Beating Back the Taliban

My column for HardNews, written May 24, 2009

PERSONAL POLITICAL

Beena Sarwar

“Is the threat of Talibanisation real or has it been hyped up by the media?” asked an Australian journalist friend calling a week before the Pakistan army began its belated operation against the militants in Swat region. With no independent reporting from the area, there’s only the army’s word about the situation. If rag-tag Taliban barely 4,000 strong are being trounced it is hardly surprising – they face the world’s fifth largest standing army.

A quarter have reportedly been killed in the operation. Many are deserting, shaving off their beards and melting back into the local population. Not all are hard core militants. Some joined the Taliban for money, were forced, or driven to avenge the casualties caused by American drone attacks. However, some still cause fear according to reports coming from refugee camps that house an estimated 20 per cent of the over two million persons internally displaced (IDPs in development jargon) since the fighting began. The rest are living with friends, family or strangers, some of whom house up to 4,000 people on their lands.

For the first time since 1971, a ‘war narrative’ is being developed by the media, government, army and politicians (many of whom until recently justified the Taliban’s actions; during Kargil, they denied the Pakistan army’s involvement). Now there are images ‘war hero funerals’ of army ‘shaheeds’ (martyrs) – not all from Pakistan’s dominant religion (Muslim) or ethnic group (Punjabi).

Even before the army action, wild bearded turbaned hordes were unlikely to take over Pakistan. This is not Afghanistan where decades of war destroyed all the systems and institutions. Nor is it Iran, where a huge urban-rural divide helped the mullahs to take over. Even conservative Pakistanis are uncomfortable with the Taliban’s brand of Islam – public beheadings, corpse mutilations and floggings. There is wide adherence to Sufi values and anger at the Taliban’s attacks on sufi shrines.

Pakistan has a 5,50,000 strong standing army (struggling to re-orient itself against its former allies the jihadis, countering its historic conditioning against India), a bureaucracy geared to maintaining the status quo, and an elected Parliament. Regular interruptions to the political process have made them somewhat dysfunctional but the only cure is to continue the process, break the pattern according to which no elected government in Pakistan has completed its tenure (not counting the one formed after the 2002 elections that took place during military rule without the participation of the political leadership).

I started writing this while my father was hospitalised  in the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT), a clean and well-equipped facility that treats rich and poor free of charge in this bustling megapolis of over 16 million. I described to my Australian friend the street scene I saw. The three-storey sandstone building is surrounded by decrepit British era and modern apartment blocks. Some ancient neem trees raise leafy green heads, sanctuaries for noisy crows in this concrete jungle. In the evenings, families including women and children, and groups of young men, bring roadside eateries to life.

For all the efforts homogenise Pakistani society, it remains diverse. That afternoon, a couple walked past the pushcart fruit, juice vendors and parked motorcycles, the woman in a brown burqa, the man in conventional shalwar kameez. Two young girls in colourful shalwar kameez, dupattas draped casually over their shoulders, walked the opposite direction. Another woman went alone, a black chaddar over her blue shalwar kurta. Several men lounged on the footpath, some squatting on their haunches, smoking, chatting, drinking tea.

Elsewhere, air-conditioned malls are full of young girls and women, some with girlfriends or dates, others with families or alone. Their attire ranges from burqas and headscarves over shalwar kurtas, to short shirts and jeans, to  high-slit tunics over calf-length trousers (‘capris’). Many are window shoppers escaping oppressive heat compounded by power breakdowns. Not all can afford the designer labels on display, but exposure to different lifestyles has changed old aspirations (not necessarily in a positive way).

Meanwhile, whether or not the Taliban are beaten back, a greater threat emanates from state systems that encourage conservative thinking — discriminatory laws against religious minorities and women, the encouragement of violence against religious minorities and women, vigilante justice, and anti-India, pro-jehadi values

http://tinyurl.com/pp-taliban

Doc’s blog; Madrassas vs Pvt schools; Hoodbhoy on Pk; Cost of war and more

Condolences: Lourdes Joseph, longtime activist and office secretary of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) passed away today in Dubai of a heart attack. Funeral on June 10, 4 pm, at St Anthony’s Church in Karachi; burial at ‘gora qabristan’ 5 pm.

