Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Lying To Ourselves

Bashir Bilour’s martyrdom, understandably, resulted in an outpour of sympathy and support. Unlike his brother, I have only heard good things about Bashir Bilour who was brave and steadfast in his stand against terrorism.

The attack on Bilour has reignited the debate on terrorism and its remedies, but with strong emotional overtones. That is a dangerous road to take.

Fahd Hussain and Feisal Naqvi are two people you can read and be assured that, mostly, they will talk sense. Emotion though often trumps reason, and this has been an emotional week. Yet what they betrayed in their moment of anger, of hopelessness, of pretty much sheer emotion, is that they, like many of our “intellectuals”, live in a bubble which doesn’t have much to do with reality.

I know this might not be the best time to burst this bubble, with grief and emotion still in the air, but I believe it is necessary if we are to overcome the menace of terrorism. I believe we owe Bashir Bilour some honesty.

Fahd and Feisal, the former more than the latter, lamented our inaction regarding the Taliban threat. One asked “what would it take for us to wake up?” and the other branded us cowards, over and over again, urging the Pakistani state to “take off its bangles and pick up the gun.”

This is the basic bubble, the belief that we haven’t fought back. Put simply, it is a myth of Mayan proportions.

By my reckoning, there are 4 distinct conflicts going on inside the country. The Balochistan crisis, the sectarian targeting of Shias (more massacre then conflict, I know), the political war in Karachi and the Taliban or TTP’s war with Pakistan.

Precious human lives, Pakistani lives, are lost in all of these, with none more equal than the other, right?

What has been our reaction to the first three conflicts?

Balochistan has been left on its own, with the FC tasked with both manning the borders and policing its vast interior, which largely means fighting off the Baloch nationalist/separatist elements. Meanwhile many have accused government figures of running the kidnapping for ransom rackets, apart from smuggling and other minor offences.

Shias have been pretty much mocked. No relief whatsoever and the press’ flirtations with them seem to have run the course now that their ISI funded champion of democracy, Nawaz Sharif, has formed an electoral alliance with ASWJ.

Karachi? MQM-ANP-PPP have been rewarded for the slaughter with five years in government and various plaudits by the intellectual community as harbingers of a secular and progressive Pakistan.

Let’s now review the “inaction” and “surrender” against the Taliban.

The military has been in the tribal areas since 2002. At present there are more Pakistani Army troops, roughly 140,000, in the “bad lands” than the total foreign troops occupying all of Afghanistan. Numerous operations have been conducted by the military in almost all of the tribal agencies and some adjoining areas, the most notable in Swat and South Waziristan, the former hub of TTP.

Not exactly turning the other cheek, is it?

They HAVE our attention. This is the ONLY battle we have chosen to fight, and we have been fighting, using the Army and the Pakistan Air Force, for years now. It is time to accept that, mostly because it’s the truth. It’s fact. People have died fighting, people have been killed and hundreds of thousands of IDPs are testament to it.

The second bubble is the numbers bubble. Feisal Naqvi quoted the 10,000 figure as the number of people killed by TTP in a previous article. Emotion however got the better of him this time and he resorted to a higher number, 20K civilians and 3K LEAs. Fahd Hussain went with the standard issue 40K number.

This is again false narration which lingers because we avoid specifics, and although it might appear to be a moot point, it is not.

The number of people killed by suicide bombings is 5 to 6 thousand. The official number of people, civilians and LEAs, killed by terrorists, including those in suicide bombings, was close to 10K at the start of 2011 and independent sources now put it anywhere from 15K-20K.

What we hear all the time though is the 40 thousand killed. Want to know why?

The combined death toll, killed by the army and by the terrorists, is where the 40 K comes from and depending on your source ranges from a low of 35K to a high of 44K by SATP.

I have failed to find the government’s tally on it, but by all independent accounts that I have come across, the military has killed more people, and possibly more civilians (12K from just 2008-2010 by one independent account), than the terrorists.

This is why anyone who actually knows this will never say “TTP killed 40K”. They will always say “Terrorism has killed 40K” Or “We have lost 40K to terrorism”.

That 40K has thousands and thousands of what are the "forgotten dead" of Pakistan. Numbering easily more than victims of suicide attacks in the last 10 years, these are the cursed civilians killed by their own military, lumped with the terrorists and disowned by the Pakistani press.

Why? Why has our “vibrant” media let the vile military off the hook when they have killed thousands and thousands of innocent civilians in collateral damage?

Because collateral damage occurs in military operations, silly!!

Because military operations is what every pure breed human rights campaigner and progressive intellectual wants. Because if military operations are the cause of deaths of thousands of civilians, then what the hell am I supposed to sell?

The 40K thus remains intact and opaque, quietly drowning the forgotten dead in it even as the number is used to build a narrative in support for what killed them in the first place; military operations.

The last bubble is the bubble of ideology.

For some as yet undiscovered reason, a lot of people believe that they are on the left. They relate with leftist figures abroad and make fun of FOX News.

In an amusing twist, Mr. Naqvi pointed to the Newtown massacre and how the NRA punctured any chances of gun law reforms in the US. The irony is somehow lost on him but what he’s saying, using Patton’s golden words, is pretty much what the NRA have said, i.e.

