Posts Tagged ‘Taliban’

Questions for Amos Oz

August 4, 2014

By Anjum Altaf

Here are two disappointing questions with which Amos Oz, the grandfather of Israeli peaceniks, began a recent interview:

QUESTION 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap, and starts shooting machine-gun fire into your nursery?

QUESTION 2: What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?

The way this comes across is as if everything was going along swimmingly, we were the greatest of friends, and suddenly I discover you are sitting in your balcony pointing a machine-gun or digging a tunnel into my nursery.

Clearly that’s not the way it is.

Leave aside the contentious history stretching back decades about who’s sitting in whose balcony at the end of the tunnel. A few weeks ago three Israeli boys were kidnapped and murdered. In a law-abiding society one would expect a search for the kidnappers and murderers. One would not expect an exhaustive retaliation against all those in any way related or connected to those suspected of the crime.

Try and imagine this in any other country that aspires to be judged as civilized. This kind of response would be inconceivable and unacceptable. It would be a throwback to at least a hundred years in the past.

Therefore, might one conclude that the motivation was not to bring murderers to justice but something else? What that might be we could leave to the analysts. It could be a political calculus aimed to alter the trajectory of some dynamic in favor of another. But it could also reflect the belief that fine distinctions are no longer relevant, that all Palestinians are murderers and that all unborn Palestinians are potential murderers.

I hope you would agree that such a belief is to be resisted, that its encouragement is to be resisted, that its spread contains the seeds of the kind of madness we have witnessed and suffered from in the past.

In Pakistan, we have seen some factions of the Taliban training children as suicide bombers. Some groups in Hamas might be doing the same in Gaza. But can that justify eliminating all the children who might possibly become suicide-bombers in the future?

We had asked this question earlier in the context of the Taliban in Pakistan:

The Americans and the Pakistanis are at war with Baitullah Mehsud. Assume that Baitullah Mehsud is guilty of war crimes. Does that justify the killing of Baitullah Mehsud’s wife as the Americans have done with a missile strike?

One central question is clearly that of collateral damage and the extent of it that can be plausibly justified. Is it justifiable in the present conflict in Gaza to consider all Palestinians, or all Arabs as some have done, as terrorists and thereby acceptable as collateral damage? If not, should there be sanctions on those propagating and encouraging such a view?

This is not to say that such a situation may be inconceivable. John Gray, in his review of Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice, presents the following moral dilemma:

On any reasonable view, Allied saturation bombing of German cities in the Second World War inflicted severe injustice on civilian populations. A Nazi victory, on the other hand, would have spelt the complete death of justice in Europe. Leaving to one side the case that Allied bombing made that dreadful outcome less likely – despite clever-silly arguments to the contrary, I believe it may have helped – there is here an intractable moral dilemma. However one describes this dilemma – as a quasi-utilitarian trade-off between injustices of differing degrees of severity, or a tragic choice in which the injustices involved were of such different kinds as to be incomparable – one thing is clear: a readiness on the part of the Allies to sanction grave injustice was a precondition of any kind of justice surviving in Europe, and perhaps the world.

The question is whether the intentions and actions of Hamas can be considered equivalent to those of Hitler with the same potentially catastrophic outcomes for the region and the world to justify recourse to the kind of saturation bombing the Allies rained on German cities? Once again, an honest answer would have to make fine distinctions of scale and balance of power.

In Pakistan, we have seen how cynical and calculated manipulation of the tribal areas and its people over decades has evolved into the problems we face today. I was at a meeting once when a representative of the state was asked why the areas had remained so undeveloped and underserved half a century after the creation of the country. A lack of financial resources was the proffered answer. Could any semi-intelligent person take that answer seriously? No resources for a population of no more than three million people in a country where billions of dollars in assistance have disappeared and billions of Rupees in taxpayer money have been consumed by little-used motorways?

Is that really the way towards inclusive development or even, to be cynical, to buy peace? Isn’t Gaza like the tribal areas in Pakistan, just even more bottled up because of inability of the residents to escape their misery? Is there a real argument that reasonable, serious people were not able to think of a better way to buy peace in Israel?

It would be difficult to make such an argument honestly and therefore one has to ask what has been driving the decisions of the leaders who wish the best for Israel. Here, for consideration, is the answer offered by Ron Rosenbaum for what might have motivated Hitler:

Hitler didn’t lose the war. Not the war Evans argues was most important to him: the racial war. Hitler won that war. Six million to one. Yes, he committed suicide at the end. (And yes, 50 million others lost their lives so he could win the part of the war he cared about most. Collateral damage.)

Thinking about that suicide now, in the light of 9/11 and the subsequent exaltations of suicide bombing on messianic, theological grounds, does in fact offer a radical new way of characterizing Hitler. In retrospect at least, it’s tempting to argue that Hitler was, if not the first, then by far history’s greatest single suicide bomber. He blew up Europe to kill the Jews in it, even if it meant killing himself and tens of millions of others in the end.

In looking at two sets of suicide-bombers, is it conceivable we might be looking for the next-greatest ones in the wrong enclave? And could that enclave be a mental and not a physical one?

Anjum Altaf is dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

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India, Pakistan and Survival

September 25, 2010

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall / Who is the Fittest of Us All?

The question, starkly posed, could be the following: Which country, India or Pakistan, has the better chance of survival, and why?

In fact, the question is just an artifact to extend a discussion we have been having on this blog about the relationship of tolerance to survival. Our engagement with the issue has been at the very basic level of understanding but the very fact that we have been debating it leads us on to better and more sophisticated arguments. This, I strongly believe, is the beneficial outcome of discussions and conversations on a blog like this. (more…)

Beyond Anti-Americanism

July 3, 2009

We have gone back and forth on the issue of American intervention in developing countries and I wish to return to the topic to broaden the terms of the discussion.

