Recently a school notice has been making the rounds on social media. In it, the headmaster of a posh school in Sahiwal has warned children against using foul language at school. While there is nothing wrong with that, it’s the definition of foul language that has caused a stir; the notice defines it as “taunts, abuses, Punjabi and the (sic) hate speech”. In response to the backlash the school has issued a disclaimer and apology of sorts, and it seems likely that this was a mistake.
However, it would be wrong to assume that calling Punjabi a “foul language” is that big an issue in Pakistan. Tune into late-night comedy shows such as ‘Khabardar’ and the same is being done under the guise of comedy. You are likely to hear the very popular hosts of such shows scolding their colleagues for speaking Punjabi or Punjabi accented Urdu. The irony is that these shows make money by doing comical skits in Punjabi. Yet, despite that, their scripts disparage Punjabi as an uncouth (read ‘paindu’) language.
It is obvious from the popularity of the show that it’s largely Punjabi audience agrees with Punjabi being a language that is mostly appropriate for insults and jokes. But is that really true?
Punjab has a rich culture which has spread outside the confines of Punjab. Take bhangra for instance, its music and dance steps have become a staple for weddings from Muzaffarabad to Mumbai and Peshawar to Calcutta. Similarly, Punjabi literature and poetry can stand its own against the literature and poetry of any other language. This is the language chosen by the likes of Sultan Bahu, Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah, Munir Niazi and many other literary giants, surely their contribution can’t be termed uncouth and lewd.
But despite having all that, Punjabi as a language is suffering in a country where Punjabis account for almost half the population. This neglect is evident from the number of newspaper and periodicals published in local languages in Pakistan. Latest statistics from Pakistan Bureau of Statistics show that for 2011 both Pashto and Sindhi had 17 newspapers and periodicals each but Punjabi only had seven. Consider the populations of speakers for each of these languages and in proportionate terms the share of Punjabi comes across as even smaller.
I strongly agree with the position that this is a consequence of our national obsession with defining Urdu as our only national language. It has somehow become a proof of patriotism to prefer Urdu to regional languages. I am no linguist but I think that this has greatly affected languages that are linguistically closer to Urdu, because for the speakers of these languages switching to Urdu is relatively easy. Punjabi isn’t the only one; Hindko too has suffered in a similar manner, where it is common to see educated Hindko-speaking parents preferring Urdu over Hindko when it comes to raising children, as speaking Hindko is often seen as a sign of a lack of education as well as a lack of sophistication.
Aside from losing out on the literary front, Pakistan has also failed to cash in on the benefits of Punjabi and other local languages in primary education. Research shows that children at primary level learn much better when taught in their native languages. These benefits aren’t obvious when one considers children from the middle or upper class households in Pakistan.
It is safe to assume that a child from that demographic would have educated parents who are fluent in Urdu if not English as well. The child would also have the benefit of pre-school preparations whether through educational toys or TV shows. When such children start school, they carry the benefits of their privileged birth and are well prepared for learning in Urdu or English.
In contrast, a child from the more underprivileged sections of our society usually is born to parents whose language fluency is limited to their local languages. Such children are likely to not have had much exposure to either Urdu or English during their pre-school years. The main asset that such children bring to school is an understanding of their local language. Under our current education system we rob such underprivileged children of their one advantage, and instead make them learn a new language and also expect them to learn science and math in that same new language. And the level of difficulty is even higher for children whose native languages, in linguistic terms, are farther from Urdu, for instance Pashto, Brahvi, Sheena etc.
In post 18th Amendment Pakistan, provinces have the freedom to make changes regarding education within their domain. The ANP government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa introduced native languages as a medium of instruction at primary level in almost all the local languages in the province. However, the recently elected PTI government decided to roll back those changes and instead introduced English as a medium of instruction in order to implement the standards of Aitchison College. It was lost on the policymakers that to implement the standards of Aitchison, you just don’t need a curriculum but also teachers who are as qualified as those at Aitchison – along with a privileged upbringing for the children, which is the hallmark of the children studying at Aitchison.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa CM Pervez Khattak once said “when I hear about education in Pashto there is an explosion in my head”. It is obvious that denigrating local languages comes with little political consequences because such acts have become somewhat of a proof of patriotism. This has to change.
