|Fly on the wall
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Zafar Khalid Farooq
Martin Niemölle was a German pastor and theologian in 20th-century Germany. Arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis before the war, his most famous work was a poem he wrote criticising the inactivity and apathy of German intellectuals and society to the growing menace of Nazism. The poem reads as follows:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me.
For all the apologists and ostriches in the country – yes, I am talking to you, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan — here’s an updated, localised version of the poem.
First they came for the Indians, and I did not speak out — because I was not an Indian;
Then they came for the Ahmadis and Shias, and I did not speak out — because I was not an Ahmadi or a Shia;
Then they came for the cricketers, and I did not speak out — because I was not a cricketer;
Then they came for the soldiers and police, and I did not speak out — because I was not a soldier or policeman;
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Really, after last week’s attack on students at the International Islamic University in Islamabad we are now at that stage where they are coming for all of us. You would imagine this would, at the very least, unite the political and military establishment against the scourge of our country – an evil that threatens the very existence of Pakistan. Yet, our political and military masters remain divided and fractious as ever on the issue. Red herrings, hidden hands and obstinate denials abound from their forked tongues. We had the spectacle of Interior Minister Rehman Malik last week blaming the Indians for the terrorist atrocities. All Imran Khan can do is bang on about US drone attacks. And, as Fasi Zaka rightly pointed out last week on these very pages, Nawaz Sharif remains completely silent on the subject of extremism. How different from his earlier incarnation this year as the defender of the oppressed during the culmination of the lawyers’ movement?
But you only get the leaders you deserve. We too must blame ourselves. For too long we have tolerated intolerance. Bigotry and religious cant have been allowed to bloom for fear of hurting people’s sensibilities.
We are also a nation that loves to live in denial. Whether that is denying the incest that can occur in our families, or the child abuse that happens in our homes. We deny our relationships and true nature from our parents, wives and children. Our lives are built upon secrets and lies. Like an alcoholic or drug addict who refuses to accept we have a problem, our nation suffers from a collective chronic inability to accept and digest the truth. This is our problem. These are our terrorists. Until we can accept that we will continue to deny or believe Muslims or Pakistanis are involved. These are M-on-M killings – Muslim on Muslim. Let’s admit that. And once we do, as the cliché goes, the truth shall set us free.
Yet, go to any drawing room soiree and the right-wing apologists bombard you with ignorant gossip. They’ll cosy up to you and blame everyone but Pakistanis for the attacks. It’s the Indians, they’ll whisper. It’s the Americans, the Jews, the Chinese and so and so forth. By apologising, or denying our responsibility in these attacks, these right-wing nationalists are harming the country they purport to love. The UN World Food programme and the WHO polio immunisation campaign have become ‘legitimate’ targets for these fanatics. Heaven forbid the poor of Pakistan are fed, or immunised before becoming cripples! But then I guess the children of Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif are already well-fed and healthy.
Logically it just doesn’t make sense either. There are very few things that can unify Sri Lanka and India, or Iran and the US, for that matter. Yet militants from this country have targeted all of them. Do any of these countries, especially our neighbours, want a nuclear unstable Pakistan? Why would it be in their interest? Did the Indians attack themselves in Mumbai last year? Was it the Indian army that trained Dr Usman, the leader of the attack on GHQ? No, it was the Pakistani army – where he was employed for several years.
Let’s say it again — these are our militants. This is our problem. Some of whom have been trained, funded and developed by the very security apparatus that is now fighting them. Let’s pray that the policy of underwriting and supporting jihadi groups by the intelligence agencies has now been dropped forever. And the reason the problem has been allowed to metastasise and the cancer to spread has been the ongoing denial of our leaders. It was well-known that the Musharraf government was happy to go after Al Qaeda, but reluctant to target the Taliban. During his tenure the army still saw them as potentially useful pawns in a deadly, real-life, game of risk. The Taliban were created and kept on ice for our army’s incessant need for ‘strategic depth’ into Afghanistan. This Cold War mentality must finish now. India is not our enemy. Our Cold War mentality and strategies are. It has been them that has created this Frankenstein monster that has come back to hurt us and kill 200 innocent people this past month.
I started this column with a quote concerning World War Two, so I will end with one from that period. At the height of the Nazi menace, Winston Churchill formed a National government in the UK. His cabinet was made up of politicians across the political spectrum – Labour, Liberals, as well as Conservatives. It was a united cabinet, fighting a united threat against Britain’s very existence.
During Britain’s darkest days (literally because of the blackouts), when bombs rained down nightly on the industrialised cities of the UK, Churchill with his cabinet united behind him, made a speech to the House of Commons to stiffen the spines of the British people. It ended thus:
“We shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”.
