Declining morals of a failing people

May 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

The Pakistan army is now bombing Swat and 2 million are expected to be displaced (over 1M are already in refugee camps), and this is all being done in the name of an existential threat that Pakistan supposedly faces from the Taliban. The media is calling for the country to unite and stand behind our army as they take on the evil that left unchecked would overrun Pakistan. Newspaper ads talk of supporting the Internally Displaced Persons (the largest IDP population Pakistan has seen since inception). None of them will, however, say openly that people are displaced and homeless because of the indiscriminate army bombing.

But is this specter of Taliban real? Are a disparate group of 35,000 Taliban militia, with no central commanding force, about to defeat a million-plus highly trained army with F-16s and nuclear weapons? These are the same Taliban that were trained and nurtured by the army till 2002 when the US post-911 told them to stop. At this point formal contacts were broken but the army let them retreat into safety in Pakistan (Waziristan and NWFP) when the US was bombing Afghanistan. There are parts of the army and ISI that have deep links with some of these groups. To think that the Taliban phenomenon could exist and thrive without support from the Pakistan army is ridiculous. We have heard excuses such as not having radio jamming technology to block Maulana Fazlullah’s radio transmissions or the army not having night vision goggles because the US will not sell the equipment to them. Are they serious?

On the other side, the army stands to make a lot of money in this war on terror. Every day brings reports of increased funding for the Afghanistan and Pakistan war on terror. If the threat of Taliban were to go away tomorrow, would this money still be available? This is an army with a massive financial and commercial empire in Pakistan and has ruled Pakistan like its personal fiefdom for 60 years, with no taxes on its commercial enterprises, black box defense budgets, and taking over the best agriculture land for its own people, not to speak of having army people in every key civilian post. This kind of a cash flow injection will not be taken lightly. All political parties, as always, are towing the line. Not a squeak was made by the parliament when the Nizam-e-Adl was imposed in Swat and the control of the region was handed over to the Taliban. We had no choice, they all said. And yes, the flogging and beheadings are all over the news, the brutality of the Taliban with the message that, “this could be you.” Women’s rights under Taliban will be set back (but nothing said about the 3% literacy rate of the women of the region before any of this business).The brutality is all real, as real as the aerial bombing of 2 million displaced people.

The discourse in the media and the intellectual class talks about having no choice but to bomb and destroy 2 million people. Otherwise the Taliban will get us. Any time you propose that were the Taliban (or some bogeyman of choice) in a major city such as Karachi, would people accept the bombing of Defence and Clifton areas and agree to live in tents with no certainty their lives will return to normal? The answer is silence and then again, the same old not having alternatives. Bomb we must. But if this were Karachi or Lahore there would be solutions and choices. These very same people would talking about police action, about cutting off the Taliban’s source of funding and arms, about cleaning out the army and ISI connections that supply them, but nobody would agree to the indiscriminate bombing of Karachi or Lahore. But these are poor Swatis and have no voice. Those of us living in the cities get to make the choice that 2 million lives will get disrupted and generations of people destroyed because we are afraid that bad things might happen to us. At the same time we get to feel good about ourselves by raising donation for the people we have condemned to misery. This is a choice made out of fear and cowardice. It is also extremely racist and classist and goes to show where we stand as a society and what our values are. Others may die, so we may feel safe. Pakistan’s involvement with Afghanistan led to a culture of drugs and arms in Pakistan that we are still reeling from. Repercussions from 2 million IDPs and this forced urbanization will be felt for many years to come in the form of increased disparity, crime and other anti-social elements.

And really, 35,000 Taliban taking over a place like Karachi? They wouldn’t even get beyond MQM, the heavily armed mafia political group which rules Karachi and has been on a major drive the last 1 year to conflate all Pakhtuns with the Taliban. Posters all over the city are calling to save our city from “Talibanization.” MQM worked closely with army and has benefited greatly under the last military dictator. But there is confusion. Pakistan society has been becoming more right-wing and conservative since the 1980s and that is now being conflated with the threat of Taliban. These are two very different phenomena. The move to the right by society overall may be religious but the Taliban are a purely political force. They have nothing to do with Islam. Reporters from the region will tell you that most of these people know nothing about religion. They are recruited either through motives of revenge or mercenary thugs bought with money, weapons and cars.

Added to this is the army involvement. More than a few refugees from the region say army and Taliban are Bhai-Bhai. Some have talked about villages being bombed which have no Taliban, other about army personnel harassing villagers in their home. An Aljazeera reporter recently told us that the local media is not allowed to present views opposing the war or to even say that people are fleeing the bombing not the Taliban. If you oppose the war, you are with the Taliban – that is where the discourse ends. We are not to question the army and its operations, operations of the same army which has shown no hesitancy in the past to murder its own citizens (Bangladesh, Balochistan, and even MQM in the 1990s). We are willing to condemn fellow Pakistanis to a life of misery based on our fears and placing our trust in the army and politicians who have repeatedly shown that they do not care for the people of Pakistan. There is a war in Pakistan and on one side is the army/politicians/imperial powers etc., and on the other side are the people of Pakistan. The Taliban are just one of many tools in this war. Arundhati Roy, at a recent event in Karachi said that we should always fight to preserve the space that allows us to say that we won’t be forced into an “either-or” choice. Why can’t we reject both the army and the Taliban and say that we support the people, the people of Swat and of Pakistan? If we keep responding out of fear, fear of Taliban, the army or whoever else, and refuse to acknowledge the humanity of our own people, poor people, then we are lost and we perhaps deserve everything that will happen to us at the hands of these forces. We should be in the streets demanding this war to be shut down because it is not acceptable by any moral standard that 2 million people pay the price for our fears.

-Saqib

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