The lesson that we should have learnt from the fall out of the Bangla bhasha debate is that for our unity we need to celebrate our diversity rather than negate it. And for that to happen it is essential that the provincial identity and language of our majority ethnicity be recognised and respected. Only then would the championing of smaller ethnic identities not be seen as a threat to our national identity but rather a source of its strength.
If there is one good thing that came out of the horrors of Kasur, it is that it has encouraged victims in other parts of the country to speak up; the family of a victim in Multan was the first to follow. Sadly, ours is one of those societies in which claiming victimhood for sexual assault unleashes a new set of social costs, the fear of which silences many.
The fact that Kasur families were paying to hide the victimhood of their children, shows that there is a great need for sensitisation of our masses regarding victims of child abuse. This lack of sensitisation probably emanates from the fact that we shy away from discussing paedophilia on more serious forums.
However, it would be wrong to believe that paedophilia is not discussed in Pakistan. When topics are deemed taboo for official forums, they usually become a source of humour on more unofficial ones. While that is understandable in the case of toilet humour, it is tragic to consider that we have the same approach towards child abuse.
It would be very unlikely for anyone reading this to have not received an SMSed joke about a Khan Sahib lusting after a young boy. While the jokes are insensitive and offensive, the more ridiculous part, however, is that for many this understanding is not limited to jokes. A Channel 4 documentary that came out some time back showed the plight of sexually victimised street children in Peshawar. Rather than generating debate on the need to protect these children, the documentary got criticised for its title ‘Pakistan’s hidden shame’, which according to many should have been ‘Peshawar’s Hidden Shame’.
However, as Sahil’s ‘Cruel Numbers’ reports for 2012, 2013, and 2014 show, the provincial incidence of reported sexual assaults on children has been the highest in Punjab. It would be ridiculous to now label all Punjabis as potential paedophiles, because the provincial statistics mirror the population size for each province. Punjab shows the highest incidence because it has the biggest population. This data makes one thing clear – that paedophilia is a problem for all of Pakistan, and not just one province.
In the aftermath of Kasur, weaknesses in policing and judiciary are being quoted as the main reasons behind our failure to stop these incidents. There is no doubt that better policing and quicker punishment for culprits would set effective examples, but these two institutions mostly get involved after the child has gone through the ordeal. Can we say that, with our norms of parenting, we prepare our children well enough on how to react to sexual predators?
The fact is that in most households, sex related topics are avoided and usually the best advice offered to children is to warn them against strangers. However, of the cases reported during 2002 to 2006, 76% of assaults were carried out by individuals who already knew the children. A Sahil report observes that children aged 11 to 15 years are the most vulnerable, because at puberty they are curious about physical and sexual changes in their body. But due to the taboo surrounding these discussions they are likely to seek more willing adults for answers, and those adults might not necessarily mean no harm to the children.
Not only do most of our children lack awareness on how to face paedophiles, they also face castigation if they become victims. One famous TV anchor recently compared the victims of Kasur to the martyred children of APS. He was of the opinion that the children of APS were better off compared to the children of Kasur, since the former are in heaven, while the latter and their families won’t be able to “show their faces” for the rest of their lives.
It is this kind of ignorance that permeates our society. Why exactly should these children not be able to show their faces? Should victims of robberies not show their faces because they should be ashamed that they were robbed? Should murdered individuals be buried secretly as there is shame associated with their murder? Why single out the victims of sexual abuse as those who should face social consequences post victimisation? Is it the victims who should be ashamed or the society that marks them with shame?
An abused child in Raheem Yar Khan recently tried reporting the abuse to the police. But instead of support, he was met with taunts at the Police station. Such was the frustration felt by this child that he committed suicide by jumping in front of a train.
Paedophiles and rapists are not unique to Pakistan. Just like murderers and thieves, they are part of every society. But what distinguishes societies is the way in which they treat victims of paedophilia and rape. In our society, rapists and paedophiles are faced with potential victims who would be too ashamed to point a finger at them. It is this shame that is the paedophile’s biggest advantage.
