Militants Lose, Militants Gain


*First published in The Nation. Posting the unedited version here:

Pakistan’s momentous decision to battle militants in North Waziristan under the banner of Zarb-e-Azb has struck a decisive hour for the country and nation. However, while the dominant focus has been on the on-ground offensive, remaining aspects of the fight such as the ideological prevalence of the extremist ideology in the state and society, and the implications of the decision have been seemingly blurred into insignificance.

The military operation has come with a large human cost that is generally dehumanized to lump up as Internally Displaced Persons.

Over half a million IDPs have been registered so far, with the numbers expected to swell and exert pressure on the government’s capacity and capability to ease their massive predicament.

Rashida Dohad, programme director at the Omar Asghar Khan Foundation, penned the plight of the fleeing IDPs while explaining the languor nature of response to it in her article in The News titled ‘Displaced, Disowned’:

The state’s ineffective response can be partly attributed to the proverbial high number of cooks that spoil the broth. The federal government authorised the operation, which is being carried out by the military in NWA leading to an exodus of local people from Fata who are taking refuge in the settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

So who is in-charge? At times, all appear busy – the federal government, the military, the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the administration in Fata. More often none assume responsibility, with each blaming the other for the suffering caused to the people of NWA, who are not just displaced, but also disowned.’

But while the Pakistani government’s response to various emergencies and crises has traditionally been slow, sluggish and therefore, often ineffective; this fresh crisis of displacement has given rise to immense ease and access with which extremist and militant organizations are being allowed to operate as relief groups – which can potentially have grave implications.

In a recent report by Taha Siddiqui for Dawn, the troubling development is shed full light on:

‘The FaIah-e-Insaniyat Foundation volunteer quickly serves one IDP after another, and then moves back to the relief camp set up just outside the sports complex — the only one in the vicinity — for a refill. There’s a huge banner which states: “In these tough times, we are standing with you [the IDPs] — Jamaatud Dawa.”

The organisation has over 200 volunteers distributing aid across Bannu, with 25 ambulances on standby. Sarfaraz says they have given out more than 112,000 food packets, and provided medical treatment to over 10,000 patients.

And it is not just JuD that is free to operate in this region. Just half a kilometre before the sports complex, a large banner in blood-red colour bears the name of Masood Azhar, and calls him the Ameer-ul-Mujahideen. The camp, which provides water and medical facilities, also has a queue of people waiting to see the doctor.’

This is not the first time this occurrence has surfaced. When the devastating floods of 2010 wrecked the country, displacing millions, the same extremist and militant organizations stepped up to provide aid as the then-Pakistan People’s Party government stumbled in the effort.

Published on August 23rd 2010, Corey Flintoff’s report on NPR titled ‘In Pakistan, Militants Use Aid to Seek Support’ described a similar situation:

‘There are a lot of reports of extremist groups stepping up to provide aid,” says Molly Kinder, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to reducing poverty.

Kinder, whose work focuses on the effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid, says the government of Pakistan “has clearly lost the war” in terms of winning credit for its relief efforts. “Even if the reports are exaggerated, the extremists have created the impression that they care about ordinary people,” she says.’

The same month, the Daily Beast also reported on Jamaat-ud-Dawah’s proud claim of providing relief to more than 250,000 flood-affectees.

It is in such instances when the government limps to act that such groups find fertile ground to posit themselves as alternatives in front of the people, especially those in need of help, building popular bases of support and converting their ambitions into influence and power; through which they gain the audacity to later pose a challenge to the entire state and society.

As Zarb-e-Azb rages on, it must be realized that it is not just an Operation, it is a war with multiple battles. And while the main front is North Waziristan, it has opened another front within the IDP camps as extremist and militant organizations capitalize the crisis.

It might be the case that Pakistan is supplanting one extremism with another in this hour of crisis as the organizations assert themselves through practical measures, presenting themselves as saviors of the IDPs; winning their sympathy, good-will and trust in contrast to their disillusionment with the government. And later managing to channel the discontent to recruit soldiers and supporters for their perverted causes and twisted ideologies; which one day might acquire enough strength to require another Zarb-e-Azb for its eradication.

360880-IDPsphotofile-1333739202-428-640x480As Rashida Dohad continues in her piece:

‘While the state fidgets or forsakes, dangerous non-state actors are quick to fill the vacuum. Banners displayed in Bannu, claiming that Jamat-ud-Dawa stands by affected people in their hour of need, mock the ban placed on this organisation. Unconcerned, JuD is also reportedly fully engaged with the IDPs.

Their agenda is less visible. What is clear is that the state’s failure to cope is giving them unrestricted access to people who are displaced and distraught – likely earning their trust, contrasting sharply with the anger the IDPs feel towards the government.’

The free and open aid operations by ostensibly ‘banned’ organizations such as JuD truly does jeer at the government’s writ, and cheers at this sort of patronage that they enjoy at the hands of the state.

