Over the past few weeks, a media hype campaign that parallels anything in the heart of the belly of the beast has brought Pakistan’s liberal elite onto the streets to demand decisive military action against the ‘Taliban’ in the Malakand division of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The alarm that has been generated by the media is at least partially a function of Washington’s ‘persuasive’ efforts. More generally the liberals’ backing for war reflects an acute lack of informed and meaningful debate about what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen in the future. The smattering of principled voices on the left can only hope that the war mongering will give way to principled analysis and action.
The fact of the matter is that for all of ‘civil society’s clamouring for military action against the Taliban, the infrastructure of jihad that has been so carefully cultivated by the Pakistani military for decades (with Washington very much in the know) remains untouched. In countless parts of the Punjab and Siraiki belt, the training camps and indoctrination centres continue to proliferate. In Hazara and Azad Kashmir it is the same. The inability of existing institutions – formal and informal – to address the grave social and political injustices that pervade society guarantees that a healthy dose of ordinary young boys and men (and sometimes girls and women) continue to pledge their commitment to the lie that is holy war. According to the liberals and the metropolitan media, the Pakhtun Taliban are ‘barbarian hordes’ that need to be eliminated whatever the cost. Should the countless Pakistanis outside the NWFP who have been fed on jihadi rhetoric for the best part of three decades also be wiped out on account of their ‘barbarism’?
The language suspiciously resembles that of British colonial administrators. The gentleman’s empire talked up the ‘turbulent frontier’; indeed, the fact that the Pakhtuns’ province is still called the NWFP speaks volumes about how much (or little) has changed. The British, however, did not make disastrous forays into Pakhtun areas like Washington is insisting must happen. The liberals are playing to Washington’s tune, running around like headless chickens to put out one fire after the next without recognizing what the professional arsons are doing behind the scenes. Even if we lived in an imaginary world where the use of unbridled force and the scattering of civilian populations resulted in the immediate elimination of the ‘barbarians’ in Swat, Dir and Buner, what is being done about the even greater numbers being churned out by the incessant jihadist machine that exists not only in myriad physical spaces across Pakistan, but more importantly in the minds of more young people than we care to admit? And what to make of the Obama administration’s policy of calling the Pakistani military out for its duplicity on the one hand, and then continuing to rain down dollars on it on the other?
In any case, the media hype is clearly working. ‘Civil society’ is calling for the military operation to be given public backing, for the sacrifices of Pakistani soldiers to be held up as an example of all that is good in the country. In other words, those who choreograph this sick game and produce the ‘barbarians’ have now managed to convince ‘civil society’ that they are actually to be lauded for taking on the ‘barbarians’. And let us not conflate the poor soldiers who are sent into war with those who decide to wage war. Let us not make a mockery of those who die in the name of freedom to protect the interests of those who are hell bent on keeping ordinary people in slavery.
Consider a list of the principled opponents of the ‘barbarian hordes’ who have distinguished themselves by their unflinching opposition to political solutions and commitment to the military option. Hilary Clinton, Altaf Husain (head of the fascist MQM that runs Pakistan’s biggest city, Karachi), Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani (army chief). Their credentials are impeccable. They have repeatedly called for and, just as often, employed, the coercive apparatus of the state to defeat ‘terrorism’. Given the epic language being employed by ‘civil society’ at the present time, it is difficult not to be convinced that Clinton, Husain and Kiyani are ceaselessly pursuing a heroic cause, and that their steadfastness will lead us to decisive victory against the Taliban.
As an afterthought there has been acknowledgment of the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their homes without anywhere to go. The numbers will continue to rise. Presumably these people – who have been conveniently transformed into a category (IDPs) sure to excite the donor community – are suffering in the ‘greater national interest’. This is why ‘civil society’ can call for military operations that kill and maim hundreds of innocents, displace hundreds of thousands more and then turn around and ask for charity so as to help the unfortunate ‘collateral damage’ of this shameful war.
The master narrative insists that this war has been thrust upon the army, that the ‘barbarian hordes’ are singularly responsible for the misery of the people of Malakand. What about America and the Pakistani army? What is their historic role in creating what Eqbal Ahmad called ‘Jihad Inc, International’? How does the totally disastrous American colonial occupation of Afghanistan fuel militancy? Is Washington interested in doing away with the Taliban or in fact willing to do a deal with them so long as American geo-strategic interests are protected? The master narrative does not permit that such questions be posed.
It is hard to understand how otherwise thoughtful people can overlook what appear to me to be such basic issues. Perhaps the liberal elite is not really concerned with principles and only with averting the possibility of the Taliban hordes descending on their havens of privilege? Indeed if it is pointed out to Washington and its backers within the elite that all of the many indoctrinated young people in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi represent an existential threat to the Pakistani state, would there be a consensus that these three urban centres be bombed? Perhaps the answer would depend on whether elite neighbourhoods were likely to be in the firing line or not.
Cleaning up the mess that has been created in Afghanistan and Pakistan requires deep introspection. In the first instance it is necessary to acknowledge that entire generations of young people want to be Taliban largely because of the Great Game that has been played by America and its client Pakistani army. These young people cannot be dismissed as ‘barbarian hordes’. That is not to say that the actions of those who beat, flog and behead can be condoned. But then how in the world can the actions of those who drop bombs in the name of freedom be condoned?
Terror breeds terror. This is a lesson of history, and it must be relearned by those who have been overcome by the propaganda that is so crucial to the waging and winning of wars. In this dirtiest of wars in which none of the principal protagonists fight to liberate ordinary people, there can be no victory, only defeat after defeat. It is only in rejecting war altogether that we can salvage some of our quickly fading humanity.