Our children need to be assured that their acceptance is not dependent upon a lack of victimhood. And the only way to do this is for us to start educating them about their vulnerability as well as the support that they can rely on. Furthermore, we need to take the ‘humour’ out of paedophilia and deal with it with the seriousness it deserves. As a society we need to realise that it was our definition of shame that silenced the abused children of Kasur.
As the PML-N celebrates Pakistan’s reaffirmed ‘iron friendship’ with China, it is also warning about the potential rusting of this friendship thanks to some nagging entities of the provincial variety.
Ahsan Iqbal’s advice to the ANP is to not politicise the issue of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as it is important for the future of Pakistan, and, as an added benefit, is also giving insomnia to Pakistan’s enemies. Thus to be recognised as a patriotic well-wisher of Pakistan, one has to say it out loud that the benefits from the CPEC are to be shared by all of Pakistan – for a better future, that is.
Fair point, the future is important, but then should it be that convenient to forget the past and its regional distribution of miseries? The world is often reminded that Pakistan is the ‘frontline state’ in the war against terror, but similar reminders about the ‘frontline region’ within Pakistan are rarely mentioned.
Be it bombings, beheadings, kidnappings, amputations or whatever variable that can measure the cost of the war on terror, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata have paid far more than the rest of the country combined. And I pray that Punjab or for that matter any other place never ever pay the price that has been paid by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata.
But good wishes for the future do not change the past. And a past that has been stained with the blood of thousands should not be that easy to forget. The costs paid by KP and Fata were a result of Pakistan’s jihad experiments, which have now been owned by retired generals Musharaf and Durrani. It is understandable that the PML-N government is helpless in bringing the planners of these policies to justice, but it would be completely shameful if it also ignores the plight of the victims of these policies.
To quote Khwaja Asif ‘O koi sharm karo, koi haya karo’. The state of Pakistan owes a lot to the people of KP and Fata for what it has unleashed upon them in the name of ‘strategic interests’, and ensuring the revival of their economy is the very least that Islamabad can do as penance.
To give Ahsan Iqbal credit, he does assure everyone that a route through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be operational. But then, should verbal assurances backed by a line on a map be enough proof for that? Why is it that out of the 21 projects earmarked for the CPEC in PSDP of 2014-15, not even one is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa?
Similarly, in the recent deals with China, the only funds destined for the CPEC in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are for the dry port at Havelian. But that dry port is also essential for the eastern route, and besides that nothing else is being earmarked for the western route that goes through KP. Is the western route in such good shape that no investment in infrastructure is needed for it? Furthermore, China’s state television CCTV is also reporting only one route which passes through Punjab, and makes no mention of the PML-N’s promised route for the people of KP and Fata.
The steadily increasing outward migration from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata is a clear indicator that the economy of this region is failing its people. If patriotism means safeguarding the best interest of Pakistan, then the need is to prioritise the economic revival of this region, rather than lash out at those who are highlighting this need. There is no competition between Punjab and KP when it comes to the level of road infrastructure as well as security. Therefore it is very likely that even if both the routes are open, the eastern route might be the obvious choice.
An Islamabad with no provincial biases would have prioritised the plight and desperation of the Pakistanis of KP and Fata over everything else. It would have seized this opportunity to sell the western route to the Chinese as the only route, and also ensured that all objections to that route are taken care of. But it has completely failed in doing so and there is no evidence of the PML-N even trying for that.
This issue of the CPEC has been taken up by a number of political parties now, but at the core of this resistance is a group of Pashtun nationalists. This is mostly the same group that recently raised the issue of mistreatment of the IDPs. Before that they were speaking out against the ‘good’ Taliban, and a long time back the antecedents of this group were warning about the use of jihadis as a tool of foreign policy.
Most, if not all, of their demands have been received with either indifference or suspicion at the national level. And resultantly, since much of their protests have been in vain, this latest one on the CPEC is likely to suffer the same fate. To many, the irrelevance of these ‘provincial’ voices is necessary for strengthening this federation. But this view ignores the fact that these Pakistani Pakhtun nationalists make their claim for rights as Pakistani citizens. They do not reject the state of Pakistan, and make their demands through constitutional means.
