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A lesser people?

May 16, 2012

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ON Friday, the city of Chicago, will host the Nato summit. When the leaders invited to the summit arrive in the city, both maritime and airspace restrictions will already be in place.

Lakeshore Drive, one of Chicago’s main thoroughfares in the city will be closed completely. The electronic Metra train that transports hundreds of thousands of busy commuters everyday will close several stations affecting millions of passengers over the course of the three-day restrictions.

Those who will be able to get on the trains will not be able to take with them backpacks or food or drink; the only bags permitted will be a single briefcase-sized bag, no larger than 15 by 15 inches.

Pakistanis would have felt sorry for the commuters of Chicago, all the other people on the opposite side of the globe just trying to get through their day lugging groceries home for dinner or getting to school or work, if their own humdrum lives had not been held hostage to Nato’s whims and wishes not for a week or a month but for years.

Now, with the unpredictability of a second-grader arranging a nursery school party, Nato has been shifting Pakistan from the ‘invited’ to the ‘uninvited’ column for the past fortnight.

Earlier, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen indicated that Pakistan would not be invited to attend the Nato summit because of its refusal to open the Nato supply routes through the country.

Then on May 15, 2012, with Pakistan hinting at opening the routes, the golden invitation was instantly deposited at its door.As far as the commuters of Chicago are concerned, perhaps the temporary constraints of their blocked-up and traffic-jammed city can lead them to consider the impositions Nato demands of other countries.

When standing in line for crowded buses, or spending hours in traffic jams near cordoned-off roads, they could consider, for example, the condition of commuters in Karachi who have faced far worse as one political party and then another held protest after protest against opening the supply route.

They would be doing so exactly a year to the day when one such protest held by the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf brought traffic to a complete standstill. The temperature in Karachi that day was recorded at 45 degrees Celsius.If the extreme heat and regularity of Nato-related political tumult fails to garner any sympathy, perhaps some Chicago dwellers can consider the other consequences borne by those who have the misfortune of living in the path of Nato convoys.

What supplies a war becomes part of the war, and in the years in which the convoys have been permitted to pass through Pakistan ambushes, riots and hijackings have accompanied them.

In December last year, a gang of armed gunmen attacked one Nato convoy in Balochistan and set it ablaze killing the driver and terrifying the residents of Quetta. In another attack a year earlier in June, seven people were killed as convoys were attacked by armed militants as they made their way to the Chaman border.Those are just the direct consequences of attacks on the convoys.

In the first week of May, police officers combating militants in the violence that wracked the Lyari area of Karachi, reported that many of the weapons used against them was procured from hijacked Nato convoys.

According to news reports published in a local newspaper, police officers involved in the grisly firefights which killed over 30 people and lasted for a week, said that the rocket launchers and other arms could be traced to the arms shipments meant for Nato troops in Afghanistan.

Another report from McClatchy newspapers asserted that the P226, a 9mm semiautomatic pistol used by Nato troops in Afghanistan, was also being used by members of the terrorist group Lashkar-i-Jhangvi in gun battles against security forces in Balochistan.

In reality it is unlikely that any of these things will be considered by Americans in Chicago or anywhere else in a country happily insulated from the wars it wages in other people’s backyards.

Just as the Nato secretary-general insisted on saying that the supply route is “blocked” bossily implying the existence of some pre-existing right possessed by his organisation to pass through any country, few in the US have paused to assess the supply issue as one imposing a security cost on Pakistan.

If they did they would note that few or no Americans would permit their neighbourhood roads to be used to transport dangerous criminals or drugs or weapons from one place to another. The danger would be that escaped criminals or those wishing to procure drugs or guns would resort to violence when they became aware of the route, endangering everyone who lived or worked or went to school nearby.

According to Nato, that right it seems belongs only to the citizens of wealthy countries that make up the organisation; it is only they who can object, disallow, ban and forbid the use of their own territory when it involves inviting danger into their immediate environment. For lesser people, Pakistanis and Afghans, such reservations invite accusations of intractability, of collusion with the terrorists themselves.

It is time that the issue of the Nato supply route began to be evaluated not simply in terms of how crucial the supplies are for US forces battling the Taliban in Afghanistan, but the danger it creates for ordinary Pakistanis forced to facilitate its passage through their war-ridden backyards.

Perhaps as they sit and decide the future of the region, Nato officials can take a moment to consider that the ‘supply route’ is not a road suspended in air and one prong of their elaborate war-mongering strategies but a path through a country populated by real, living people who weep when they are hurt and bleed when they are killed.

The writer is an attorney teaching political philosophy and constitutional law.

rafia.zakaria@gmail.com