Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Attack on Swat girl


Maryam Sakeenah

That attacking a child who expressed her will to educate herself and others like her is a crime most heinous is something every right-minded human being would assent to. There is, quite unsurprisingly therefore, an absolute consensus among Pakistanis and the rest of the world about the reprehensibility of the act_ and that certainly tells us our hearts are still in the right place. It is also a given that whoever is behind this attack is evil. 

Thinking thus is not leftist or rightist, or liberal or conservative or religious or secular. It is just common decency. 

But I must risk being controversial beyond the facile narrative of this episode. There are vital questions that need to be asked. For one, who would do this, and why really? I am told it is the thing called Taliban. But I must be cautious against unproven assumptions. Not because I am a Taliban sympathizer, but because I do not know enough to make that conclusion other than the fact that one Ihsanullah Ihsan claimed it was the Taliban. Mr. Ihsan however, does not quite have the credibility I need in order to believe him. He also tells me he wants her killed because she ‘promoted secularism’ and had the shamelessness to quote to me the Quran and the sunnah to justify the most despicable act. Indeed, the devil can cite scriptures for his purpose.

I would really like to know and condemn whoever is behind this in the strongest possible terms. But I cannot but put my finger on a murky, dubious and elusive entity that is called Taliban. I do not know what that is, except that it is an umbrella-term for something far more nuanced and complex than the term implies; used more liberally, loosely and expediently than it should- by both those who call themselves the Taliban as well as those who use it for others. Because while it originally described a popular defensive struggle against warlordism and civil strife in Afghanistan and thereafter against the US occupation of the same, it is now adopted by a band of sorts, consisting of mercenaries, petty criminals, hired assassins, agency funded terrorists, double agents, spies and pathological fanatics. Their link with the original Pashtun resistance by this name in Afghanistan remains unclear and questionable, and often denied by mainstream Taliban leadership in Afghanistan.

The skewed up mindset I read in the letter by Ihsanullah Ihsan is sickeningly diabolical. I stop and think what kind of a mind would call for the killing of a mere child using a completely irrelevant, ill-fitting and utterly out-of-context sacred text to justify the point-blank targeting of a female child who had come to mean so much for so many. Even if one cannot expect moral scrupulousness from the Taliban, this sounds like a masterstroke of grandiose stupidity in terms of political consequences as well as psychological repercussions. It is an absolutely suicidal move on the part of the Taliban, given the fact that the very natural and very expected sympathy for the innocent victim will bring utter condemnation and ruination to their cause. It is only natural that a pretty little girl wanting to educate herself and getting shot in the head by misogynistic terrorists for it will deflect any sympathy there may have been for what the Taliban fight for and will provoke the ire of all feeling hearts.

But perhaps there is method in this madness? For one, the episode came to light right after Imran Khan’s peace march against drone strikes had managed to draw attention to this issue that ails the heart of many Pakistanis, and just when there was talk of creating grounds for an operation in North Waziristan.  A news report in ‘The Express Tribune’ on September 17, 2012 entitled ‘North Waziristan Operation to Stay Under Wraps’ quotes a Pakistan government official saying that Pakistani authorities plan to create a ‘necessary environment’ for the Waziristan operation. Moreover, soon after the attack_ given the overwhelming public sympathy_ there is conspicuous effort to swing opinion in favour of the necessity to use drones to hit targets in the region and the necessity to begin a military operation in North Waziristan agency. This had been a demand from the White House since some time. 

I must be allowed to wonder who really is the beneficiary of it all? The pattern I detect is a familiar one. Before the Swat operation some years ago, opinion had been swung in support of it after the screening of a video that showed the Taliban lashing a yelping woman. Months later, a small news strip revealed the video had been a fake one. It did not matter then, for the deftness of the forgery had come in handy to justify the operation and to give an inept regime reasons for self-congratulation over something the Former Dictator had failed to do: rally public opinion before a military move into the restive, bleeding north.

