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Reality of rigid positions

September 08, 2012


WHILE many Pakistanis take rigid positions on most difficult issues, perhaps a little more flexibility could serve them better. For example, where do you stand on US drone attacks against ‘militant’ targets in the lawless tribal areas as the CIA continues to scratch names off President Obama’s so-called ‘kill list’? If you support the attacks I won’t call you liberal ‘scum of the earth’.

Neither should you expect an endorsement of your point of view. It isn’t concern for our sovereignty that holds one back. We should have thought about that before we became a major magnet, the international training ground, for jihadis of every description and nationality.

I have no love lost for these global jihadis. My reservations have more to do with what is callously dismissed as collateral damage. Call me a softie if you will but what right do I have to justify the killing of even one innocent person.

Fata is as dangerous for local journalists as it is inaccessible to outside ones. So few, if any, opportunities exist for independent inquiry into the drone attacks. Some journalist friends in Peshawar say those in the tribal areas welcome these.

They point to the absence of the state’s writ in the tribal areas and say the locals are fed up with the militants’ ruthless ways. Therefore, the locals are grateful that at least someone is dealing with these merchants of death, darkness and destruction.

But then there are those who argue that for each militant reported killed there are always a number of innocent citizens, including women and children, who lose their lives. This being the case, they cannot but protest against the attacks.

There are ‘studies’ in the public domain supporting both these points of view. Aren’t you at a loss to ascertain the credibility of either view though there is no denying that a number of foreign and local militants wanted for murder/acts of terror have been killed in these drone attacks?

Isn’t confusion normal then? Don’t you recall with horror Western media reports, though there was almost never a follow-up on such stories to establish their veracity or otherwise, that Saddam Hussein was using ‘human shields’ to guard sensitive installations?

From a different conflict zone, I am reminded of a story one dear Kashmiri friend from Srinagar once told me. His uncle lived in the suburbs. One night at the height of the insurgency, the friend told me many years ago, there was a knock at his uncle’s door.

When he opened the door, three militants entered the house asking to be fed and sheltered for the night. “You couldn’t say no because that would be seen as being pro-India. Saying yes meant that if the Indian security forces found them there, you’d be in bigger trouble,” the friend explained.

To add insult to injury when the apparently foreign militants saw their host’s nine-year-old son wearing jeans, they admonished him for donning “un-Islamic western attire unsuitable for us good Muslims.”

My Kashmiri friend’s family, all of whose members are pro-freedom and also happen to be practising Muslims, smouldered for weeks, having been subjected to danger by foreigners who then told them to conform to an Islam that was alien to them in Kashmir.

Quite often, like those caught up in such conflicts elsewhere, many in Fata must be helpless too. If they are seen as ‘harbouring’ militants responsible for terror attacks, one might ask how much free will can they be exercising in an area where large swathes are out of bounds even to the troops?

Admittedly, this is only one dimension of a complex issue. It is lack of clarity and leadership which has led to so much confusion and ambivalence in the country, and a debate that has degenerated into name-calling and ugly accusations by one side or the other.

If you count the number of soldiers who have lost their lives while battling these suicidal hordes, perhaps our military commanders too would look at this form of warfare against battle-hardened, ideologically fired up albeit misguided guerrillas as low cost.

But starting with the Musharraf years, when this deception was first embraced as policy, until now we have protested against each drone attack. Our real position, as exposed by WikiLeaks, and how and why it evolved as it did was never explained to the public.

We have no one to blame but ourselves for the limited elbow room we have. If individuals in war zones are helpless and at the mercy of the combatants it is one thing, but to see the state acting no better than a helpless hostage is outrageous.

If the state wasn’t paralysed by the overwhelming shadow of its own follies and, some argue, ambivalence, why else would murderous killers strike unchallenged wherever they wish and kill unarmed people because of their faith, ethnicity or for no apparent ‘fault’ at all.

Why would a mention of Shia-Hazaras conjure up images of defenceless, bloodied victims of who knows what; a deadly regional game or merely marauding, murdering thugs. The only certainty is that we are helpless, impotent.

To what else would you attribute the predicament of the young Christian girl accused of blasphemy? Where is the outrage at this injustice? Where is the debate about the future of a law which is known more for its ‘abuse’ than for anything else it was meant to accomplish?

Don’t know how you feel but I feel no better than my friend’s uncle must have felt that night in his suburban Srinagar home: imperilled, indignant and yet helpless. What rigid, concrete position am I able to take?

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.