Predatory politics and Malala

THE attack on Malala Yousufzai’s life was shocking for people around the world, but I see no reason to be surprised.

For the past three years I had had a premonition that this young, promising girl was unnecessarily being exposed to dreadful consequences. Yet I understood that the problem did not lie with Malala.

In fact, the civilian turf in Pakistan, especially in the north, has been turned into a site of resistance against militants. While in theory this is not a negative development, in the current politics of militancy, it is the ruling elite and the media that are benefiting. The nation as a whole is losing.

In February 2009, the rule of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the Swat valley was so entrenched that an early morning knock at somebody’s door would resonate with the macabre spectacle of the Taliban ‘arresting’ their opponents to slaughter them at a public square.

That square was later aptly named Khooni Chowk, or bloody square. My predawn arrival at Malala’s house was a source of worry for her father Ziauddin, who lived a few minutes’ walk from Khooni Chowk.

Our presence put Ziauddin and his family at risk. He was visibly disturbed when he saw a movie camera in the crew’s hands, and I didn’t sense the warmth a Pakhtun usually exudes while receiving a guest at his door.

I reminded Ziauddin about his previous night’s commitment to let the crew shoot a documentary with Malala as its central character. Ziauddin said “but I thought you just wanted a short interview”. The next 48 hours I spent with Ziauddin’s family documenting the approach to the Feb 15 TTP deadline for the closure of hundreds of girls’ schools in the Swat valley.

Back then, the exercise was something of a thrill for all of us, so much so that it made me blind to journalistic ethics and to the security of my friend Ziauddin. It didn’t occur even once to me that there was a threat in this situation for the then pre-teen Malala. This was partly because the documentary was about education and making video packages was part of a daily routine.

I realised the gravity of the situation only after the New York Times released the short documentary, Class Dismissed.

Co-produced with Adam B. Ellick and visualised in Ziauddin’s house and his school with Malala as its lead character, the documentary inspired foreign audiences.

But since then, the fear of having exposed Malala to a dreaded enemy overwhelmed me. The fear turned into guilt as I kept seeing her on television.

While I then disassociated myself from such projects, the media helped turn Malala’s advocacy for education into a solid campaign against the TTP over the next three years. Politicians jumped into the fray to help the media in commodifying Malala’s youthful energies. A strong anti-TTP structure was erected on her frail shoulders.

This is one aspect of the story, and it concerns the media’s role in dragging bright young people into dirty wars with horrible consequences for the innocent.

But the story does not end here.

For the last decade, if overarching civilian dedication has provided politicians with a smokescreen behind which to hide their gross failures, such sacrifices have enabled the security forces to continue playing hide and seek with an elusive enemy.

From one issue to another, hype is created with the help of the media while people wait for the dénouement. Clarity is the victim of these predatory politics which revolve around militancy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal belt.

Security operations are barely effective, and a working formula allows the forces to reclaim 90 per cent of a given area and to leave the rest to the militants.

This confused state of affairs can help the ruling elites prolong the conflict, but cannot defeat militancy. Mainstream political parties cannot afford to be upfront and announce a clear policy on fighting terrorism. So who is going to win this war? Is more civilian blood needed to fuel this conflict?

Since 2009 the official policy to constitute peace committees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and lashkars in the tribal belt has relieved security forces of suffering frequent militant attacks.

However, these measures have turned civilians into sandbags; recently, yet another attack on a peace committee office claimed 17 lives in Darra Adamkhel. Hundreds of people have been killed so far in attacks on civilian lashkars and peace committee members over the last three years.

During a visit to Lower Dir last year I came across a heavily armed lashkar commander who has survived many attacks but still fights the militants in the area bordering Afghanistan. I asked him how he managed such a risky existence. “Where should I go from here?” he asked in reply.

During the initial phase of the formation of lashkars, people were encouraged to come forward; later, after they had done so, they were abandoned. As not many tribal leaders and committee members are left to mount a challenge against the Taliban, youthful energies such as Malala’s are required to shoulder the burden of this conflict.

Even more alarmingly, the politics of militancy has conditioned the majority of people to stay silent in the face of the enemy.

Some, nevertheless, still remain ready to stand up to the challenge. Ziauddin and Malala qualify amongst the latter. Where the politicians, the military and the people have barely managed to make the TTP nervous, a young girl has stood tall — and suffered. And this is because will makes a difference.

The world is condemning the attack on Malala, but in Pakistan the initial wave of condemnation is giving way to a disgustingly apologetic mood in some circles. Conspiracy theories abound, where some link the incident to the situation in Waziristan and others hold Ziauddin responsible. While I admit we all are responsible for her tragedy, letting Malala down will be utter cruelty.

We celebrate our heroes only to bury them alive later.