Last month’s joint report by Stanford and NYU on the impact of the drone strikes in Pakistan calls them ‘damaging and counterproductive’ as opposed to the false US narrative of these being ‘surgically precise effective tools’ to hit specified targets with minimal collateral damage. The report documents 2562 to 3325 casualties by drone strikes since 2004, out of which 474-881 are civilians including 176 children.  The number of injured is roughly between 1226 to 1362 individuals. The report includes harrowing narratives of survivors and victim communities in a region where the ‘free media’ of the country cannot dare to tread.
I may be dubbed a hopelessly illiberal fanatic for linking up the Malala incident to the drones when I say that the sympathy generated for Malala must also be for all victims of terror, drone strikes, sectarian and ethnic killings, indiscriminately. We cannot discriminate between dead bodies just because it may not be ‘politically correct’ to question and condemn the cause of the deaths of some, depending on who the killer is. However, the necessary link between Malala and the drone strikes is best drawn by an anonymous lady holding up a most unforgettable placard that confounds the senses: ‘Drones Kill so that Malala can Live.’ I commend her scathing honesty. Few can put so succinctly the political agenda behind the state-sponsored media campaign for Malala and the vital link that does exist between the two. It is, in fact, quite ordinarily a strategy of psychological warfare to generate favourable opinion and support for a planned military offensive which may otherwise be opposed and questioned on moral grounds. In American military terminology, this vital strategy is called PSYOPS (Psychological Operations). Wikipedia explains: 
Psychological operations are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.The purpose of the United States psychological operations (PSYOPS) is to induce or reinforce behavior favorable to US objectives. They are an important part of the range of diplomatic, informational, military, and economic activities available to the US. Strategic PSYOPS include informational activities conducted by the US government agencies outside of the military arena.”
So now again I hear talk of military operations with renewed vigour while public outrage is toned down and muted. Hawks who cannot see beyond a military solution to the complex, deep-rooted phenomena on the rampage in the tribal north must be patting themselves on the back for yet another tawdry, meaningless triumph. I shudder to think of the possibilities being contemplated.

And I wonder if this really is all about girls education as it is being made out to be? How effective will this be to further the cause of education for the girlchild in this country? Or will it blow to smithereens more lives, generate more terror wreaking havoc on human lives and keeping little girls away from school? And I think of those other victims it is not good manners to make mention of: those battered anonymous and unsung lives connected to so many other lives; of children whose dreams of brighter futures die away and recede into the falling debris; and of my religion audaciously sinned against and made a malleable ploy to the whims and unholy ambitions of evil self-appointed guardians of it.
But if we wish to reach solutions we must be ready to understand, ask questions and wonder why, really? If it is really an ideology that motivates the Taliban’s diabolical moves, I wonder why the ideology never drove these misogynistic Pashtuns into paroxysms of fury and frenzy when Swat hosted tourists and many young honeymooning couples a decade ago? A friend born and raised in Swat speaks of the cheerful, chivalrous, hospitable people with well-knit and warm community lives. My mother who went to school in Nowshehra and Peshawar reminisces of ruddy chivalrous Pathan youths escorting groups of girls to school and of bright-eyed Pathan girls following their dreams into high school and college, many of whom graduated as professionals. So where exactly has it all turned awry? Ideologies do not take birth instantaneously; but vengeance does.
And, if it really is an ideology that motivates the madness, can the use of wholesale, blind brute-force that does not discriminate, defeat it? The answer is a most basic lesson of history it would serve us well to learn.

And somewhere, this simplistic narrative I must believe, just does not cohere.

The pointer here is that maybe this uncontrollable hydra of insane extremism and terrorism is the work of our own fumbling, bloodied, sinning hands? Maybe it is the inevitable result of the dirty deals we brokered and the unholy alliance we forged in indecent haste and sinister hush? And maybe the monster will not be tamed and cut down to size unless we dare to understand that violence begets violence, and the victim does not forget or forgive; that drones don’t see the faces in the dust nor hear the moans in the darkness, but that the faces are people and lives and stories forever knitted into several other stories with the silken ties of love. And by being complicit in this unholy mission, we make these sad stories ugly, grotesque, haunting, terrifying, vengeful. And our own story of ignominy and annihilation is writ indelibly by the Moving Finger.