The increasing irrelevance of Pakistani Pakhtun nationalists in the national discourse is coupled with their growing irrelevance in their own constituencies as well. It is becoming difficult for parties such as ANP and PkMAP to sell the idea that Pakhtuns can get their rights by using constitutional means within this federation.
Considering that the underlying problems still persist, it is quite possible that the vacuum left by these parties could be filled with Pakhtun nationalism of the separatist kind. We are currently witnessing the consequences of the irrelevance of Pakistani Baloch nationalists. Let’s not repeat the same mistakes with the Pakhtuns as well.
Spare a thought for Afshan Ahmed, a 24 year old teacher who stood up to the killers at Army Public School (APS) to defend her students. They responded by dousing her in petrol and setting her alight. But even as this brave woman was being burnt alive she still urged her students to run for their lives.
Also spare a thought for the six killers who carried out this massacre; Umar, Zubair, Yousaf, Ahmadullah, Saifullah and Abu Zar. Of these, three seem to be of the same age as many of their victims and the other three were not much older. Spare a thought for the horrors that these kids must have gone through, to be able to have so much hate in them that they could set someone on fire and watch her get burnt alive. Spare a thought for their mothers as well, whose ordeal must have begun long before the 16th of December.
It would be unfair not to count the six killers among the 145 dead victims at APS, as they all represent a recurring strategic cost that we have been paying to safeguard our “strategic interests”. Whatever this strategic interest may be, but so far it has consumed the lives of tens of thousands of Pakistanis to remain intact. Whether it was the strategic depth of the 80s or the more recent good-Taliban-bad-Taliban binary, these policy positions have provided the enabling environment which has brought us to this juncture, where even going to school has become an act of bravery.
However, there is hope, especially in the way our nation has come together in the wake of the APS massacre. But just hanging terrorists is not enough. It should be obvious that suicide bombers can’t be deterred by death. These bombers are “manufactured” with the fear of death taken out of them, the only way to stop them is to stop manufacturing them in the first place. As long as their “good” manufacturing factories factor into our strategic priorities we will have more and more of these strategic-assets-gone-wild. Lest one forgets, Naik Muhammad, Baitullah, and Hakeemullah have all been taken out in the most brutal of fashions, yet it did not stop Fazlullah from ordering this recent massacre.
The solution to it all has to be operation Zarb-i-Azb. This operation is different from its predecessors as it explicitly aims to eliminate the “bad” as well as “good” terrorists. It also has the advantage of being owned by the “Not our War” group of political parties; PML-N, PTI and JI might have won the elections by tying Taliban terrorism to U.S. drone strikes, but ever since coming into power these parties have completely capitulated on their earlier stance. This fact obviates the need for rooting out “Taliban apologists”, as Zarb-i-Azb has the necessary political consensus behind it. The need now is to ensure that it delivers on its goals. So far, it has been lacking in a few crucial areas.
To begin with, Zarb-i-Azb needs to be seen as not only an effort to stop terror attacks in “Pakistan-proper”, but also one to liberate the people of FATA from the Taliban. The last thing that we want is to alienate the people of FATA in the process, but by using F-16s to bomb civilian areas we might be doing exactly that. The US could afford to be hated in both Iraq and Afghanistan as they had to leave those countries, we on the other hand don’t have that luxury as this is our country and these are our people.
FATA IDPs need to feel that they are taking refuge within their own country. Security hysteria about Taliban infiltration needs to be qualified with a realization that we had left these people at the mercy of the Taliban for more than a decade. They are not coming out in droves because they want to live in camps in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, it is because our “strategic” policies have blown in our faces and here too this poor lot is bearing the brunt of the fallout. Implicit as well as explicit official bans on the movement of FATA IDPs need to be removed as they violate the basic rights of these Pakistanis. Denying them these rights might have far reaching consequences for the unity of this federation. The last thing that we want is to legitimize another resistance while we are eliminating the Taliban.
