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.


  1. Not unlike Faisal and Fahd, you too have heavily relied on catchy phrases and seemingly credible statistics. What are your solutions? You offer none apart from criticizing the two's bubble that needs to be burst.

  2. A few issues:

    1. Could you source your 140k figure? A quick google points me to the wiki entry, and the link there is a LA Times article that doesn't use a source for the figure.

    2. The F.Naqvi/Newtown/NRA equivalency is a bit of a disingenuous one. Liberals =/= Pacifists. Owning a gun, or mocking people who treat guns like an innate right, is worlds different from wanting (more) military action in an area like FATA. The politics of gun control and military intervention are wildly different, and to suggest that someone's a hypocrite for wanting gun control AND wanting military intervention is very reductive.

    3. The general argument for "waking up", I think, is more holistic than what you're representing here. I think that argument owes more to trying to be more cognizant of the myriad troubles embittering Pakistan that have a religious nature (sectarianism being one of them). For many Pakistanis there seems to be the idea that Wahhabiism and more strict religious interpretation is all dandy except it shouldn't be followed by murdering or bombing schools. I think the waking up argument is a lot more all-encompassing than just wanting the Army to blow everything to pieces.

    4. Not all lives are equal. I think it takes an incredibly naive human being to say that - regardless of whether they're liberals or not.

    5. I completely agree with you with regards to the civilian casualties cause by military operations. But what we need is more transparency. We need more access to these regions and we need journalists who aren't in love with the Army or with the Taliban. The Pak Army as a whole has never been accountable, and that, more than anything, needs to change. There's outrage for the Taliban flogging a girl, but there's nothing more than an editorial or two that's lambasting military atrocities. I don't think though that that's a sufficient enough argument against more operations.

    6. An ideal solution to FATA would be a political and military one. But politically we're hardly going to ever get anywhere with the TTP or their ilk, and stoking religious/sectarian feuds for short-term political gains will always be in favour (as your previous post proves). More military intervention? Sure - as well as a restructuring of the ISI, a rethink regarding the military's role in the country's politics (domestic and foreign), and ultimately a wholesale reevaluation of the military's self-gratifying narratives.

    Which of one those, though, seems most achievable?

    1. 1. The 140K is what has been quoted in most of the Pakistani Press. Also in this statement before US Senate

      2. Perhaps. What I was hinting at there however was that using the NRA equivalence for pacifists here was out of place. And I maintain that the NRAs stance: "only way to stop a bad guy with a gun; is a good guy with a gun" is eerily similar to the singular demand for military action to quell the bad guys here. You can of course disagree.

      3. There's two parts of that. As you might have seen in the article, I look at it in the wider context of Pakistan. Pakistanis are easily more "awake" to the threat of TTP, who are known as terrorists by a majority, and even sectarianism especially when compared to say MQM or ANP or PPP who are regarded as legitimate political parties despite their terrorist activities for the past five years.
      I don't think I am qualified enough for a comment on Wahhabism or have the authority to tell people how they should interpret their religion.

      4. Ok.

      5. That's the thing. Importance of accountability of the military seems to have dawned on many in the press now. But they are deliberately over-looking what's happened in FATA, or even Swat, where journalists can now go. If we are killing more innocent civilians than they are killing, which could well be the case, then I believe that is sufficient enough reason to at least not embark on more operations.

      6. I am still thinking that over. But I think choosing an option guaranteed to cause loss of life because we are too corrupt or weak for other measures is reprehensible.


  3. Yeah I read and appreciate what you've written as a good, thorough, well-researched, beefed-up piece, but what is missing here is the solution. So what is your suggestion? How can you curtail terrorism?

    If I find no solution in the end, I'd consider it as another write-up by another writer, who is actually struggling to get the same recognition as Feisal H. Naqvi or Fahd Hussain for that matter.