Moreover, as Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has stated there to be no time-frame for the completion of the Operation, it becomes all the more important to recognize the need to stem the tides of extremism from all sides; one of which might be gaining potency by the initiation of the war and its human costs.

If the government has taken the decision to go to war, it must stand by it and brave to adequately manage its consequences. It does not have the luxury to flail or fail now.

The government must leave no stone unturned in establishing itself as the dominant body spearheading efforts for succouring the IDPs – the people of FATA who have already long suffered under the draconian rule of the FCR, a pressing problem that also must not be ignored by this government if it seeks to ensure the welfare of the people of Pakistan – and tighten its grip on them thereby leaving them little space to substitute for the government in relief and aid work; which, if left unchecked, can yield disastrous implications and consequences.

At the end, the words uttered by Shah Mehmood Qureshi who was the Foreign Minister at the time of the 2010 floods must be repeated:

“If we fail, it could undermine the hard-won gains made by the government in our difficult and painful war against terrorism. We cannot allow this catastrophe to become an opportunity for the terrorists.”

 

~ Hafsa Khawaja

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Zarb-e-Azb and Pakistan’s Other Battles


*First published on Pakistan Today.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) released a much-anticipated statement on June 15th 2014 announcing the decision on the directions of the government to launch a comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists in North Waziristan; Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

The decision has been largely welcomed by both the segments of the nation which were divided over confrontation with the Taliban: those who, from the very beginning, questioned the logic of negotiation in the face of an expansionist and extremist force; and those who favoured negotiation only to be left disillusioned as the militants refused to cease their assaults on the country, the latest being the Karachi Airport Attack.

army-operationA state of war, as it is now, it is hoped that this would lead Pakistan’s political parties and the government to consider the gravity of the situation and demonstrate sheer seriousness by practicing maturity, sensibility and putting their squabbles aside. The complete opposite of which has been witnessed in Model Town, Lahore in the fight between PAT supporters and the Punjab Police; and Imran Khan’s incessant drive to push forward his rusty political agendas against the government by seemingly unending  jalsas.

The government and other parties must realize that now is not the time for political gimmickry, point-scoring and bickering. While the media should realize that responsible journalism, instead of sensationalism, is the need of the hour.

The government should leave no stone unturned for aiding the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), ensuring their easy transportation and suitable accommodation. It needs to have concrete plans for their rehabilitation, especially since the holy month of Ramzan has begun and the scorching heat is yet to subside. More importantly, the IDP crisis and the government’s sluggish response is being capitalized by several militant and extremist organisations who are stepping up to provide relief and aid to them, which could have potentially grave implications if the state continues limping. The participation of the ordinary people, the civil society and NGOs will also be vital to the efforts for the help and assistance of the IDPs, as has always been.

The Operation against the militants does not only involve our courageous jawans,but this fight demands that the entire nation stands together in this decisive hour.

The late Eqbal Ahmad, whose prophetic warnings (‘the chickens of Jihads’ once sponsored by imperialism and the state are likely to come home to roost’) regarding Pakistan’s future vis-à-vis the policy in Afghanistan during and after the Afghan war were made little use of, penned in an article of his titled ‘What after Strategic Depth?’ published in Dawn on 23rd August 1998:

The domestic costs of Pakistan’s friendly proximity to the Taliban are incalculable and potentially catastrophic. More importantly, the Taliban’s is the most retrograde political movement in the history of Islam. The warlords who proscribe music and sports in Afghanistan, inflict harsh punishments upon men for trimming their beards, flog taxi drivers for carrying women passengers, prevent sick women from being treated by male physicians, banish girls from schools and women from the work-place are not returning Afghanistan to its traditional Islamic way of life as the western media reports sanctimoniously. They are devoid of the ethics, aesthetics, humanism, and Sufi sensibilities of traditional Muslims. To call them “mediaeval” is to insult the age of Hafiz and Saadi, of Rabi’a Basri and Mansur al-Hallaj, of Amir Khusrau and Hazrat Nizamuddin. The Taliban are the expression of a modern disease, symptoms of a social cancer which shall destroy Muslim societies if its growth is not arrested and the disease is not eliminated. It is prone to spreading, and the Taliban will be the most deadly communicators of this cancer if they remain so organically linked to Pakistan’.

Pakistan will have to revise its policies if it wishes to effectively eradicate this cancer for once and for all today. Two contrasting policies, one which advocates a fight against the Taliban (“bad Taliban”) at home while going soft on the Taliban in foreign lands such as Afghanistan (“good Taliban”) in order to extract some sort of advantages is bound to ensure neither peace nor stability in Pakistan and come back to bite us, as it is today.

And while the nation wishes the armed forces success in the Operation, light must be also be shed on an equally important side of the battle: the TTP’s ideological prevalence in our social, religious and political sphere which is far more dangerous, in that it spawns and reproduces the fodder for bloodletting in the form of so-called jihadis which today Zarb-e-Azb is designed to defeat, and even more difficult to destruct.