Given our history we have to prove that we have given up on the good Taliban. It is heartening to hear the Prime Minister as well as the Chief of Army staff reassure that no distinction will be made between good and bad Taliban, but their claims needs to be validated through independent media reports. Right now FATA is an information black-hole from which no independent confirmations can be made on targets, effectiveness and also collateral damage. The conspiracy theories and controversies surrounding Zarb-i-Azb can be put to rest if ISPR ceases to be the sole source of information about the operation.
Finally, we need to realize that by the time a suicide attacker reaches his targets it is already too late. Therefore, intelligence failures as well as a lack of coordination between security agencies need to be addressed more effectively. With more than 50,000 lost due to terrorism, one should have seen at least one resignation (forced or otherwise) from some of the officials of our numerous intelligence agencies, but that has not happened. Rather than holding landlords and naan-bais accountable for intelligence failures, Chaudhry Nisar should focus on those who have the official mandate for providing intelligence.
Initiating Zarb-i-Azb shouldn’t be an end in itself, the onus is now upon the supporters of Zarb-i-Azb to see that it succeeds. While the sacrifice of our security personnel must be honored and celebrated, there is a need for accountability and transparency around this initiative as well. We owe it to the memory of Afshan and thousands of other martyrs to finally put an end to this madness, political expediency shouldn’t get in the way of that.
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi is one of those people who gets respect from both his supporters as well as opponents, and deservedly so. These days, when Islam is being associated with beheadings and bomb blasts, it is because of scholars like Dr. Javed Ghamidi that one cannot do a negative generalization about Islamic teachings.
However, while saving Islam from negative generalizations, Dr. Ghamidi himself has resorted to generalizations about tribal Pashtuns, that are as racist and as unreasonable as some of those done about Muslims.
In his show, “Ghamidi kay Saath“, aired on Sama TV on 21st of February, Dr. Ghamidi was asked why the Taliban behead their opponents.
In his response, Mr. Ghamidi points out two main reasons,
1- Wrong interpretation of Islamic injunctions
2- Tribal norms and upbringing
While absolving Islamic injunctions for being wrongly interpreted, Ghamidi sahib puts the rest of the blame upon tribal norms and culture. Not even considering the possibility that by beheading prisoners, the Taliban might not only be violating Islamic norms of conduct but also tribal ones.
To elaborate his point, Mr. Ghamidi tells the non-tribal host of the program that while the two of them might not even consider slaughtering a chicken, thanks to a non-tribal “parwarish aur tarbiat” (upbringing), in tribal society however, even a six year old qabaili (tribal) child would have no qualms about slaughtering a grown up man.
As per Dr. Ghamidi, gore and violence comes naturally to Pashtun tribals as these are “mamooli batain” (normal things) for this lot. And it didn’t stop at that, as a caller declared all tribal Pashtuns to be mercenaries who have been historically up for grabs for the highest bidder. Dr. Ghamidi’s response to this racist and ignorant assertion was at best confusing.
Generalizations such as these should come across as shocking in any civilized society, but I guess Pakistani society by and large has not evolved to a point where individuals are judged according to their actions rather than their domicile certificates. Pick up any cellphone in Pakistan and it is likely to have an SMSed joke about Pashtun stupidity that has resulted in some outlandish behavior, be it sexual or violent. Leveraging this readily believable understanding about Pashtuns, many scholars, anchors, as well as politicians have gotten away with blatantly racist statements, as they rarely get called out for it.
But then generalization based on ethnicity have never stood up to rational scrutiny, whether they are done against Punjabis, Urdu-Speakers, Arabs or any other ethnicity. Like it or not, but there is no inferiority or superiority gene in anyone’s DNA, the second world war should have taught us that. People from a similar cultural background can have completely different outlooks towards life; urban Punjab for instance claims the Honorable Chief Justice Javed Iqbal, and also the serial killer Javed Iqbal.
Dr. Ghamidi’s assertion lacks any evidence to support his claim about this inherently violent behavior among Pashtun tribals, as he merely quotes theories about tribals in general and anecdotes about Pashtun tribals in particular that are dated back to the Mujahideen of the 80s.
