Friday, October 19, 2012

Making the Case

Two successive Pakistani governments in the past eleven years have been unable to sell the War on Terror to their people. These included one ‘enlightened moderate’ semi-military dictatorship and one ‘liberal’ democratic one. These governments aren’t the only ones. Op-Eds in English newspapers have been awash recently with people calling for a Military operation into North Waziristan, with little success.
Ever since the war started in Afghanistan, the term ‘trust deficit’ has been thrown around a lot as a hindrance to the success of the war. Mostly it has referred to the relationship between the Pakistan and US armies but, perhaps, it also needs to be applied to the relationship between the people of Pakistan and its government. The War on Terror, much like any other military operation, suffers from a severe lack of information coming out of the actual war zone. In such situations, governments generally take much stricter control of media reports and the information being disseminated to the public. As a result, the populace is generally almost solely reliant on the version of events being presented through the official channels. This, I feel, is where the Pakistani government fails repeatedly to make the case for military intervention.
The simple and sad fact is people just don’t trust the officials telling them to go to war. Our people are often derided for their propensity to believe in conspiracy theories, but isn’t their paranoia justified? Ours is a history of government lies, exploitation and manipulation. If the people were not wary of the government’s intentions, you would have to seriously question their learning abilities. Add to that the actual credibility of the government and political figures looking to establish ‘the rule of law’. Is it really surprising that the people of this country don’t willingly swallow the narrative of a well-meaning government trying to help the poor by establishing its writ? As a prime example, the man entrusted with the internal security of the country, the Interior Minister, is a man, who apart from his regular public bungling was actually sprung from jail by a Presidential pardon, has since lied about his dual nationality, accepted his lie and resigned from the Senate, only to unrepentantly and unabashedly walk right back into his vacated seat. The government has not seen fit to replace him!
Add further to this, the duplicity of the government over the issue of drones. It is now very much an open secret that the government, while putting up a facade of disapproval for the consumption of the Pakistani public, has privately pretty much given the US carte blanche on the affair. Is this the action of a government trying to bring its people on-board for a battle critical to the survival of the country? Quite obviously, the government seems unconcerned by the hit its credibility takes through such blatant dishonesty and therefore has no foundation on which to complain about being undermined by other political forces.
The pro-war government spokespeople exhaustively cite the disruption to basic government functions such as law and order and education in the area. While these are genuine issues, one again, the veracity of the government’s concern becomes dubious when one looks at the state of affairs in places where it isn’t hindered by the Tehrik-e-Taliban. Since this government was elected, up until last year, education standards seem to have been slipping throughout the country. Law and order (other than terrorism) hasn’t seen much improvement either, with many suspecting partners within this very government of complicity in the deteriorating situation in Karachi. So tomorrow, if the government is unable to find support for its program to ‘establish the writ of the state’ in Waziristan, should we really be surprised?
Of course, conspiracy theories don’t just begin and end with our own government; they involve a good many others. Again, can the population of a third world country, with low literacy, a colonial history, a corrupt government and uncomfortably close dealings with a super-power really be accused of irrational distrust on that account? I am no expert on history but I don’t really think I need to be one to know that the history of the CIA in the past sixty years is not one of honesty and fair-play. It is a history of supporting mercenary forces, causing civil wars and military coups, bribing, threatening and sometimes overthrowing governments, and on the whole being a general nuisance. The US government has, on more than one occasion lied about events in order to use them as pretexts for wars with devastating consequences. If there’s one thing the CIA hasn’t being accused of it’s being too scrupulous!
The situation is further harmed by examples of military adventurism in the recent past by the US, as well as a feeling of being sold short by our own representatives. Pakistani leaders throughout history have been perceived as being all too willing to serve foreign interests at the cost of the local population. In recent history, the stories of arrests and extraditions for bounties by the Musharraf regime served greatly to undermine his credibility in selling the war. The more recent disaster to emerge for this government was the cache of diplomatic cables brought out by Wikileaks. These went a long way in confirming suspicions people have long held about the level of involvement of the US in the running of the country. These included offers by aforementioned Rehman Malik to provide access to the NADRA database, as well as almost all major political players regularly turning to the US Ambassador for mediation in internal politics. I say again, if the government now tries to “own” this war, how will the people know whose interest is actually being served?
But perhaps the biggest failure of the government and non-government advocates of the war is their failure to identify and effectively articulate the TTP phenomenon. While representatives such as Faisal Raza Abidi can eloquently quote statistics and shower their descriptions of the TTP with examples of their barbarity, they are unable to present a lucid, logical thought process for their enemies and are therefore (as described in my previous post) heavily reliant on the Crazy Terrorist theory for support. This theory (as also described in my previous post) has more trouble finding roots in Pakistan than it may do so in other parts of the world.