1. New blog – www.drsarwar.wordpress.com – with photos and remembrances, including by I.A. Rehman, Salima Hashmi, Dr Badar Siddiqui, S.M. Naseem, Ali Jafari, Mohsin Tejani and others

2. The Madrasa Myth op-ed co-authored by Tahir Andrabi, Jishnu Das, C. Christine Fair, and Asim Ijaz Khwaja, published June 3, 2009 -  http://www.foreignpolicy.com

Extract: `Rather than focusing on madrasas and public schools, the donor community should take note of a striking change in the Pakistani educational landscape: the emergence of mainstream and affordable private schools.’

Note from Tahir Andrabi (Professor of Economics, Pomona College, Claremont, CA):
“Trying to inject some sense in the mainstream of the Washington policy debate on Pakistan. Would like for once to having facts as a basis for conversation on Pakistan”. (The other Pakistani co-author Asim Ijaz Khwaja teaches at Harvard Kennedy School). http://tinyurl.com/lxlbrs

3. `Whither Pakistan? A five-year forecast’ by Pervez Hoodbhoy in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 3 June 2009. Article Highlights
• U.S. government officials and media outlets have exaggerated how close Pakistan is to collapse.
• That said, the speed of Pakistan’s societal decline has surprised many inside in the country who have long warned of the effects of religious extremism.
• The first step toward calming the situation–Pakistan’s political leadership and army must squarely face the extremist threat, something they’ve finally begun to do.
http://tinyurl.com/Pk-PH-5yr

4. The Women of Swat and `Mullah Radio’, Tuesday, 02 June 2009,
From a group of NWFP women, report published in http://khyberwatch.com
Extract: “Islam started as soon as we fled from Malakand. People outside Swat think we had Islam and Shariat. There is no Islam in Swat. The Taliban have finished it.’ -woman from Mingawera, Swat, in a Sawabai camp
Full report at – http://tinyurl.com/lrnvo4

5. HRCP report on the situation of the internally displaced, plus the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations at:  http://hrcpblog.wordpress.com
`A tragedy of errors and Cover-ups – The IDPs and outcome of military actions in FATA and Malakand Division’
The cost of the insurgency in the Malakand Division has been increased manifold by the shortsightedness and indecisiveness of the non-representative institutions and their policy of appeasing the militants and cohorting with them. While the ongoing military operation had become unavoidable, it was not adopted as a measure of the last resort. Further, the plight of the internally displaced people has been aggravated by lack of planning and coordination by the agencies concerned, and the methods of evacuation of towns/villages and the arrangements for the stranded people have left much to be desired….

Based on reports by HRCP activists in Malakand Division and other parts of NWFP/Pakhtunkhwa, visits to camps by its activists and senior board members, and talks with many displaced people and several Nazims and public figures
Direct link to report – http://tinyurl.com/mpy7et

6. From Isa Daudpota: Bill Moyers sits down with award-winning investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill to examine the human and financial costs of America’s wars.
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/06052009/watch.html
Plus a new website he suggests checking out: www.whowhatwhy.com

Swat aid appeals; Pk can defy odds; ‘WoT’ Myths; Binayak Sen; Ashram in Sindh

A lot going on but huge backlog (on the personal front, the ‘Old Fighter’ as his friend Eric Rahim called him still in hospital, fighting on). In this post:

1. Appeals for aid for thousands of Pakistanis displaced by the fighting in the
Swat region (I so dislike using ‘IDP’, the dehumanising but convenient acronym
used for internal refugees) & I.A. Rehman on the disaster brewing & Independent report (scroll below for details)

2. Pakistan Can Defy the Odds: How to Rescue a Failing State by Hassan Abbas - download the PDF document at
http://ispu.org/reports/articledetailpb-76.html
(outlines issues related to the Taliban, a vibrant civil society movement for
the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and the supremacy of the
constitution; a strong ‘independent’ (for the most part) media; writers,
artists, poets, and intellectuals standing up to religious bigotry; the results
of the 2008 elections in which religious political parties were trounced, and
American-Pakistani relations)