However, it should be known that the history of FATA goes beyond the 1980s. One should consider why tribal FATA boasts bigger Sikh communities than non-tribal Western Punjab? What exactly were six-year-old Afridis and Orakazais up to in 1947, when Sikhs were getting lynched in their homes in Sheikhupura, Lyallpur and Gujranwala?
If 6-year-old children are okay with beheading grown up men in the name of Islam, then for sure the same could be done in the name of settling tribal feuds as well. I was wondering if Dr. Ghamidi or anyone else for that matter could come up with instances where Pashtun tribes had made mounds out of the heads of their rivals? There for sure must be some evidence out there to have convinced Dr. Ghamidi to be so certain in associating violence with tribal upbringing? If running feuds is enough of a reason, then how different are the inter-generational feuds in Waziristan from those in Gujranwala?
Interestingly, there are tribal lashkars fighting against the Taliban, but am yet to hear of a beheading that was carried out by anti Taliban tribals. If it was the normal thing to do among tribals, and the fact that Taliban are beheading members of these very lashkars, then how come these anti Taliban tribals are not resorting to beheadings as well?
On the other hand, was Ilyas Kashmiri also a product of qabaili upbringing that he was able to bring back severed heads of Indian soldiers? Can Punjabi Taliban also claim domiciles of FATA? If not then what exactly explains their unquenchable thirst for Shia blood?
It is a valid question to ask why the Taliban are overwhelmingly Pashtun, but then it is also wrong to ignore the “strategic” reasons behind it. FATA has served as a parking lot for Pakistan’s “strategic assets”: an area assigned to the production of cannon fodder to fight our proxy wars.
Billions of dollars have been funneled into FATA to not only turn civilians into soldiers but also to numb down the tribal spirit in order to make way for the “ummah”. As a result, Taliban Mehsuds have teamed up with Taliban Uzbeks to kill and oppress non-Taliban Mehsuds; an act which is sacrilegious under tribal norms, but is according to Taliban shariah. Taliban rule in FATA comes at the expense of the tribal way of life, and in no way compliments it.
Taliban norms of fighting are comparable to those of Jihadis stretching from Somalia to Syria and all the way to Chechnya, as they are all linked through a common interpretation of Islam. These norms are as shocking to the feuding families of Waziristan as they would be to the feuding families of Gujranwala.
As for the legendary “warrior” abilities of the “violent” tribal Pashtuns, one only has to visit any IDP camp to see how “comfortable” these people are with wars. In their thousands, grown up Pashtun men have fled for safety and are cuing up for food and water just like war weary men would in any other part of the world. That warrior spirit and that fabled thirst for revenge, which is so clearly visible from the comforts of drawing rooms and TV studios, is certainly missing in these camps.
The majority of Taliban might be tribal Pashtuns, but a majority of tribal Pashtuns are NOT Taliban. Anyone and everyone, who resorts to these racist generalizations about Pashtun tribals need to prove it with evidence.
They say success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. That seems to be the case for the ‘muzakraat’ solution that had been pushed so persistently by almost all political parties who are currently in power.
Whether it was the PML-N, PTI, JI or JUI-F, they until recently claimed that the Taliban were just waiting for an assurance that we are not fighting “someone else’s war”, an assurance that the previous “corrupt” government was unwilling to give.
But ever since these parties have come into power, they have resorted to U-turns that are somewhat proportional to their ability of implementing the much-touted muzakraat solution. Imran Khan has downgraded ‘muzakraat’ from being an ‘only’ solution to one that should at least be tried before military action.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who always insisted that the Taliban are “our people”, is now suddenly counting the number of attacks that his family and party have suffered at the hands of the same ‘our people’. But most importantly, Mian Nawaz Sharif, the one who assured everyone about the wisdom behind muzakraat, is now increasingly growing impatient with the carnage that is going on under his watch.
But it is the same PML-N, which, back in October 2012, in the aftermath of the attack on Malala Yousafzai, opposed the PPP’s bid for launching an operation in Waziristan. Yet, 16 months and 7,000 dead Pakistanis later, the PML-N has ordered PAF to bomb out militant hideouts in Waziristan.