The writer is pursuing a doctorate in mass communications at the South Illinois University at Carbondale, US

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Comments (14) Closed

Oct 21, 2012 09:20pm
like the quote: "We celebrate our heroes only to bury them alive later"
Oct 21, 2012 02:04am
One of the most beautiful statements I have ever heard..."We celebrate our heroes only to bury them alive later."
Oct 21, 2012 10:12am
Brilliant . Commend you admitting the guilt of multiplying/enhancing the risk to ?The Girl? ! The whole saga was hijacked by the Western ( + local ) media & Political parties and used as a tool to achieve own goals. Despite the father declining the offered security, it was bizarre that Pak. Govt. agencies failed to foresee the valid threat and let her be the sitting duck for butchers. Both Media and Govt. agencies must share part of the responsibility ( along with butchers ) and exercise caution in future. Its not the first heartbreak nor will it the last. Worst part is that the incident failed to unite the nation rather the divide has widened and polarization is distinct. It would ve been much easier for the nation to decide, if our leaders had invested in EDUCATION last 65 years !
Zubair Iqbal
Oct 21, 2012 10:02am
The first half of the piece is full of remorse. The writer is trying to shed some tears on spilt milk. I can only take pity on Malala. She is paying the price of the predatory-always-scoop-looking hounding habits of the media through her life. We, the media persons treat our interviewees as guinea pigs on the lab table, left alone to brace the horrible consequences once the 'scoop' is made. It is the ?go to hell? approach in the simplest terms. Trust me, the so called 'responsible media? is no alien to this practice. And I am not a conspiracy theories monger. The other side of the story is even more horrible with far reaching fall outs which can last for generations. It is the pitiable and deplorable attitude of the policy makers who use these ?glimmers of hope? ? if they really are, eventually ? as a smoke screen to hide their square inability to respond to the challenges and keep playing the time passing games. And, you know how to pass time? With a pastime!
Oct 21, 2012 04:03am
This brave young girl and her family as well as other children in the Swat Valley and NW are left to face the brunt of the attack whereas the authorities are not taking up their responsibility to provide security to the people of Pakistan. Daily we hear of the killings and bombings. It is surprising how people live amongst all this carnage. In Sri Lanka we went through a 30 year war and faced similiar terror attacks. We pray that Pakistan comes through this ordeal and the days of these terrorist are numbered.
Anoosh Khan
Oct 21, 2012 03:39am
Thank you for nailing it down, Mr. Ashraf! We definitely need self-interrogation. Who is responsible for bringing someone into limelight (for whatever motives): governments, people, and/or media?
Dilbar Jahan
Oct 21, 2012 03:23am
Exact and to the point! Thank you Mr. Irfan Ashraf for a local insight.
Oct 21, 2012 03:25am
But in a place where you could be killed any way and become part of the statistics, why shouldn't you stand up and shake the world. Though it is sickening to see people once again pandering to conspiracy theories but at the same time there are many who for the first time have gone to the heart of the issue. So Malala did bring a change and set up a role model for girls.
Oct 21, 2012 01:52am
(Quote): "The world is condemning the attack on Malala, but in Pakistan the initial wave of condemnation is giving way to a disgustingly apologetic mood in some circles." (End quote) Disgusting is the operative word. An innocent girl with normal and intelligent human aspirations was targeted for killing by subhuman beasts who have perverted what otherwise should be a peaceful religion. Then comes the crossroad: shallow people start playing politics with it.
Oct 21, 2012 12:42am
Oct 21, 2012 08:10pm
Excellent article with personal experience of the area and people! Whats why it's different there all others who wrote a lot sitting far away and misguided people!
Oct 21, 2012 05:14pm
very true my worthy bro,lets get comitted to make senario appealing,v have potentials
Oct 21, 2012 10:41am
I appreciate, respect and value the description and views expressed by this author. Like Malala, he is also a ray of hope in the darkness that prevails in many parts of Pakistan. The extreme individuals and the group of extreme minded people, who have been misguiding the people in the name of religion are the main culprits to harm the Pakistani society. They have been twisting, insulting and degrading the religion, in real sense, as hypocrites, are mainly responsible to ruin the Pakistani society. They have been propagating hatred, ignorance and intolerance among the masses to divide the people in the name of religion. They have been playing with the sentiments and lives of the masses for their meager goals. They control the mosques, madrasas and most of print media to propagate their ignorance and hatred.. Its high time, the people wake up and start thinking on their own, as to what is good and what is bad for them. The people should not give up their thinking job to others. How long the masses are going to be mental slaves of the people who love to exploit them ? Work for mental freedom.
naeem khan
Oct 21, 2012 10:22am
For your kind information! Pakhtuns have done nothing wrong. Even, a single armed lashker can take the revenge of Malala.... but who is going to support the tribal lashkar which they needed against the highly sophisticated weapons and harder ideology???? are u really prepare to support their resistance against the Taliban?? which international community believe to have defeated but actually, the US and Nato are on the run leaving behind all the Pakhtuns at the mercy of these extremists.... In such a situation, who can be really held responsible for the fatal attack on Malala?? If they leave Afghanistan without bringing the taliban on the negotiating table, hundreds of future Malalas will be at risk ..