With suicide and car bombs in our cities, it’s time our political and military leadership united, and displayed similar leadership against the militant threat. No equivocation. No justification — just strength and determination. Is Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan or Asif Zardari our Churchill? Seventy years on from Martin Niemölle, is there anyone to speak out for me?
Ideas can win the war
The war being fought in the hills of South Waziristan is not simply a military war; it is more a war of ideas. –Photo by AFP
Now that the military has begun its Rah-i-Nijat operation in South Waziristan, the question has begun to be asked whether it will succeed. We will not know the answer for several weeks, perhaps not even then.
The real victory will come only when the people not just in the tribal areas but in all parts of the country decide that they have been misled by a small of group of extremists.
The people must make clear that they don’t see their country and religion being under assault by the West, in particular the United States, and that it is their own people who are attacking them. In addition to the use of military power, what is required is the use of people’s power. The war being fought in the hills of South Waziristan is not simply a military war; it is more a war of ideas.
There has been much reflection in the American press in recent days about the meaning and ends of war. This was prompted by the on-going review of the options Washington has in the war in Afghanistan. There appears to be consensus among the commentators that no matter what the American president decides regarding the course of the conflict, it will, from now on, be ‘Obama’s war.’
One analyst, Gordon M. Goldstein, writing for The New York Times, drew a number of lessons for the current president based on the experiences of Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in conducting the American war in Vietnam. Kennedy chose the middle course, preferring to concentrate on building the capacity of the state to help the people who had turned to insurgency since they saw no other way to better their rapidly deteriorating economic and social situation. Johnson, on the other hand, was overawed by the military and opted for the military option.
What is the relevance of this debate in the United States for Pakistan’s policymakers as they conduct their operations in South Waziristan? There are several. Of these I would like to focus on the following three. First the civilians must provide credible leadership to this effort by the military. We know from our own history that the military cannot galvanise popular support when it goes into battle to protect the interests of the state.
There was great popular support for troops in the brief war with India in September 1965 but it could not be sustained when the politicians, led by the leadership that had come from the military, were not be able to credibly explain the purpose of the war and its aftermath.
Similarly, while the civil war in East Pakistan was provoked by the military, its aftermath had to be handled by the civilians. In the present context, we should recognise that a good start was made by convening a well-attended meeting of political leaders that authorised the use of force against the entrenched Taliban in South Waziristan.
Second, there has to be only one system of governance in one country. Pakistan allowed the Taliban to run a parallel government in the areas they control. The jihadists in the populous province of Punjab would like to do the same in the areas where they have influence. They will succeed only if the state abdicates its responsibility of providing basic services to the people. This should not happen if the institutions of the state are strong and the government has the resources to provide for the people. The cash-strapped government in Pakistan has to collect more resources to finance its operations and to use the money it spends effectively and efficiently. It is doing neither at this time.
Third, people have also to act. Let me quote at length from a recent article by the journalist Thomas L. Friedman who has written extensively on the developing world, especially on Muslim countries. ‘In places like Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Pakistan you have violent religious extremist movements fighting with state security services. … And while the regimes in these countries are committed to crushing their extremists, they rarely take on their extremist ideas by offering progressive alternatives. And when these extremists aim elsewhere … these regimes are indifferent. That is why there is no true war of ideas inside these countries — just a war.’
This is a correct and insightful observation. ‘These states are not promoting an inclusive and tolerant interpretation of Islam that could be the foundation of people power,’ Friedman continues.
Pakistan, unlike the countries on Friedman’s list has had a ‘people power’ movement when the lawyers demonstrated that by acting with courage and resolution, they could bring about more than regime change. They could also force a strong executive to begin to show respect to the judiciary and its opinions. The same people power needs to be mobilised to rescue religion from the clutches of the extremists.
Those on the margins of Pakistani society have found leadership from the ranks of the people who, although basically illiterate and poorly informed, are able to compensate for their shortcomings by the extremely strong courage of their convictions. The lawyers managed to find leaders from their own ranks. The progressive elements within the Pakistani society must search for those who can lead them in a much-needed people’s movement in the war against extremism.
What is needed at this critical moment in the country’s history is a group of civilian leaders who can galvanise broad support for the difficult journey on which the armed forces have embarked. Also needed is an economic plan for building state institutions to deliver the appropriate services to the people in stress and also improve their access to basic needs. Finally the moderates in Pakistani society need to let it be known that they are not in agreement with the extremists in the way they interpret Islam, the way they see the functioning of the state and the way they would place Pakistan in the international community. (Dawn)