So what changed exactly? Was the December 2012 explosion that killed nine in the Qissa Khawani Bazaar any different from the one that killed 10 in the same Qissa Khawani in September 2013? Was the TTP’s video of shooting 21 handcuffed and blindfolded Pakistani soldiers in December 2012 any less gruesome than that of the 23 beheaded ones in February 2014?
The only thing that has changed is that the PPP has been replaced by the PML-N, a party that claimed that it could bring peace without firing any bullets. But now when it’s time to finally fulfil his election promise, Mian Sahib is going back to a solution that he opposed before we had lost 7,000 precious lives.
But is just unleashing the army upon Waziristan going to solve everything?
To begin with, our counter insurgency efforts leave a lot to be desired, the bulldozed town of Loi Sum in Bajaur and the use of F-16s to bomb civilian areas are testament to that. Even the Indian army refrains from air strikes in Kashmir, an option that seems to be very convenient for our army when it comes to Fata.
But more importantly, the essential prerequisite for fighting this war is to realise that the Taliban are holding Waziristanis as hostages, and any war aimed at liberating these hostages should not simply assume them to be necessary collateral damage. However, to arrive at that aim, we have to first do away with an assumption that is seemingly built into our definition of ‘national interest’, which is to assume the people of Fata to be lesser Pakistanis of the dispensable kind.
This is not an emotional statement, the proof of this lies in the dichotomy between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. It is fairly obvious that the ‘bad’ Taliban are those who dare to impose or inflict upon Pakistan, what the ‘good’ Taliban have already imposed or inflicted upon Waziristan. The only thing that differentiates the good Taliban from the bad ones is the domiciles of their Pakistani victims.
And this hypocrisy does not stop at the strategic level, it is also glaringly obvious in our national debate on this issue. Our national indignation was so palpable over the audacity of the bad Taliban to even contemplate the notion of imposing their Shariah on us, but then at the same time we have been completely indifferent towards the fact that the good Taliban have already subjected ordinary Waziristanis to that same brand of Shariah.
We get horrified at the prospect of the bad Taliban banning polio vaccinations for our children, but then don’t even consider it worth our time to recognise the risks faced by Waziristani children whose access to polio drops have already been blocked by the good Taliban.
An operation into Waziristan shouldn’t be an exercise to make an example out of the bad Taliban so that the good ones stick to their ‘good’ behaviour. Good Taliban, by virtue of their identity as Taliban, are bad for Pakistanis who are living under their rule. That alone should be enough of a reason for rescuing these Pakistanis. But for that we need to accept Waziristanis as Pakistanis, both in strategy as well as in our national narrative on this issue.
It is high time we thought of new strategies to counter any threats from Afghanistan and India, strategies that do not require sacrifice of lesser Pakistanis to secure the heartland. No rational group of people could ever agree to this perpetually, and the people of Fata are as rational as any other group in Pakistan. If we are to survive as a federation then the need is to consider the Malalas of Waziristan to be as valuable as the Malalas of Rawalpindi and then do our strategic thinking.
Waziristan is in need of rescuing, but more than the Taliban it needs to be rescued from the policies that have relegated it to an area where we park our strategic assets and produce cannon fodder for our proxy wars.
Unless we do away with that strategy, this upcoming harvest of the bad Taliban will only provide a temporary relief, because as long as we are sowing and nurturing good Taliban, we will be reaping these bad ones as well, the ones that forget the difference between Kabul and Rawalpindi.
During the run-up to Election 2013, the phrase ‘baba ta easy load ka’ (send baba some easy load) had become the bane of the ANP’s existence. Talk about the 800 martyrs of ANP and the response would be: “yes, but baba ta easy load ka”. Mention the party’s defiance against the TTP and the response would be: “true, but baba ta easy load ka”.
The ANP’s fact-finding mission, which was tasked with investigating the reason for the party’s electoral defeat, declared ‘baba’ – Azam Khan Hoti – as one of the main culprits.
In response Hoti came out lashing at the ANP’s top leadership, as he alleged that Asfandyar Khan received a whooping $350 million bribe from the US.