Reader Tahir had raised the issue in defense of Imran Khan’s position that was the subject of three earlier posts (here, here, and here). Let us see if a wider perspective improves our understanding and helps us think of better responses, both intellectual and practical.

The evidence of American interventions is not in dispute. In his Cairo address, President Obama conceded American involvement in the 1953 coup in Iran that toppled a democratic government. And this is only one of many, many instances well known to all except, perhaps, a majority of American voters. Imran Khan is part of the multitude that sees through the American rhetoric of high morality. (more…)

Education and the Rights of Children

April 24, 2009

By Anjum Altaf

In earlier posts we have highlighted what we feel many schools in South Asia are doing (inculcating hatred) that is harmful to the social psyche of children. We have also discussed what we feel enough schools are not doing (proactively teaching tolerance) that would be beneficial for the social health of South Asian countries.

In this post we look at education from a different perspective and raise two questions that ought to occupy centre-stage in the debate over the public school curriculum: What are the rights of a child? And, how are these rights to be ensured?

There is much room for disagreement on the first, which should lead to a vigorous debate. This would be interesting, given that ‘rights’ cover the entire spectrum from the simple to the complex and from the obvious to the controversial. (more…)

Pakistan: What is to be done in FATA?

January 3, 2009

The situation in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is in a mess. It is being said that while Pakistanis refuse to see or accept the reality, a civil war is underway in the region to all intents and purposes. And the Pakistani state is losing this civil war. The Pakistani military has no credibility with anyone in the country and many see the Taliban favorably as either anti-imperialist or pan-Islamist. All this leaves the following question on the table: What will this mean for Pakistan when the new US administration raises the ante in Afghanistan as expected?

Let us examine the various elements in this picture. It is impossible to deny that a civil war is underway and that the Pakistani state is on the losing end. Just the loss of control over territory makes this obvious. Less than five years ago residents of Islamabad could pack a picnic lunch and drive to Swat without a thought; there used to be a weekly train marketed to tourists through the Khyber pass from Peshawar to Landikotal. All this is history and today the civil war is on the outskirts of Peshawar whose elite is fleeing the city where they have lived for generations.

It is also impossible to deny that the gainers in the civil war are imposing their own writ in the ‘liberated’ territories. In Swat, which as a princely state had one of the most progressive infrastructures of education as far back as the 1930s, schools are being bombed, televisions smashed, women confined to the home, and men forbidden to shave.  Whether this is good or bad depends on the side one favors but the point is that it defies the writ of the Pakistani state.

The Pakistani military, while remaining the most powerful player in the game, has put itself in the situation where it is trusted by neither friend nor foe and is intensely hated and despised by many. This has come about from its Machiavellian attempts to fool and double-cross all the people all the time in the service of its parochial interests, to contrive incidents to take over political power when deemed unavoidable, to ride roughshod over all other interests in the country, and to perceive itself clever enough to get away with biting the hand that feeds it. It is rogue elephant out of control.

And yes, there is either a deep-rooted ideological sympathy for the Taliban and its Al-Qaeda allies or an ambivalent support driven by gut resentment. The first comes from years of post-Zia religious indoctrination that began as a calculated strategy by the US-Saudi-Pakistani triumvirate and was never abandoned; the second, from a reaction to ham-handed, arrogant and hypocritical interventions by the US that delivered nothing to the suffering citizens while openly enriching their oppressors.

So it is indeed a vital question to ask at a point in time when the stakes could be raised significantly if the new US administration carries through with its planned ‘surge’ in Afghanistan: What ought to be the new strategy that should replace the failing one in FATA?

There are emerging voices asking Pakistanis to unequivocally oppose the military’s campaign in FATA and support its replacement by a social, economic and political mobilization that would transform the political and economic landscape in the area. But it is not made clear what such a mobilization would imply in concrete terms. Do the periodic attempts in the recent past to rely on peace talks and plan development schemes with US money constitute part of this mobilization that would transform the landscape? If so, one would need to figure out why these attempts have met with repeated failure.

We really have no solution to offer in a situation where sixty years of cynically neglected investments in social, economic and political development are coming back to bite in a vicious fury but there is one common-sense suggestion that can form the basis of a discussion of this vexing question.

It would seem to us that this battle cannot be waged by players that do not have credibility in the region or those who are seen as compromised by their past behaviors. There is need to seek and empower players who have a clear and unambiguous stake in the stability of the region. In our mind this can only be the legitimately elected government of the NWFP.

It is quite fortunate that the government of the religious groups shoehorned by the manipulative Musharraf rule has been thrown out by the citizens of the province to be replaced by one led by the ANP. It would seem, at least from a distance, that the ANP, given its entire history, would be the least affected by emotions sympathetic to the type of governance promised by the Taliban.

So turning over full control and responsibility of the conduct of the suggested mobilization to the ANP with the federal government taking a supportive backseat should make strategic sense. This would require the funding needed to support the social, economic and political dimensions of the mobilization but the mobilization would not rule out military action, if needed. However, this action would be at the discretion of the provincial government and the military would need to be clearly seen to be taking its orders from the former.

We are too far from the action to say whether this is feasible or not and if not, why not. It might still be useful to structure a discussion around the proposition to see if the barriers to its implementation can be surmounted by an effort mounted in support by domestic lobbies and external allies acting in concert.

For another perspective on this issue see Violence Without Limits and Pakistan’s Challenge by AH Nayyar and Zia Mian in the January 2009 issue of Himal Magazine.

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