“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun; is a good guy with a gun”.

Here’s the thing.

We HAVE been fighting this enemy, and we have been fighting it, militarily, for longer than any other enemy in the last two decades. We HAVE KILLED thousands and thousands of terrorists, but even more of our own, innocent, people. And we don’t talk about them because that tells us the real ugly truth; we are becoming what we fight.

Understand this; when we kill thousands in collateral and don’t even care, don’t even acknowledge, and when we talk about drawing blood and about digging up corpses, the
Taliban have already won!

We are all in this together. We all need the madness to stop. We all mean well and we might be angry and grieved at this hour, but lying to ourselves won’t solve anything.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Elusive Last Straw

I am such an idiot. I thought we should get that out of the way early.

Remember September?

When the whole blasphemy video thing happened? When the PPP “capitulated” to the religious right?

I remember certain people, who hold sway in the media, people who claim to be on the left, being deeply scarred by all of it. I remember their anger and outrage, and I remember them finally running out of patience with their beloved party.

I remember it being “the last straw”. And I remember believing them.

See. Idiot.

Corruption, poverty and just plain slaughter that goes on in Karachi everyday is not of much concern for the intellectually gifted. It’s the pandering to the religious right, the targeting of minorities and the evil machinations of the military that fuel their fury.

Admirable. And perhaps why September seemed like a turning point; a last straw. It was and it wasn’t.

September was a last straw that came after many last straws, and many last straws have come after it. Many will come. What will change? Nada.

There might be some noise made when the circumstances don’t allow otherwise, like in September, but most last straws don’t even register. The camel quite obviously is on steroids and the last straw is but a myth.

Proof, you ask me?

Well, what do you know about the Sunni Ittehad Council? Forget that religious parties are inherently against the “we want a secular state” brigade, the SIC also openly supported Mumtaz Qadri. Mumtaz Qadri, in case you have trouble recalling, is the man who killed Salman Taseer. Salman Taseer, in case you have more trouble recalling, is the man certain people remember every day as the hero who fought darkness, the knight in shining armour and other stuff in that category.

Now, there’s been an alliance involving the SIC and a “liberal” party Salman Taseer called his own. Et tu, anyone? Well, no one, at least no one in the “independent” media and hence; no last straw.

Moving on we observe that the independent media doesn’t only exercise its independence by giving the PPP a free pass. Enter Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, hail Nawaz Sharif, the lord and owner of Punjab. There’s a strange kind of love for his highness Nawaz Sharif in our “leftist” press, despite his very Zia-ish roots.

I first noted that last year and asked Mr. Nadeem F Paracha about this most peculiar phenomenon. A reply has not been forthcoming.

It so happens that the saviours of our Shia community never question PMLNs shady links with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, past or present. And whilst PMLN might have entered into a declared alliance with ASWJ again, during the by-polls, chances are Sana Bucha will talk about the weather when Mr. Sharif graces her show.

Here too the last straw, needless to say, remains unattainable.

What about the military then?

Military = Evil. So, Military+PMLN+PPP = Outrage. This is just simple math, right?

Not quite.

All of you will be pleased to know that in light of Supreme Court’s Asghar Khan case judgement, which stated that military was indeed involved in rigging elections, PPP have done the honourable thing.

The party proudly announced that they will not be probing Punjab owner Nawaz Sharif for taking ISI money and the Asghar Khan case was, their words not mine; buried.

The military interference and the ISI money and the stealing of the people’s mandate; all forgiven. Surely this is the bloody last straw?

In your horny dreams.

So to recap, in the space of a half a week, the PPP and PMLN have combined to

1) Protect election rigging, the famed will of the people.
2) Give cover to military interference and protect culprits in this regard.
3) Form alliances with sectarian outfits blamed for much of the violence against Shias in the country.
4) Form alliances with religious outfits supporting the murder of a sitting governor over the blasphemy law.

And yet no last straw. Actually, no straw at all.

Since 3rd December, when SIC-PPP alliance came to light, till today, 9th, here’s how the honest and upright, the “dissenters”, have reacted:

Express Tribune, famous for their knack of spotting ASWJ flags, did not have an editorial on ASWJ-PMLN, nor did these teary-eyed Taseer fans give space to PPP-SIC. The newspaper also abstained from commenting on PPPs general amnesty for military interference.

Not a single one of Tribune’s “always excellent” op-ed writers was bothered by these trivial happenings. In fact the folks in this “newspaper”, God bless their unbiased heart, did not even report the SIC-PPP alliance.

Dawn News did not see it fit to write an editorial on ASWJ-PMLN, PPP-SIC or Amry-PPP-PMLN. They did not publish a single op-ed column on these developments as well.

Zero editorials or op-eds by The Nation. I could go on.

Beyond pathetic isn’t it. Depressing even.

All is not lost though, for these people will find their voices again once the PPP and PMLN are not in the picture.

Now when that happens, and it will happen, I would be thankful if everyone, respectfully, tells them to take their appreciation for Taseer, their concern for the Shias, their disdain for the deep state, alongside that elusive last straw, and shove it up their ass.