It would have been better for Hoti Sahib had he stopped there and spoken of some secret Swiss accounts. But instead he used a very morbid yet poetic analogy to suggest that the blood of the ANP’s 800 martyrs is being used as oil in the lamps of Asfandyar’s hotels in Malaysia and palaces in Dubai.
While the analogy was good enough to be played repeatedly on all news channels, it also increased the burden of proof for Hoti. He is absolutely right in saying that such transfers of money don’t come with receipts. But then he must also know that property ownership does not come without title deeds. If there are hotels and palaces, then they must have names and addresses.
These allegations have been around for a while now, and Hoti could have finally substantiated these with evidence. But instead, he simply repeated what has already been said. The credibility of these allegations then can be judged from the fact that even a former close confidant of Asfandyar Khan does not have any evidence to prove them.
Given this fact, it is surprising to see the level of acceptance these allegations are finding among workers of the ANP’s opposition parties. It is very likely that if ‘Easy Load’ baba decided to join any of their parties he would face stiff opposition from these same workers – because of his lack of credibility.
An amount of $350 million is not given for nothing. The ANP would have been worth such a price tag had its stance on the war on terror been contrary to that of the United States. It would have made sense to buy the ANP had it been screaming about blocking Nato supply routes, or calling the war on terror to be ‘someone else’s war’ or referring to the Taliban as ‘our people’.
But it did none of that, and that is because the ANP’s war against this madness started way before 9/11. At a time when the Haqqani network was gracing the lawns of the White House, and John Rambo was shooting down Russian helicopters with arrows. For the ANP this is an existential war, and not an adventure in a far-off land that comes with a cut-and-run option. It is the US that woke up to this threat in 2001. Bacha Khan and Wali Khan had forewarned about these dangers two decades before that, when the US was nurturing these very monsters.
If the ANP was opposing these extremists when the US was supporting them, then why would the ANP change its stance just because the US had a change of heart? It was the ANP’s war way before it became the United States’ war.
However, if one has to look for some incumbency induced pro-US mood swings then one shouldn’t look beyond the PML-N, the PTI and the Jamaat-e-Islami.
The ‘pro-negotiations’ Nawaz Sharif is now tilting heavily towards ‘other options’, given the 779 deaths since he took office. Amazingly, it is an epiphany that did not dawn upon him while Pakistan was raking up 40,000 deaths during the last ten years.
The principled PTI, the one that was convinced about foreign aid being a curse for Pakistan, is now building a Naya Pakhtunkhwa with funds from donors belonging to the Nato alliance.
The feisty Jamaat-e-Islami, the one that used to dharna-block Nato supply routes, had until recently switched to blocking any resolution that asked for banning Nato supplies from passing through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
All one has to do is to wear a conspiracy-laden fez and ask why these hawks of five months ago are now suddenly cooing like pigeons? For starters one could consider the proximity of US embassy to both the PM House as well as Bani Gala.
The plot would thicken by also pondering upon those post-victory trips to the west; Nawaz Sharif meeting Obama, Imran Khan hobnobbing with British royalty and Sirajul Haq roaming around Europe. And with this overwhelming evidence about contacts with the CIA and the MI5, all one has to do is to throw in a neat little figure of $350 million per party and it should all start making ‘sense’.
If this sounds preposterous then Azam Khan’s claims should sound twice as crazy. The U-turns of the PML-N, PTI and JI can be explained in the context of their empty election promises; peace in 90 days, breaking the IMF kashkol, saying no to foreign aid, negotiations the ‘only’ solution etc. With the votes securely bagged these parties are now gradually switching to the policies of the last five years, especially on the war on terror.
It is yet to be seen whether the chest thumping over Hakeemullah’s death is just playing to the galleries or something more. But one thing is for sure: by considering options other than negotiations these parties have vindicated the stance of the ANP and the PPP, a stance that included the Swat agreement as well as a block on Nato supplies. It is time to accept that maybe, just maybe, negotiations never were an option – a lesson we should have learnt from the failure of the Swat agreement and many others – and that this has always been our own war and not someone else’s.
And once that realisation sinks in, then it is easy to see that foreign money is not needed as an incentive to fight one’s own war. Because when the threat is to one’s existence and there is no option of flight, then the only option left is to fight.