Monday, May 18, 2009

Sowing the seeds of the harvest of hate


Monday, May 18, 2009, Jamadi-ul-Awwal 22, 1430 A.H


Sowing the seeds of the harvest of hate

In the national interest

Monday, May 18, 2009
Kamal Siddiqi

The writer is editor reporting, The News

History probably will never forgive the Awami National Party for the role it has played to the events leading up to the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation (NAR) and also what it has done ever since.

When all stake-holders had abandoned all hope of the implementation of the agreement, NWFP information minister and ANP leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain continued to claim that all was well and that the agreement was in place. It seems the ANP has become representative for both sides.

The party has abandoned its own secular and progressive principles.

One can hope that well meaning people like Afrasiab Khattak jump ship soon. Its national character has all but been blemished. When the NAR was disintegrating, Mian Iftikhar Hussain continued to defend the flawed agreement and mislead the people. Possibly because of him thousands of people wasted time when they should have left the Swat valley.

He even claimed to speak on behalf of the TNSM and the TTP that all was in order. The person that comes to mind when one listens to the NWFP information minister is Saddam Hussain's information minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf. But the bigger crime of the ANP government was not the NAR. It was the manner in which the government has allowed extremist elements to hold sway over large swathes of land in the province and worse still, the kind of officers that were posted out to places like Swat to implement the writ of the state. One commissioner, who played a pivotal role in Taliban takeover of towns and villages and who continued to ignore the Taliban FM radio stations, comes to mind. (He was eventually transferred but by then perhaps the damage had been done).

The followers of the Jamaat-e-Islami proudly tell us that it was not them who released Maulvi Sufi Muhammad but the ANP government. And that is a fact that the number of extremists released by the ANP government compared to the previous MMA government is much more. But one cannot entirely blame the ANP here. The MMA sowed the seeds of the harvest of hate that we are now reaping in Swat and Buner.

The ANP is still not rising to the challenge and owing up to its responsibilities. Within days of the influx of refugees from Swat and Buner, information minister Iftikhar Hussain appealed to the international community for aid and assistance. This is the ability of Pakistani politicians and bureaucrats of turning every problem into an opportunity. But what will the ANP government do with that money, one may ask?

A visit to the refugee camps in Mardan revealed who was working and who was joking. A policeman stationed outside the ANP distribution camp at Shah Shehzad Town camp said that only favourites were being obliged. He also said that large amounts of items including blankets, tents, mats, utensils, food items and medicines were being stolen on a daily basis by government employees and ANP workers.

The policeman said that the only reason he was telling this was because "who knows, tomorrow I too will be a refugee if the situation worsens." One look at the "assistance camp" set up by the ANP showed how efficient they were. Men were sitting on chairs and chatting.

There was nothing to offer, not even a patient ear to the thousands of people who wanted to be heard and helped. These men only came into action when some politician or senior government official came to see the refugees. These "visitors" too were part of the official cloak of hypocrisy and indifference. They would spend more time in front of cameras and the media and less with the people they came to visit.

Zafar Iqbal Jhagra, who arrived at the camp on May 9, spent an hour talking to the media and 10 minutes meeting with the refugees. The same was the case with his party leader Mian Nawaz Sharif. And one irony is that despite the fact that around 1.2 million people have moved into the camps, neither our prime minister nor our president have had the time to go and see them.

In contrast, the work being done by religious parties is much more effective. The parties help provide relief and assistance as best they can. They are available to lend an ear when they cannot offer anything else. Organizations like Al-Khidmat and Ummah Welfare Trust are some of the more obvious groups involved. Other banned organizations are also providing relief and help. Who will stop them and why?

The real heroes of the battle against extremism remain unheard and unsung. People like Shams Buneri, who stood up to the Taliban and fought against extremist elements coming into his area. One of the great myths perpetuated by our right-wing media is that the Taliban have support amongst the Pakhtuns because of similarity of culture.

What we are not told is that entire towns and villages fought against the Taliban in places like Ali Khel, Kurram Agency, Salar Zai and Dir.

There was great resistance to the Taliban but in almost all the places the government did not come and support those who took up arms against extremism with the result that they were eventually decimated. In almost all instances of resistance, either the government did not come to the rescue of the people or, in some instances, came and helped the Taliban take control. All this has happened under the ANP rule.

In the case of Shams Buneri for example. He was visited by two senior officials of the NWFP government, one minister and one bureaucrat, who came to see him in the company of a senior Taliban commander. The convoy was escort by several Taliban fighters as well as government security personnel. This curious combination has worked overtime in Swat. Buneri was told to surrender and hand over control to the Taliban. He did not. It is indeed a murky war and we do not know who is supporting whom. Take for example the whole drama of the FM stations which are the main propaganda tool for the extremists.

Students at the nearby GIK Institute claim that given the right equipment and time, they can shut down the transmission from these stations or at distort it beyond comprehension. And yet our officials insist that we need American technology to do the job.

The one notable switch has come in the electronic media. The same "analysts" and "commentators" who were praising the NAR are now criticizing it and praising the army action. These opinion leaders, who host programmes and have immense star value, have yet again lost the plot. First they were apologists for the Taliban, now they are apologists for the establishment. No one seems to be speaking for Pakistan.

Probably for the first time in the history of Pakistan, the government and Pakistan Television were speaking on different lines. In the last days of the NAR, the state broadcaster was going overtime with its right-wing agenda. And the minister of information along with the government was trying to get across another message. Only in a PPP government can these things happen. The well meaning information minister needs to sharpen his claws. Someone needs to know what the objectives of the government are and how they should be highlighted — at least on PTV.

As our brave soldiers fight the Taliban extremists, our muddled leftist parties have started to campaign against the action. However, unlike the ANP which has abandoned its principles altogether, one can credit the leftist ideologues with sticking to their anti-war mission.

At the same time, one needs to ask them what alternative is available for Pakistan at this point. More important, where are the leftists where they are needed the most — at the refugee camps in Mardan, Swabi and other parts of NWFP.

Like Imran Khan and his band of clueless party workers, many of them begums who won't step out in the afternoon sun because it would spoil their complexion, our left-wingers also now exist in another world — the cyber-world to be exact. They too have lost touch with the politics of Pakistan.




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