The hate sermons that often blast from many mosques’ speakers against minorities and certain sects; the dangerous indoctrination that occurs in the madrassah; the open distribution of leaflets, pamphlets and issuance of fatwas that incite murder and hate; the consonance between the mindset of many ordinary Pakistanis and the Taliban regarding minorities, the West, democracy and modernity; a pregnant Farzana Bibi’s stoning in broad daylight; the existence of Taliban apologists and sympathizers in our political arena and their ideological and political patronage of the ancillary warriors of Al-Qaeda such as the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba; a certain High Court Judge planting a proud kiss on Mumtaz Qadri’s face during his trial for the murder of the late Salman Taseer – are all stark testaments to the ideological pervasiveness of the Taliban in Pakistan today.

Humayun Gauher in his article ‘The Enemy Within’ published recently in Pakistan Today says:

‘Finally, the army is launching a mini operation, but only in North Waziristan and perhaps the rest of the tribal areas. Big deal. The terrorists have reached every nook, cranny and neighbourhood of the country, even the houses of the rich and powerful. The operation has to be countrywide if we are to be rid of terrorism once and for all. ‘

Chris Cork also makes a striking point in his op-ed in Express Tribune titled ‘The Jihadi Spring’:

‘Subsequent air strikes are said to have killed many ‘foreign fighters — and that may well be true but it is not the foreign fighters that are the real problem.

That lies far from North Waziristan and is in the seminaries and madrassahs that give support and succour to the men who fight in the mountains. The anonymous compounds that are the rear-echelon for extremist groups. They provide rest and recreation, logistical support, are planning hubs and quite probably arms caches as well. All hiding in plain sight, all well enough known to ‘the authorities’ — and all apparently sleeping easy in their beds today. Which — if this huge operation in the mountains of the North were really about countering terrorism in Pakistan — they should not be.

Terrorism needs to be fought holistically, it is never going to be ‘defeated’ militarily (ask the Afghan Taliban about that one) and as long as the arteries of money and doctrine and patronage flow freely — as they are today — it will always persist.

Today Pakistan faces not a single but multiple threats of militancy, terrorism, extremism, sectarianism and violence, as identified by the government’s National Security Policy of 2014-18, all of which are heads of a single monster; only one of which the state as decided to take on now, to defeat which each would have to be destroyed. And for Pakistan to rid itself of this plague, it is an essential imperative to win both battles against the militant extremists: the one on the ground and the one in the state and society, the ideological front.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

Humanity as Morsels


I am, as always, deeply infuriated by the typical comments people in Pakistan make when an international crisis of human loss emerges; that mourning or outraging about the deaths of Palestinians is mutually exclusive with outraging when Shias, Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis in Pakistan are targeted and persecuted. Some of the views within this line seem to advocate displaying complete disregard for whatever is being perpetrated around the world, and ‘focus on Pakistan’ and ‘your own home’.


As I once wrote: true, that condemnation and outrage in Pakistan rests on whatever perpetuates one’s narrative or beliefs. Even within Pakistan, there is no uniformity, but selectivity in outrage. And it boils my blood too.
But usually, some attempts to rouse attention or sympathy towards an ignored happening seem to degenerate into diminishing the value of and disregard for the lives lost in the first one, because the entire concept of comparing and contrasting deaths reeks of obscenity. 

I wrote, that surely when deaths are made to compete to be mourned, fouled and disregarded heartlessly to be given ascendancy over another; exploited to strengthen personal political arguments; ignored due to indifference and the solemnity they command consigned to oblivion; it signals nothing, but the death of a nation itself.

persecution-jani-freimannI understand that you’re trying to challenge people’s indifference, that may be deliberate or simply a product of their ignorance, but ironically, the course you take tumbles into the same cast that it seeks to break. It appears to advocate selective outrage too; one that is contained by Pakistani borders. To challenge Pakistani indifference, you need not mock sympathy for the other people, Gazans in this case.  The social rot of selective outrage can be battled with awareness, tolerant arguments, taking action, protesting – and demonstrated without mocking, insensitive sarcasm and jeering.

Humanity doesn’t come as morsels for which mouths of different crisis and atrocities must be selected for it to be fed to. I grieve, vociferate for my brethren persecuted and oppressed in Pakistan, be they the Shia or the Ahmadi, and I will grieve for every other human – be he Muslim or not, Pakistani or not – tyrannized in any other land.

If you want to counter selective compassion, empathy, sympathy and outrage; loudly advocate compassion and humanity for all, everywhere and anywhere with no thought for borders, races, ethnicity, religions and sects, both in Pakistan, and outside Pakistan.

Standing in solidarity with the Palestinians, Kashmiris and the persecuted in Pakistan and around the world. Always.

~ Hafsa Khawaja