A War We Are Not fighting In The National Interest

Posted: August 25, 2008 in Political
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The exit of President Musharraf, though
long delayed, finally took place. Probably he is the first General
President whose departure was praised by the Jamaat-e-Islami and other
religious parties. This shows the paradigm shift in Pakistan’s
politics. At the same time, it points to some things that are
worrisome. Now that he is gone, the government of Prime Minister Gilani
should focus on the real challenges that face us.

As a nation, however, our politics — be it that of the politicians or
the generals, is short-sighted and somewhat self-serving. The national
interest is usually cast aside in favour of immediate gains. We are
ready to mislead and misguide if that helps in our survival. This has
happened in the past and is happening again.

Then there are many amongst us who are neither here nor there. They
flourish and blossom in the art of the in-between. Be it politicians,
the media or the government in power, there is always ifs and buts in
everything. But these compromises cost us dearly. The people are left
wondering when the government will come to their rescue while the fence
sitters delay and dither.

Coming back to the situation in the country, make no mistake about it.
We are at war. The war on terror has come home. Only Pakistanis do not
want to think about it. There is fear amongst ordinary Pakistanis in
the plains but no one seems to be rising to the occasion. It seems as
if everyone is thinking this is someone else’s war.

The reality is that thousands of refugees are entering Peshawar and
other cities of NWFP, fleeing from the intense fighting in the tribal
areas and other parts of the province. The army has resorted to bombing
areas that they suspect are under the control of the militants. The
real victims are the people, not the Taliban.

While the army has focused its attention on the war against the
militants, the Taliban and their allied groups have taken to occupying
large areas and trying to establish their writ there. However, the
strength of the militants is not in taking over areas and administering
them. They do not have the firepower or the popular support to do so.
Instead, they spread fear and terror through bomb attacks and suicide
bombings. Theirs is a war without any rules in which they have
justified the killing of fellow Muslims, most of whom are not even
combatants. Hundreds of Pakistanis have died as ‘collateral damage’.
And the same militants then talk about the damage caused by the
American forces. This is an irony.

We need to get our priorities right. In this context, one can only
wonder at the statement of the Jamaat-e-Islami leadership in Karachi
recently in which it said that the Taliban are “not against Pakistan”.
It is best that the families of those who died in the Wah carnage ask
those who say this to better explain their definition of the Taliban as
well as what constitutes being “against Pakistan”. Hundreds of innocent
Pakistanis have been killed by the militants and there are some among
us who still defend them. This is worrisome.

There are others who have pointed out that history has come full
circle. The rightwing parties that were quick to question the
patriotism and national spirit of others and did not hesitate to
blacken names of hundreds in the 60s, 70s and 80s are themselves in the
dock today.

The biggest crime of our government is its inaction. We saw this in the
Lal Masjid incident too. The government allowed the Hafsa brigade to
take over a children’s library, then attack CD shops in a local market,
kidnap government officials like policemen, and finally raid an alleged
massage parlour. While all this was happening, the government adopted
an apologetic tone and seemed unsure of what to do next. The matter was
complicated by the likes of Chaudhry Shujaat and Ejazul Haq, who jumped
into the negotiations and promised things that only made the situation
even murkier.

By the time the government mustered the will to do anything, things had
got to the point of no return. In all this, some channels and media
outlets also played a dubious role by showing the Lal Masjid militants
and the Hafsa brigade as a bunch of do-gooders who had been wronged by
the state. Poor taste and bad judgment is not the monopoly of the
private channels only. The “interview” on PTV of the maulvi who tried
to escape in a burqa was ill advised and in extreme poor taste.

Analysts say that the government did not learn lessons from the Lal
Masjid incident and the same inaction can be seen in FATA and NWFP. The
militants have been emboldened by a number of factors, which include
the signing of peace treaties with local militant commanders without
any clause for punishing those who violate them. Also, the by-passing
of the Political Agent as well as how small time
criminals-turned-militant commanders went on to sign deals with the
government under which all their previous sins were forgiven. This,
predictably, did not go well with the public.

People of NWFP and FATA are sick of the growing violence. In this they
feel that there is not enough concern being raised in other parts of
Pakistan over their plight. There have been no national campaigns to
help victims of terror attacks who suffer silently in district
hospitals in the NWFP or at the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar. Do
we not care for them, or are we waiting for the militants to win back
their hearts?

The people of Buner have been brave. In some villages the elders kicked
out the local Taliban militia after they killed eight local policemen
without any provocation. The elders have also asked the military to
also stay away since there are no militants to be had in their area.
Villagers say that they don’t know who to fear more, the Taliban or the
security forces.

It is not too late, say those familiar with the on-ground situation.
But we must first focus on what we want to achieve. Make no mistake,
this is our war. Even if the US decides to pull out of this conflict,
we will still have to continue to fight. Pakistanis cannot afford to
ignore this as a problem affecting only one part of the country. There
must be more national involvement in the fight.

At the same time, politicians like Mian Nawaz Sharif should not try and
complicate the issue. Trying to score points against ex-President
Musharraf, he accuses that government of mishandling the Lal Masjid
affair and holds the former president responsible for the death of
innocent women and children. That is not true. The responsibility lies
with the Lal Masjid administration which kept them hostage.

It is time for the people of the country to band together and go
all-out for peace. It’s not enough for well-meaning overseas Pakistanis
to run campaigns on TV explaining to the world that we as Pakistanis do
not support terrorism. Pakistanis need to own up to what their country
expects from them. The government and the people need to reach out to
the victims. We need to condemn the acts of terror and highlight who
was behind them. We should try and bring the perpetrators of these
crimes against innocent men, women and children to justice. As
Pakistanis, first and foremost, we should understand that we have to
fight this war for our survival. The odds are in our favour. Let us not
let our country be over taken by those who pursue another agenda.

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