Thursday, July 15, 2010

Plight of the Nobodies in Pakistan By Imtiaz Gul

What is clear on the tribal frontiers in the Northwest Territories of Pakistan is that the Taliban has capitalized on the absence of good governance and of swift justice. Common people, already reeling under backbreaking food inflation and a tormenting energy crisis, feel that politicians, criminals, drug traffickers, and officials have ganged up against them to deprive them of an honorable living. The Taliban and like-minded religious militants have successfully exploited these feelings while sowing fear in the minds of all government servants. Providing justice on the spot, prosecuting criminals, and ensuring fair play to victims of injustice are effective tools that the Taliban use to make themselves look like a God-fearing, formidable force that is eager to come to the public's rescue.

Little attention, however, is paid to the consequences of Taliban advances. Many frustrated people – and not just conservatives – overlook the problems that arise out of the Taliban code of life. It was the suppression of individual liberties in the name of a questionable puritanical brand of Islam that the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban practiced, and are hoping to put into practice again. This obviously does not augur well for Pakistan's tribal area or the country as a whole.

A majority of the people [The Nobodies] are faced with demoralizing choices, wedged between the receiving end of an overbearing and inefficient bureaucracy - which is unhelpful, obstructive, corrupt - and radical, sometimes viciously sectarian Islamists. They are often caught in the crossfire between insurgents and the army which has increasingly bowed to the wishes of the occupation forces in Afghanistan and moved into the frontier territories with overwhelming force and stayed for increasingly longer periods of time, disrupting traditional economies, exacerbating tribal conflicts and creating large refugee populations.

At the bottom of the pecking order in Pakistan are mentally unstable teenagers in asylums, orphanages, schools, and refugee camps across Pakistan. Most of the suicide bombers used in the roughly eighty attacks inside Pakistan between January 2007 and July 2008 were Pakistanis and Afghans recruited from these populations.

The Iraq war helped popularize suicide bombings through-out the Muslim world and bears some responsibility for Pakistan's current predicament. The war had an enormous impact in Pakistan. Most Pakistanis thought it was an unjust war, imposed on Iraq under a flimsy pretext so the reaction to it was quite intense, especially among those who were wary or critical of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Almost every discussion of the Afghan war in Pakistani social and political circles ( 'the chattering classes') invariably brings in the U.S, invasion of Iraq and its consequences for Pakistan.

But it was the second drone strike on January 13, 2006, targeting Ayman al-Zawahiri in Damadola, a village in the Bajour territory, followed by another on October 29 that killed eighty-three students at a seminary in Chengai, that really triggered suicide bombings in Pakistan, along with the operation targeting Islamabad's Red Mosque in July 2007.[ ]

Until 2007 suicide bombings mostly targeted restaurants and public places frequented by foreigners. This abruptly changed after the seizure of the Red Mosque when terrorists began targeting army, police, and intelligence facilities and army convoys in the Northwest Territories. No place in Pakistan is secure against such attacks and religious leaders who have spoken against suicide bombings as Un-Islamic have themselves been bombed or otherwise assassinated.

At the conclusion of his book the author asserts that this tactic has likely backfired on the militants. Previously the government and the ruling elite in the army had been willing to negotiate, bargain with or play-off militant groups one against the other. The suicide bombings have pretty much convinced them that this is no longer possible and that their best interests is to cooperate fully with the U.S. and NATO's global “war on terror” and attack all militant groups without discrimination.. The hope for honest government, however, with basic infrastructures- water, power, transport, public schools, hospitals, and some measure of economic justice- remains largely unfulfilled.

1 comment:

  1. Imtiaz Gul is a reporter for Pakistan's “Friday Times “ and ”News”, CNN and appears regularly on Al Jazeera as well as on Indian and Pakistani TV Channels. He is executive Director of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad.