If fallen on deaf ears

Imposing silence is more dangerous than listening to grievances

When nobody listens to your cries and cares about your pains and pangs, the natural corollary is either one should become louder or be silent and contemplate own way out. The Pakhtun protesting in Islamabad are facing the same dilemma.

The nearly week-long Pakhtun sit in from different areas of the country in Islamabad are demanding justice. The peaceful protest is triggered by the cold blooded murder of the young Pakhtun, Naqeebullah Mehsud in a fake police encounter in Karachi by the Sindh police on January 13, 2018.

So far, this disciplined and peaceful protest for genuine human cause, could not attract the attention of an otherwise mercurial Pakistani media, particularly the electronic. Though, in the last six years, this tame media has faithfully covered the orchestrated political circus from dawn to dusk to the point of causing nervous breakdown of the hapless people of this country.

But the sufferings of the Pakhtuns who are continuously, particularly in the previous four decades, used as gun powder by the state for the sake of self defined national interests and perverted geo-strategic policies remain implacable.

The media blackout of such an important development activated by enough is enough situation not only exposes the limits of the so-called free media but also the highhandedness, unaccountable and unquestioned actions of its handlers in the name of war on terror.

Naturally it creates suspicions that the state does not want to discuss nor can afford the deconstruction of its war on terror narratives and the justification of its actions. The muzzling of media to discourage public discourse is part of the same strategy to sustain a carefully contrived narrative.

Powerful quarters in the state and media should not relegate the current protest by calling it a protest of the Mehsud tribe

The protesters presented four demands to the state: bring to justice the murderers of Naqeeb Mehud; produce all the missing persons in the court of law; clear land mines planted during the military operations in the tribal areas; and stop coercive actions, like imposing prolonged curfews, erecting ubiquitous check posts, and search operation in the aftermath of every untoward incident.

Going through the demands put forward by the protesters tells a sorrowful tale of ground realities. First assumption is, that Rao Anwar is not an ordinary police officer but has connection with the real powers to be, otherwise he would have been arrested by now. If he were a mere civilian police officer, he could not be protected by any civilian without a nod from certain quarters.

Moreover, Rao Anwar might have a deeper link with the ongoing drama in the name of war on terror. His arrest and consequent thorough investigation may expose bitter truth that would be difficult to swallow in the current regional and international scenario.

The other three demands also point to the same bitter ground realities. How can a state justify use of lethal force by employing all the paraphernalia of a full-fledged war on its own soil to weed out a few unwanted elements among the population?

North Waziristan presents a worst picture than Hamburg of post World War II. To make matters worse, planting land mines, imposing blanket curfews and erection of ubiquitous check posts either negates the claim of completely driving out the terrorists from the region or is a cover up to some harsh realities.

The post operation situation was literally depicting ‘out of fire into the frying pan’. If the state waged the war against a handful of terrorists and wanted to weed out them, every step taken by it should have been well calculated ensuring utmost care to protect the population. But so far, the state actions indicate that it suspects every Pakhtun and is not willing to cede either politically or physically.

If the state wanted to defeat religious extremism and terrorism, physically, politically and ideological, it must have ensured more political space for the local population and a sense of security. However, the presence of army in combat mood for about a decade with special powers and a controlled political environment belies the obvious.

On the one hand Swat is presented as a model of restoring peace and security. But on the other, no political or social event is possible without the army’s permission. In the name of security, people are not allowed to demonstrate even against load shedding, water shortage or any other basic rights.

To thwart people’s restlessness and deflect resentment against this suffocating environment under the bayonets, a wave of target killing or a sporadic terrorist incident is enough to instil fear. Any untoward incident brings miseries and humiliation for the people in the form of search operations, erection of check posts, yet the terrorists succeed to reach their target.

The ubiquitous security forces are equipped with extraordinary powers and should be accountable to the people for security lapses or consequent incidents. Under the pretext of ‘peace and security’, people’s rights and liberties were wrenched by the state. But here the boot is on the other leg whereby in a reversal of responsibilities people are put in the dock to answer searing questions on security failure. Under this manufactured ‘whimsical peace’ the people of Swat have no basic rights and liberties.

Defenders of these mortifying search operations have come up with a new defence citing FATA’s status not falling within the purview of the Supreme Court but Swat is part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and falls within the purview of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. What stops the ultra active Chief Justice of Pakistan to look into the human rights issues and state highhandedness there?

Imposing silence is more dangerous than listening to grievances. Powerful quarters in the state and media should not relegate the current protest by calling it a protest of Mehsud tribe protesting against the murder of Naqeebullah. Rather it is the culmination point of seething resentment among the Pakhtun.

They have suffered enough and have nothing more to lose. A human’s biggest fear is loss of life, honour and property. Systematically the Pakhtun are deprived of all in this geo-strategic game.

They were forced to experience the imposed war in their home land, witness killing of their children and other loved ones, watch as bystanders as their property was destroyed, face insults and humiliation at the hands of terrorists as well as their so called protectors. They were forced to leave their homes and displaced to nowhere and everywhere. What more can the state do? The excessive use of power and violence in itself corrodes power.

There is a growing realisation and repentance among the Pakhtun youth in trusting the state at the expense of 60,000 Pakhtun killed in the name of collateral damage for the state’s high drama. If 6,000 Pakhtun had laid down their lives in resistance, things would have been different now. The youth no longer look to their so called Pakhtun leaders because now they also hold them responsible for failing them.

Instead of the state rubbing salt into their wounds by whitewashing the godfathers of destruction and dark forces, it should take the Pakhtun seriously. If their peaceful protestations fall on deaf ears, the consequences would force a reprise of the Pakhtun history. End

The writer is a political analyst hailing from Swat. Tweets @MirSwat

Published in Daily Times, February 8th 2018.