Perhaps, it is time to defang this home-nourished snake that has bitten us far too many times.

Empirically, the number of terrorist attacks is surging – five already from the advent of this year. The stark rise observed could be attributed to the unstable geo-political landscape of the region Pakistan is situated in. But whatever the reason may be, it does not negate the fact these attacks serve as a reminder to a history retrofitted with flashbacks, of which our memory is too fresh.

There is a critical need to address this dilemma – at a state level as well as societal level. We have a very profound history as warriors and entrenched clan culture. It required us to not be restrained by any ‘feminine’ traits of talking about our emotions, lest it emasculate us of our ‘manliness’ at a societal level. Though the clans are history, this toxic trait remains to be a current and a rather prevalent reality. The trauma is very much still there and plans on staying unless it is actively engaged with.

Until then, we will continue to receive answers such as move on.

The writer is a columnist and a published researcher. Currently, he is a law student at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). The views expressed in the article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.