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February 21, 2020

How to defend the weak

Opinion

February 21, 2020

Good men, and good women, defend the weak. It is this quality that gives the status of virtual angels on earth to the late Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi, to Ruth Pfau who fought for years against leprosy in Pakistan, to the young Malala Yousafzai and to many others before and alongside them.

Such people have in the hearts of millions a higher standing than most national leaders, though a few have been able to demonstrate similar compassion and at least some devotion towards doing good. Evo Morales of Bolivia and a few others stand amont them for putting people ahead of all else and devising policies that can help them develop and uplift themselves.

We had hoped of course that in the ‘Naya Pakistan’ that Imran Khan promised to bring us following the 2018 elections similar sentiments favouring ordinary people and especially the one-third of the country who live in absolute poverty would be on display. Imran Khan has said this will indeed be the case in time. But true humanity is not restricted to any one region of land or any one group of people.

Late last year, after a brief discussion with President Donald Trump, US troops which had till then been defending the Kurdish people in Syria in their peaceful mountain enclaves, one of the few realms of the war-torn country where life still continued as normal and where the Kurds had helped fight away Isis, US troops suddenly pulled out and Turkish forces invaded.

Kurds, which make up over five percent of the Syrian population, had to face a lot of violence. The Kurds are now basically unprotected. Perhaps this should not be a matter which directly involves Pakistan. But Prime Minister Imran Khan has defended the action, perhaps on the basis that Turkey is a close ally. One could say, though, that the task of friends is to point out errors and weaknesses in allies instead of just following their lead.

The estimated 35 million Kurds of the world, who are thought to have originated from Mesopotamia, live in northern parts of Turkey, in Syria, in Iran, in Iraq and are scattered through few other territories. They share a culture, a language and a yearning for a homeland that would be called Kurdistan. Their desire for such a home has been crushed mercilessly time and time again.

Even if it is somewhat unwillingly, Bangladesh has gone out of its way to help the thousands of Rohingya refugees escaping Myanmar with no place to go. This humanity will be remembered by history. It is a contrast to the Vietnamese boat people who sought to flee their destroyed country in the 1970s and were turned away at one shore after the other, often left to die at sea. This is then what humanity means in modern times.

We would like to see Pakistani leaders rise above this. This also holds true for Pakistan’s failure over the past years to defend the Yemeni. And there are accounts in history which speak of the role of the man who became Pakistan’s most powerful military dictator General Ziaul Haq in the 1970s, playing a part in violence against thousands of Palestinians. This happened after Pakistan had been called on by Arab countries to help strengthen their armies following the 1967 debacle against Israel.

Just as it has stood with the Kashmiris, Pakistan’s leadership needs to stand with other oppressed people, including those from other countries. There are many to choose from. Principle must apply and not questions of friendships or political gain. Even within the country, the state needs to defend its most helpless citizens. These include the people of the former tribal areas and of Balochistan who have failed to even make their voices heard. The perception among these groups is that they have been subjected to injustice by their own state, with enforced disappearances and other acts of brutality adding to this. Of course, these may just be perceptions. But the arrests of demonstrators agitating for tribal people does not help the view held in the minds of the citizens who live in these parts.

The state must step in and defend those who are not able for any reason to help themselves. These include not only ethnic groups or political organizations but also those who are vulnerable on the basis of poverty, gender, homelessness or other factors beyond their control.

The appearance of more and more jobless people in Karachi as a result of drives against encroachment leaves one wondering about who really the state stands with. Those who have been made homeless or who have lost livelihoods after the removal of structures determined to be built on encroached land must in some way be compensated.

The most powerful are those who dare to stand with the weak, giving up personal interests to do so. These are the true heroes. They come from many fields of life and a large number may be nameless. They constitute men and women who quietly distribute food and warm clothing to children on the street without seeking any publicity for themselves. All of us should be thinking along the same lines as these heroes.

Perhaps we cannot do what they do. But at least we can acknowledge their acts and recognise how different their thinking is from those who do not hesitate to turn guns against people unable to defend themselves.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.

Email: [email protected]