There are many attempts at colouring this theory, the current shade referring regularly to an ‘ideological war’. But what is an ideological war? Arent all wars simultaneously ideological and non-ideological? A good example may be the Afghan war against the Soviets, where there was no dearth of ideologies running around. Among these were the international Jihad to rid a Muslim country of foreign invaders, there was a Capitalist fight against Communist domination, there was Communist resistance to Capitalist infiltration, a rural Afghan uprising against foreign occupation, ethnic and tribal attempts at dominance, and possibly much more. And yet, at its simplest, it was a battle for influence over Afghanistan by the two opposing superpowers.
This time around, the ideological backing from the US hit a new low when, post- 9/11, George W. seemed to consider it too much of an effort to come up with a complex political, economic or religious framework (though some may refer to his ‘crusade’ comment), and started talking simply in terms of good and evil. Perhaps someone in the White House decided not to befuddle the President with intricate ideas and to let him deal on a plane he could manage. The result, of course, was perhaps the biggest ideological claim of all times – the US was out to rid the world of evildoers!
This heavy reliance on the Ideological War theory greatly hinders possible support for any action against the TTP because it takes away material aims and leaves a void in terms of explaining their motivation. Excessively referring to the TTP as zealous nutjobs takes away the public’s ability to assess the situation and leaves them with a need to rationalise the behaviour of the TTP in other ways – enter foreign backing theory.
The Pakistani public also appears much more circumspect about the prospects of such an operation than the experts. This is also because arguments calling for military action seem to end just there, with a military operation, and no explanation of time-frame, fallout and long-term solutions. Carrying out an all-out military offensive in those regions would appear to be a gargantuan task, especially with an enemy identified, supposedly, only by his belief. Making such an operation worthwhile in the long run would appear even more difficult. This is a real concern with no apparent answers forthcoming.
What is needed is a much more scientific and rational approach to the assessment of the situation and its possible solutions. Unless proponents of the war are able to successfully and plausibly articulate the motivation of the TTP, to unemotionally calculate the costs and benefits of a military operation and explain them to the population, and perhaps most importantly, establish their own credentials as being driven solely by the interests of the state, they face an uphill task of trying to convince the Pakistani people that a military operation is absolutely necessary.
So far, most of the effort is in the form of emotional outbursts and in trying to present the operation as a movement to establish the rule of law in the northern areas; basically doing the right thing. This narrative no longer sells in the justifiably cynical land of Pakistan. The people of Pakistan no longer trust that their leaders, or opinion formers, act simply to do the right thing, they need more in terms of explanation!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Crazed Terrorist

*Note: I wrote this about three years ago and didn't dare to put up. It might be a little out of date but I guess it's still something to keep in mind. Also, it sets up something else I was thinking about and may write!

In my childhood, it seemed apparent that an act of terrorism was the ultimate form of protest. While being vehemently condemned, acts of terrorism were considered worth note and examination. Each act was symptomatic of the existence of an aggrieved party, stemming from faulty policy-making, governance or pure negligence. In short, if a bomb was set off, it was because the world was not in a state of balance, and the political, social or economic homeostasis was disturbed and required rectification. Apart from a few acts of violence attributed to the lone, mentally unstable misanthrope, acts of terrorism, especially from organized groups, indicated the failure of the targeted party to suitably address the needs of the aggrieved.
There was a need to understand and rationalize terrorist movements. The concept of one man’s terrorist being another man’s freedom fighter existed, and was referred to.  It was understood that the French and American Revolutions had resorted to violence against their perceived oppressors to achieve their aims, the Blacks in South Africa were charged with terrorism and treason, even Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movements inevitably resulted in violence being carried out by his followers against servants of the Raj. While considered an uncivilized last resort, violence has, and will always remain a tool of protest. If peaceful methods fail violence may well be the only course open. Marching in the streets can only take one so far.
While acts of violence and terrorism were supposed to depict acts of desperation in furthering a cause, suicide attacks added a new dimension. The perpetrator, in using himself as a weapon, demonstrated that he was not only willing to kill for a cause but was also to die for it.
Recently this concept has disappeared. Governments and state organizations have started to neglect the existence of motive or cause in dealing with terrorist situations. Instead there is a growing trend of declaring any and all acts of violence to be the act of frenzied maniacs bent upon imposing their ideologies on others. The notion of attempting to dissect incidents is fast disappearing. The most simple and apparent cause for this behavior seems to be the complete absolution of the state machinery from any responsibility or wrongdoing that may have led to the event. 
