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A thought for Mama Qadir?

November 02, 2013


INSTEAD of representing order and inspiring the confidence of the people, the government seems to be doing no better than reflecting the anarchy on our streets.

Look at Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s two statements in the Senate this week. The first claimed that over the past five years only 67 civilians were killed in drone attacks while the latter took out 2,160 militants in Fata.

Many anti-drone politicians and campaigners questioned the civilian deaths’ figure and termed it artificially deflated. Others who support armed action against the Taliban seized on it to argue that it demonstrated that all previous accounts of civilian deaths were grossly exaggerated and drones were an effective, low-cost weapon.

The truth may be somewhere between the government’s 67 and the multiple of thousands that drone opponents seemingly pluck out of the sky. This is not to say that if the actual figure is in hundreds and not in thousands such a loss of civilian life is acceptable.

However, if the government were to stand by its figure then are those people right who argue that in recent years intelligence and consequently targeting have improved remarkably? If this is the case, was the PML-N ignorant about this aspect when it campaigned on a no-drones platform?

Access to North Waziristan where the bulk of the attacks have taken place over the past five years is so limited that independent verification of figures is more or less impossible. Stats pushed by various parties will often reflect their own agendas than the ground reality so the government could be forgiven if it didn’t get it right.

What can’t be ignored, for it was demonstrably wrong, was the figure Nisar Ali Khan gave of terrorist incidents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa over the past months and their death toll. The minister said 130-plus incidents claimed 120 lives over the period.

The opposition pointed out this figure was wrong since in only a handful of major incidents more than 150 people had been killed and if the others were added up a much greater number would be reached.

Rather than agree to review the stats supplied to him by the provincial government the minister took offence at the opposition’s objections and exploded, prompting a walkout.

The question that pops into one’s mind is whether a government that cannot ensure that the facts and figures it presents in parliament are credible can be trusted with decisions which have a direct bearing on our lives and pockets.

But who cares. As long as each one of us gets whatever information we can lay our hands on to support our cause and use it in any way we want we are happy. Whether our stance is consistent with positions we have taken earlier doesn’t really matter.

For example, commentators who castigate what they call Western, Jewish media and shout conspiracy whenever a report contradicting their worldview appears in it suddenly have no qualms about picking up stories carried by the same media to cite as evidence confirming their theories or views.

The New York Times is one such Western newspaper. For its mostly-robust reporting on the country, it has been at the receiving end of the wrath of those sections in Pakistan who see themselves as guardians of faith and the greatest of patriots. They always question the paper’s credibility.

Recently, US forces captured the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) deputy leader Latif Mehsud when he was being escorted on Afghan soil by Kabul security officials. When the paper gave details of an alleged Afghan plot to use the TTP as leverage against Pakistan, its harshest critics picked up the story and used it without compunction as it reinforced their view that our troubles are not of our own making.

We are past masters at quoting or misquoting others where it can be useful to us and can even be economical with the truth. A civil servant posted in the Punjab government routinely holds forth in the media and advances his view of what is Islamic and what isn’t. (I am sure he is a law-abiding man and the service rules allow him to.)

Earlier this week, he did a hatchet job on I am Malala. In fact, from what he quoted (I must concede I was yet to start reading it) the immediate impression I got was that the poor girl had not been diligent and would get into trouble because of not-so-cautious writing by her British (co-author) ghost writer Christina Lamb.

The particular reference was to Satanic Verses and where she narrates her father’s arguments with his college friends over it when the controversy first broke in Pakistan and protests erupted. But when I read the full passage myself, I was left shaking my head.

The gentleman had only partially/selectively quoted her recollections of the incident. Separated from context, it may have been misinterpreted. One thing was apparent. What he did quote seemed to support his allegation that Malala and her father had no problem with “the blasphemous writer and his book”.

In this article, I was also planning to touch on the views expressed by the inspector-general of Frontier Corps, Balochistan, on Twitter but refrained because it impossible to be 100pc sure the account was actually his. Once the veracity of his account is confirmed we’ll revert to it.

For now my thoughts are with Mama Abdul Qadir Baloch, other men, women and children.

They are marching on foot from Quetta to Karachi to remind us that while we manufacture half-truths, froth at the mouth at non-issues, some of their loved ones have been missing for years; those they have found, they found tortured and killed, their bodies dumped even without the dignity of a shroud.

Will we be moved, walk in step with them or just leave them with a feeling that they’ll be right to lose all hope in Pakistan?

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.