Zarb-e-Azb has begun. The stern military action that various circles in and outside Pakistan have demanded for years is now finally taking place. Some Pakistanis have expressed their support for this military action with the due sobriety that the situation demands, but I’m afraid far too many seem to be celebrating war. This may be understandable, but it is still inexcusable.
The difference between these savage terrorists, and ordinary Pakistanis lies in the vast gulf between how we value human life and how the TTP and its various affiliates, foreign and local, debase and destroy human life. To celebrate this war is an affirmation of their way of life, not ours. It is also to dishonour the sacrifices and bravery of our soldiers. They fight for this country, its constitution and the ideas and ideals of Sir Syed, Maulana Jauhar, Allama Iqbal and our beloved Quaid-e-Azam. We should take great care and consideration in how we express support for our troops, because they stand for what we stand for. We must honour their sacrifices and bravery by standing firm in valuing human life and rule of law.
The military operation in North Waziristan has been named Zarb-e-Azb. It is the initiation of what we all pray will be decisive action against a cancer that has long rested, unmolested in our mountains, our valleys, our villages, our cities, our living rooms, and our minds. But as the operation begins, and as we welcome decisive military action against the terrorists, it is more important than ever to ask difficult questions and contemplate the answers and their implications.
Support for our soldiers should never be negotiable, nor conditional. Asking difficult questions at a time of war, however, is not akin to undermining support for our soldiers. It is akin to ensuring that the support we provide is resilient, multilayered and sustainable. If our soldiers put themselves in harm’s way for us, the least we can do is have the courage to ask the questions that will help prevent them having to go to war for us, again, and again, and again.
The first and most important question is whether we understand how we got here in the first place. Do we? There are two answers to this question, in my view. And both are terrifying. The first answer is that we don’t really understand how we got here. But the second, more worrying, answer is that we don’t really seem to care how we got here.
Imagine a man with lung cancer, stage four. Things are bad. So bad that surgery is needed, but not so bad yet that surgery is not possible. It is possible. And so the man with lung cancer gets together with his doctor and his family and friends, and puts together enough money to pay for surgery and off they go to the hospital to perform surgery on the tumour in his lungs that is the root of the cancer. And on their way to the hospital, this man, and his family, they smoke Marlboro Lights and Dunhill Switches. All the way to the hospital and all the way into the surgical ward. Smoke, smoke, smoke.
What kind of a crazy man would do such a thing? And what kind of a crazy doctor would allow such behaviour? No one. Never.
Launching a military offensive in North Waziristan without having an honest conversation about how it became the international and domestic hub for terrorism that it is very much like the lung cancer patient, walking into the surgical ward with a cigarette in his mouth. It is also more than likely that a successful surgery will not really mean much for this man’s smoking habits. If he survives surgery, this crazy man will continue to smoke whatever brand of cigarette works for him. This is the definition of insanity.
The federally administered tribal areas (Fata) are not on the moon, and they are not another country – yet for almost 70 years, we have treated it like Area 51 – a social, economic and political black hole. Before the CIA and the ISI ganged up to Islamise the crime in Fata, it was just a massive cesspool of criminal activity. The strange and inhumane laws of Pakistan that afford Fata “special” status provided legal cover to the crime.
But the people of Fata are not a roll of toilet paper that visitors can use and dispose of at will. They are real people with real hopes and dreams. And we can’t switch from weeping for their human rights when drones hit their villages to celebrating when munitions from our F-16s hit those same villages. Yet, we can. And we do. And the result is what we have.
And if we keep doing what we do? Well. Then we will keep having what we have.
Does this mean we should not attack terrorist hideouts and targets? Hogwash. We should have attacked them years ago, but a certain dictator was too busy putting down Hamid Karzai in front of foreign diplomats to bother dealing with a mess he helped create. We should have attacked the terrorists the second they declared their intentions to kill Pakistani civilians.
We have waited this long because we have little national pride. We feign this national pride now because we have no choice. Mullah Fazlullah, a village idiot that we hold in contempt to our own detriment, has played Pakistan for a fool once, and twice, and maybe thrice. A proud nation would quash such cancers at the first sign of a tumour, not hand wring about whether we should be talking to the man, at this late, deep, terminal stage of the disease.
Still, the focus on the fight part of this war is worrisome, and dangerous. It distracts us from the real battles ahead.
Pakistan needs a coherent and cohesive national narrative that can serve to undermine extremists and their agendas. This is the job of elected democrats. Pakistan needs an effective deployment of this narrative. This is the job of communications professionals. Pakistan needs police stations, courts and prisons that reduce the net number of criminals in Pakistan, instead of adding to them. This is the job of bureaucrats and judges.
Pakistan needs a more equitable distribution of social and economic opportunities. This is the job of entrepreneurs and businessmen, of academics and of visionary politicians. North Waziristan is in Pakistan. North Waziristan needs all these things more than the rest of the country does.
Whilst celebrating the initiation of Zarb-e-Azb, Pakistanis need to consider the level of care that is being invested in addressing the things that North Waziristan needs. Some nations can attack places at will, ad infinitum. Pakistan isn’t one of those nations. And Pakistan is not attacking a faraway ‘place’. It is attacking its own territory. For the umpteenth time. If we don’t ask difficult questions and start to do the hard homework, we’ll be walking into the surgical ward with a lit cigarette in one hand, and a live grenade in the others. May Allah protect us and guide us all.
The writer is an analyst and commentator. www.mosharrafzaidi.com