The increasing trend is to disenfranchise the ordinary citizen from playing a part in the study of this phenomenon. Instead, simplistic explanations are made and debate is avoided with the use of words such as ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Governments dictate to their citizens who is good and who is evil, who is to be trusted and who isn’t. The intricacies of how these divisions are made are kept hidden from the public. The basis of democracy, whereby each citizen is to participate in governance, has been decimated.
The most monumental of catastrophes to hit the United States were the attacks of September 11th. These attacks also serve as a prime example of the government’s reluctance to assess the social and political causes of a calamity of such magnitude.  In the aftermath of the collapse of the towers of the World Trade Centre and the plane crash into the Pentagon, the grief and disbelief gave way to a frenzy of assigning blame and planning an appropriate military response. There was an obsession with the two questions: Who committed this act? What are we going to do about it? The most important question was lost: Why?
The world waited for ordinary American citizens to raise this question, to ask their democratically elected representatives why 19 men were willing to lay down their lives with the express purpose of causing death and devastation in their homeland. What had their government done to cause such a massive movement to take root around the world? According to the US Government the 19 men were acting at the behest of a larger anti-American movement, al-Qaeda, a movement with significant following and financial support from various quarters around the globe.
The task of the concerned, patriotic American citizen was to take his government to task, not only on the procedural security lapse, but more so on policies that may have caused such a backlash.
If there was any serious questioning of the Government going on, the mainstream media failed to pick up on it. Little or no time was dedicated on news shows or discussions to ascertaining political reasons for such hate. Instead, ordinary citizens blindly put their faith in the workings of their government, and decided to value conformity with government policy rather than demanding a detailed logical assessment of the causes and the various courses of action open to them.
Al-Qaeda’s demands regarding US foreign policy in the Middle East and specifically Saudi Arabia, found little time on the airwaves. Reassessment of these policies was never publicly considered. The officially stated motives of Al-Qaeda were ignored, and Americans were told to prepare for a war to “defend their freedom”.  The heated national debate that should have ensued was lost in the hysteria of war.
It is possible that the debate may have resulted in resounding support from for maintaining the prevalent foreign policy. American citizens may have decided that their dedication to Israel, or their policies in the rest of the Arab world were worth defending with military might. Unfortunately, nobody asked and as a result the United States became embroiled in a war that not only threatens to destablise the entire region, but also considerably damages the image of the United States as an agent of peace and justice.
The fact that American soldiers are being put in harm’s way for a war whose aims are have not fully been conveyed to, or understood by the American public, suggests a lack of trust in the public from the government and media institutions. It appears these institutions consider ordinary Americans incapable of understanding the complexity of their decisions. As a result they deem it necessary, and acceptable, to present a simplified, fairy-tale style picture of the events in a manner aping the functioning of fascist government.
The concept of the crazed terrorist has become the explanation provided for any antipathy in the world towards the United States. The underlying concept in this explanation is the complete lack of rationality among a considerable population. These people are out for blood for the sake of blood. At most, they are dogmatists wishing to impose their own ideologies.
The convenience of this explanation has subsequently been recognized by governments across the globe and is now in frequent use. Citizens across the world are told to abandon any attempts to rationalize the behavior of terrorists as they are a breed too different from normal people to be comprehensible. So far, most citizens, including the intelligentsia, seem to have acceded to this assessment. Acts of terrorism, with their increasing occurrence, are just what they are: schemes to spread “terror”, being elabourate Halloween pranks at their simplest, and Lex Lutherian ploys at world domination in their most rational form.
The Mumbai attacks present a potent example of this phenomenon. After three days of unimaginable terror that ended in the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians as well as all but one of the perpetrators, the whole of India went into shock. Security lapses were questioned, possible suspects identified and political and diplomatic stances were prepared. However, no-one was concerned with the lack of stated motive in the attacks. More than a year on, the situation persists.
The idea of the irrational being proposes only one solution: the extermination of all such beings. So, governments set about massive military campaigns to quash with force the problem of dealing with the disgruntled. With every attempt, government agencies pledge to redouble their military efforts, hence escalating the situation without any attempts at analyzing the root cause. If any such attempts are made, they remain out of the mainstream media and consequently are not shared with the man on the street.
Today, the situation has hit Pakistan, and in a big way. This time, the perpetrators are not barbarians from some distant land. However, the idea being sold to the Pakistani public is very similar to the one being sold to their Western counterparts: The terrorists are radical Muslims too frenzied by activism to be rehabilitated, and acting with the agenda of dominance. The possibility that forces within Pakistan are reacting to antagonisation from the government or establishment has been shelved in favour of this more palatable explanation.
