The Great Elephant Hunt

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Sources differ as to the origin of the phrase with one having it as 1935 and another 1959 but ‘the elephant in the room’ has been around for a long while. Pakistan has so many elephants in the room it probably qualifies for a conservation award.

They are persistent to the point of being permanent because the discussion that would see them fade from view just never happens. As there is no real debate that might bring about change then there is no action either. Their proliferation over decades has been driven by the rise of an extremist mindset that is now a deeply embedded part of the national psyche. But hist…something is astir.

It may be that history will tell us that the Pulwama attack – which the government was far too slow to respond to – proves to be the catalyst and one of the largest elephants in the room is finally challenged.

Taking on the elephants has been a chatty business thus far. Some may recall that President Musharraff in 2002 banned any number of sectarian and jihadist groups, having not the slightest effect on their ability to operate under other names and guises. Those that spread hate and inflicted violence mocked the establishment, and made sheep of all of us in doing so, carried on with business as usual. We the sheeple…

More recently there has been the curious strategy of attempting to mainstream some of these groups and individuals politically. Why anybody thought this was going to work is beyond comprehension and it patently has not, and the elephants obligingly moved from the state drawing room to the hustings and the ballot box – though admittedly with little by way of success electorally. There has been no sustained attempt to hinder the leadership of at least one of the groups at the forefront of the March of the Pachyderms beyond house arrest, and a blind eye turned to his continued production of unadulterated filth. But hist…what is this we see in Bahawalpur?

Nothing ever happens in Bahawalpur. I should know as I have lived there for most of the last twenty years. The ring of jihadi madrassahs that encircles the city has quietly gone about its business and disturbed none of us ordinary citizens, our very own herd of perfectly benign elephants that we could safely ignore apart from the annual rally they staged to the irritation of most – and even these have faded in recent years.

They were undisturbed until Friday 22nd February when the Punjab government, with no fanfare and with minimal fuss as far as I can see took over the madressah identified with Jaish-e-Mohammad which has in the past been accused of orchestrating attacks across the border.

There have been no protests. The city goes about its sleepy way. It is more than possible that some people are unaware of what just happened on their doorstep. The government came along and bit a large chunk out of one of the elephants. This is no symbolic stick shaking that the Boys in Grey can happily wave their trunks at, this is The Walk. The actual Walk that has for so long been talked about may just have started.

The caveat in the last sentence was the word ‘may’. For the Walk to become more than a single step many more elephants are going to have to be challenged. By Saturday morning President Trump had weighed in calling the post-Pulwama environment ‘dangerous.’ He did not trot out the ‘must do more’ mantra as others repeatedly have, but it was there between the lines. And yes, if there is to be any rolling up of the dominance of the elephants in the room then the government is going to have to do more, a lot more. Move from the cosmetic to the surgical. Disrupt networks. Shut down the mouthpieces that spread hatred and division. Take on powerful religious figures who command and are the mahouts of the elephants.

It is time to aim for extinction, to breach the protective wall that allows the herd to exist, to send in the big game hunters armed and dangerous and with targeted precision put a bullet – metaphorical, I do not want to be accused of promoting violence – through the brains of any and every elephant presenting as a target. Since they mostly stand still it should not be too difficult. They have stood there too long, and it is time to take their ivory, have their heads stuffed and hung on the wall as trophies from a fight well and justly fought.

Naya Pakistan? Well for the first time in a very long time I’d tag that as a definite maybe. I’m a pretty good shot…can anybody lend me an elephant gun? Happy hunting!