800,000 displaced, the rest is white noise

26 Jul 2014

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On the margin of the margin of the margin are the women of Waziristan. -FIle Photo
On the margin of the margin of the margin are the women of Waziristan. -FIle Photo

Even as a child I always had this niggling issue that while men had all the glory of martyrdom, women and children got a raw deal.

Read the account of any warfare – modern or old. The stories of the weakest are either never there or are only there to remind us who was hit hardest in the conflict.

Death, destruction and rape are most violently wreaked upon those least able to protect themselves.

I have been following the media coverage of the ongoing anti-terrorist operation in North Waziristan. And it seems to me that the media abounds with nationalist state propaganda, the predictable civilisation versus barbarism analyses, the war strategy discourses and the optimistic rants of those deluded that the state-imperialist-militant nexus no longer exists.

Nationalists plan drive against IDPs entry into Sindh

Historically, the British annexed the tribal areas in this belt during colonial rule and used it as a buffer from Afghanistan. They implemented the Frontier Crimes Regulation to control the region, giving considerable power to local feudal leaders as long as they acceded to the British.

The FCR came to be known as the ‘black law’ due to the unchecked powers it bestowed and the ensuing violent repression of the population who had no access to justice. The end of colonial rule did not bring even nominal relief to the Waziris. If anything, with the Afghan Jihad to counter the Soviet Union, the conditions of their existence became worse.

In the proxy wars of the United States, Pakistan maintained the same colonial laws and used the people and the land of Waziristan for ‘strategic’ war games.

Held hostage three ways – between the Empire, the establishment and the Jihadis, Waziristan has been battered again and again with drones, extremist violence and army actions. For those unable to escape to an alternative life in mainstream Pakistan – they have never had a choice in the decision of their own fate.

IDPs bemoan state’s apathy, neglect

That Waziris have been living under the paralysing inhumanity meted out to them by the state for all of its existence is a fact too often ignored. In her poignant film, Madiha Tahir talks of Waziristan as a margin of a country that is itself on the margin in the world.

The logic goes further: as is the case in all wars and natural disasters, those hardest hit by the operation are the most marginalised of this fringe population and place.

And on the margin of the margin of the margin are the women of Waziristan – dealing not only with their own loss and vulnerability but also shouldering the burden of care of the old, young and the infirm.

There have also been some, albeit too few, stories and reports of the people displaced in this campaign: one about a woman delivering a baby in a camp, another about fights over food shortages in a refugee shelter, and another where a mother lost two of her children in her three-day walk to escape the conflict.

There are other stories, of doors being closed by provinces as these refugees are suspected of harbouring terrorists and no one wants this "problem". That this problem has been created with consensus from the same who are now closing the doors is conveniently forgotten.

IDP = Internally Disowned Pakistanis

‘Displacement’ is a neat word. The operation – another clean cut word to describe death and destruction – descended upon the people of Waziristan with not enough warning. They fled with what they could, dragging their young, old, women, disabled and all.

I heard yet another story: a father who left his two weak and ill children behind in North Waziristan with requests for their burial if they did not survive — gave birth, left behind; simple and spine-chilling lines to describe despair.

I had an old-style radio years ago. I used it to tune in to BBC at night in the media blackout during Ziaul Haq’s rule — the longest running dictatorship in Pakistan. Static was that annoying background distortion. But very quickly one was able to tune it out and listen to the stronger voices.

The frail cries of the children, women, aged and infirm in the current operation, are perhaps nothing more than that — the static that no one wants to hear. The intelligentsia, the army and the state, the smug and the sure, the liberal elite — are experts at tuning out that static. 800,000 displaced — and the rest is white noise.