3. `A cobweb of myths’ – Prominent linguist and writer Dr Tariq Rahman
de-constructs myth, the realisation of which is essential if our children are to
have a better future – “that we have created our own Frankensteins and not
foreign countries; that most of the militants are our people and not foreigners
(though some are); that foreign countries may help militants but are not
powerful enough to keep them alive for ever; that we made mistakes in the past
of which we are reaping the harvest”
Dawn, May 14, 2009: http://tinyurl.com/p2fo95

4. The campaign to free Dr Binayak Sen – Chattisgarh paediatrician, health care
worker and democracy activist (general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil
Liberties, PUCL) has been imprisoned for two years without trial, without bail,
for allegedly helping Naxalite insurgents – see
Daily South Asian - http://tinyurl.com/padqzk
Countercurrents - http://tinyurl.com/rcqpf7
Indian Express - http://tinyurl.com/r7dpeq

5. Some good news in the middle of the bad – Report on a 100-year-old Ashram in Tharparkar, where hundreds of animals, children and jobless people find solace, by Shahid Husain in ‘The News on Sunday’, Kolachi section, May 10, 2009:
http://tinyurl.com/ov4j4u

OVER TO the burning issue of the military operation in Swat and the internally
displaced persons

‘Malakand priorities’ – Veteran journalist and human rights activist I.A. Rehman warns that with the expected fallout of the military operation in Malakand Division having exceeded official estimates, the whole effort at overcoming terrorism and militancy could miscarry.
Dawn, May 14, 2009 -http://tinyurl.com/par5b2

See also Truthout – <http://www.truthout.org/050909A>
Half a Million Flee Swat Valley as Pakistan Faces Months of Fighting
by Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, Saturday 09 May 2009

BELOW: Localised appeals for aid – besides Edhi - http://www.edhifoundation.com
-
From Fauzia Minallah <funkor.childart@gmail.com>
Summer Clothes for women and children (Please ensure that the shirts are not
be sleeveless ).  Toys will bring back smiles on Children’s faces.
Please drop them at 2 C, Naval Housing F 11/1 Islamabad -
Contact: Naila Zahid 0300 555 4303

From Dr Samrina Hashmi <samrina_hashmi@yahoo.com>
Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), Karachi – accepting Cash,Medicines, Flour, Powdered Milk, Biscuits,Water
Medical Camp for IDPs at Itehad Town, Karachi, Sunday May 17 2009.
Bus will leave from PMA House (Aga Khan 111 Road,Sadder, Karachi) at 9am sharp; Doctors, nurses ,paramedics invited. Need Antibiotics,plaster {Gypsona 4″,6″}, Paracetamols, anti-diarreals, anti-malarials 
Contact:
Amir Peter +92-21-2251159
Rehan   +92-333-2367020   

From Mohsin Sayeed <mohsinqs@hotmail.com>
Voice of the Civil Society-VOTCS donation camp at Carlton Hotel May 15-17, 10:00 a.m-5:00 p.m). Contact: hadiakhan@gmail.com
Collecting cash (esp for tents), dry food, hygenic items (soap etc), beddings &
candies for children, plus basic medicines (Pain Killers, Cough syrups,
Bandages, Antibiotic oral medicines and for external use e.g. Furecin
powder)

From Pakistan Peace and Solidarity Council <pscpak@gmail.com>
PPSC is providing food, drinking water and assist the displaced people in
registration in Shergarh, Takht Bhai, Mardan and Jalala.  

Dr. Nisar Ali Shah,  (Karachi)  Ph# +92-333-7157215

Mr. Pasha (Peshawar)   Ph# +92-300-9363403

Mr. Jamshed Khan  (Mardan)    Ph# +92-345-9386739

Mr. Hassan Zaman (Punjab)      Ph# +92-300-7192515 & +92-61-6014154

Dr. Muhammad Hafiz Ur Rehman (Islamabad)  Ph# +92-334-5038705

Web: http://www.pscpak.org

That’s it for now

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