Of course, Pakistani citizens are having a harder time swallowing the idea of the Muslim extremist and suicide bomber. For one, they have lived alongside them for a long time and often sympathized with their causes against Israel and the US. As a result, they have never perceived them as being irrational or acting without a cause. Also, given the state of the nation, the average Pakistani has a lot more cause to be suspicious of the government and the establishment than Western citizens.
It is now time for Pakistanis to take up the issue of questioning government policy. There is a need to reassess the government’s provision of all-out logistical support to an invading force engaged in a war whose legality is dubious at best. It is time to question the government on its silent condoning of violations of Pakistani territory and the murder of innocent civilians by US drone attacks. It is also time to demand greater transparency from the government and establishment to fully assess the relationship of our government agencies and the various forces at work in the troubled regions.
It is also essential not to abandon attempts at rationalizing acts of terrorism within the country. The first response to an act of terrorism should always be a thorough and honest evaluation of government policies. Though deterrence is a necessity, all out military retaliation should be the absolute last resort. Only when all courses of negotiation have been exhausted, and when there is overwhelming demand from the populace to exercise the military option to defend government policy (after a clear logical assessment has been made and shared) should a State resort to violence. If this course is not followed, even a successful military campaign will result only in offsetting the issue and making it more acute the next time it raises its head.
The responsibility here lies with the citizen, not with the government, to find out the truth as to the root causes of terrorism. While the moral responsibility does lie with the government, it will always be simpler for governments to resort to violence in an attempt to cover up failures in policy. As a result propaganda machines will be involved to present the truth in a way that aids this. The basic question arising here is under what circumstances a government has the right to endanger its citizens. The answers to this will always be fluid and need to be assessed in a case to cases basis, hence the required vigilance from the citizen.
Before getting further militarily embroiled in the war, Pakistanis need to get more plausible explanations from their government for the recent spate of attacks than simply intangible labels such as terrorism and extremism. An angle the government is eager to push, furthering it with recent attempts at Fatwas and meetings with religious scholars. If a terrorist resorts to Islam for motivation in carrying out his tasks, it does not mean that religion is his prime impetus. When the Pakistan army goes to battle against India with cries of ‘Allah o Akbar’ and refers to its losses as ‘Shaheeds’, no one is deluded into think that the war is in the name of religion. Everyone understands there are territorial and political issues at stake. Similarly, a better understanding is required of the main purpose and incentive for terrorists willing to take on the Pakistan Army.
Pakistan does not have the luxury of a quiet retreat if military campaigns do not bear the fruit of eradicating terrorism. It is therefore imperative that political options remain open. The threat of a military operation may well serve to be more effective than an actual operation. When it comes to last resorts and alternate options, Pakistan is one country that has far from exhausted all possible policies to combat lawlessness.
Education, health and development programs have been woefully neglected in the regions that now supposedly play host to terrorists. Few attempts have been made to enfranchise the population of this region as citizens of Pakistan. The government has also been criminally deficient in its ability to protect the rights and lives of its citizens against the actions of foreign “allies”. As a result there is a logical lack of faith and loyalty to the State and Government of Pakistan.
All these measures require time and more critically they require freedom of movement. If the war on terror is truly a war for the survival of Pakistan, then it must be the people and government of Pakistan that dictates the terms of fighting it. The war must not be allowed to be fought on the terms dictated by foreign forces occupying neighbouring countries, and local policy must not be formed tiptoeing around US policy. If US policy does a cost-benefit analysis for the wars it is fighting, loss of Pakistani civilian life is not a consideration. It is time that the Pakistani government and people looked to putting their interests first in carrying out a detailed cost-benefit analysis of our own.
Pakistanis must try to understand whether the nation entered this war because of a growing threat on the Western border, or whether it was simply a decision to support the stronger party, out of fear. Pakistanis must also look to see if there are changing factors that demand a reassessment of the wisdom of this decision. So far, all that has been seen as a result of escalated military action in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been the heightening and increased determination in the spread of violence and hatred, a phenomenon that has fueled many a conspiracy theory. Is it wise to continue on this path? If things get too bad, the Americans can simply pack up and leave, Pakistanis need to start thinking that far ahead.
Citizens must always be cautious about the ambitions of their governments especially in cases of war. The following is a quote from the Nuremberg Trials.
“Naturally the common people don’t want war. But after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.
Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders.  This is easy.  All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger.  It works the same in every country.”
   --- Hermann Goering, Hitler’s Reich Marshall, at the Nuremberg
Trials after World War II.