Monday July 22, 2024

On the brink

By Saleem Safi
February 10, 2019

The whole country, the Pakhtun belt in particular, is once again inching closer towards a new, dangerous and gory crisis. The situation has reached an alarming level and if both sides don’t come to their senses, it could result in a national calamity.

The new unfolding crisis is indeed a logical result of Pakistan’s past policies towards Afghanistan, and the war on terror. But regrettably, the way it is being dealt by both sides is dangerous and could lead to serious repercussions that could be more severe than those of the war on terror. I could sense that the threat was approaching fast but was unable to write and explain some of its dimensions.

It can be said that the stage is being set for some sort of confrontation between the two heroes of the war on terror – the Pakhtuns and the security forces. The tribal region – which has been now merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – seems to be the epicentre of the new crisis. The intention of both sides may not be wrong and both may believe with sincerity that they are working for the betterment of the people and the country. But their approaches have serious shortcomings. There is a need for dialogue and mutual understanding between the two sides. But if they continue to go with their own comprehension and context, and fail to develop mutual understanding or realise each other’s pain and acknowledge each other’s sacrifices, then no one can avert the imminent.

It is a glaring fact that the security forces and the whole nation, especially the Pakhtuns, went through the worst trial in the last two decades. This trial – of every person, institution and every segment of society – was so severe and painful that they failed to realise the pain of the other.

For instance, the war on terror was probably the longest and hardest war in Pakistan’s history for the security forces. Soldiers wage wars, but no one stays on the actual battlefield for more than a few months. But the war on terror lasted so long that a whole generation of security forces seems to have been raised on the actual battlefield. Young captains reached the rank of generals while fighting on one front or another.

In the current army leadership, there would be hardly anyone who has not given shoulder to a falling soldier or collected bodies of colleagues. This was also a painful war for officers and soldiers since it was fought against fellow countrymen. Some were guarding the borders against external enemies while some were busy fighting internally with their own people, who are being sponsored by external powers. The most difficult aspect of the war was that it was fought against enemies who were once close allies in the past.

Similarly, the war was and is being fought against an enemy that had and still has sympathisers and facilitators in every part of the country, in every class and in every institution. The young soldiers and officers engaged in the battle are emotional and full of spirit. They rightly expect that the nation must acknowledge them and the coming generation for their huge sacrifices, accept them as heroes and pardon their mistakes – if any.

Like the security forces, the sacrifices made by the nation are second to none. The whole nation and especially Pakhtuns have gone through the worst phase of history and are still facing the brunt of war and instability. Initially, the Pakhtuns had to welcome the militants – first the Mujahideen and then the Taliban – for the sake of Pakistan. They did so. But due to the flawed policies of the state, these militants became enemies of the Pakhtuns. Consequently, Pakhtun elders were killed, their economy collapsed and even their cultural values changed. For a long time, the state remained a silent spectator and left the Pakhtuns at the mercy of the militants.

Then a large number of security forces were sent to the region. The people of the area warmly welcomed them . Initially, the forces were not allowed to take serious action against the militants or there were some classifications of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Resultantly, the frustration and depression of the people increased. They could see militants moving freely but the state hesitant to take stern action. US drones, though, did used to hunt them.

At last the government decided to take a decisive step against the militants and major military operations were launched, causing a huge displacement of people. Hundreds of thousands of people left their homes, businesses, and lands and migrated to the cities. Unfortunately, the government had no alternate plan and suitable arrangements for their welfare.

From Karachi to Peshawar, the IDPs faced humiliation. In the cities, they were suspected as terrorists or facilitators of terrorists. Some lived as refugees for one year, some for five and some are still living as IDPs. The fake encounter and extra-judicial killing of Naqibullah Mehsud is a living example of police and state behaviour towards IDPs.

When, after the military operations, the people returned to their areas they found nothing except the remains of war: destroyed homes and deserted villages. They had made so many sacrifices for the country and they deserved to be rehabilitated with dignity. Instead, they faced a painful scenario. Their entry to their own land was conditioned with a new of oath of allegiance with the state and a special ‘Watan Card’. They went through dozens of check-posts to reach their homes.

Unfortunately, the mainstream print and electronic media and even political parties failed to become their voice. Ultimately, a youth movement sprang from the region and in a short time; all the affectees of the military operation came together. Generally, their whole case seems right and genuine but unfortunately, their narrative has the element of aggressiveness. The state too has no comprehensive policy towards them and has got engaged in fire-fighting.

It would have been prudent for both the affectees – the security forces and the Pakhtuns – to have come closer. Both sides are emotional; their sacrifices and pain are so deep that they could not feel the pain and compulsion of one another.

Every political leadership has a responsibility, but I think that a huge responsibility falls on the shoulders of people like Asfandyar Wali Khan, Aftab Sherpao and Nawab Ayaz Jogezai to come forward and defuse the situation. These leaders could be trusted by both sides. People like them should come forward and arrange dialogues between the two sides and let them understand each other’s concerns. They should jointly find a solution to heal the wounds of both the wounded parties. It is time to accept the reality that serious problems exist, and then to find a solution that is acceptable to both sides.

The writer works for Geo TV.