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Notes from interventions past

September 06, 2013

Like so many other things to fall in its erstwhile lap, the US intervention in Pakistan was a shabby one; without the clamoring drums of a possible US Security Council vote, without debates with the international community. Secret and furtive and game like, the drones first only watched, when no one seemed to object, they fired and now they fire and fire again. Questions of legality have only now, quite belatedly been raised, issues of hegemony, of loss of agency are still unpopular. The drones are fighting terrorism, terrorism is bad and so it is all justified.

At the center of the question of intervention in Syria, however, is the same simplistic moral equation that has governed past exercises of the same sort. The idea that an evil has been identified, and the benevolent goodness of the United States’ power is the salve to heal the wounds it has gashed among the innocent of a country. The deceit of such an equation would not be as lethal as it has become, however, were it not first digested by those within countries themselves. Once upon a time in Pakistan, the very drones so roundly castigated now, were staunchly defended. They were killing terrorists after all, far away on the edge of the country, in a hinterland few had been to and even fewer cared about. Everyone wanted a solution, and things from abroad have been known to work pretty well. Gullible Pakistanis were some of the first to buy the myth of precision and perhaps they could not be blamed too much. A hemorrhaging country after all, cannot be blamed for grabbing a band-aid from whoever is offering it, that it will not stop the bleeding, is a gripe for later years.

In Pakistan, those later years and their results are before us. The precision cure pandered to cure Pakistan’s problems has only bled the country to near catatonia. The demographic changes, internal displacement, economic losses and retaliatory attacks the country has had to bear have crippled the economy, weakened institutions and delegitimised the power of the State. Insurgencies and unrest rage throughout the country, infrastructure lies in shambles and everyone lives from crisis to crisis.

The numerical specifics of the Syrian crisis are different, According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 110, 371 people have died since the conflict began two years ago, the United Nations puts the numbers of casualties at 100,00. Over 40,000 of these are said to be civilians unaffiliated with either the Free Syrian Army nor with Bashar Al Assad’s regime. Those who have lived have fared far worse, according to the UNHCR, nearly 2 million Syrians or 10 per cent of the total population are not refugees. In addition, 4.25 million within Syria are said to be displaced internally within the country.

It is no surprise that the Syrians, so maimed, so caught between the proxy priorities of neighborly meddlers ache for some decisive action. That sort of action, shock and awe, and the brutal bombing can perhaps only be provided by the United States. For Pakistan, newly at the periphery, after more than a decade at the center of strategic questions it may be a moment of respite from the anti-Americanism that has dictated all political agendas in recent times. With American attention turned to Syria, and American presence dwindling in Afghanistan, the consequences of new interventions may grant respite for old ones.

With a new enemy, farther away, the decade of American intervention, the poking and prodding and droning of Pakistan, may finally be at an end. Perhaps wars and interventions end not with a collective reckoning, an embrace of reason and the futility of killing and imagining that killing heals; but only with new wars and new enemies.