days of “measured musings”

Imagine someone a little younger and a lot further away, writing about a home that still hasn’t changed.

drive fast, drive past

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“Know Thy Enemy”

(From The Beaver, with its proudly Berliner format in November 2009) 

Islamabad used to be the safe city, peopled by diplomats and bureaucrats, insulated from many of the problems afflicting the rest of Pakistan. Now there seems to be no such haven in the country. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani brought light to the situation in a recent press conference following large scale terrorist attacks, in which he declared: “We are at war.”

The question is who exactly is at war with whom. So far the enemy had come under the broad category of the “Taliban”, which encompassed the products of politically inclined madrassahs and Pushtuns sympathetic to their Afghan guests. Now, the lines have been blurred so that the new enemies are the “militants”, who have crept into the very foundations of society. The clash is no longer between the government and a single well-defined group. Following the massive destruction and displacement caused by the military operation in the north, the country has entered a nightmare of chaos and cyclical violence.

All civil institutions, virtually all public places are subject to security threats. If the Army General Headquarters can be infiltrated, then what guarantees can be offered for the lives of mere mortals? After a double attack on the International Islamic University, all educational institutions were issued warnings, and government as well as private schools in the four provinces were temporarily closed. Although many have reopened, the complete clampdown on education illustrated the terrible nature of the conflict. The indiscriminate nature of the attacks shows a growing desperation on the part of the “militants”, who seem to have embarked on a vengeful mission against no one in particular.

Who are these people? What do they want to achieve? In this context of anarchy, it is by finding answers to the simple questions that the greater problems can be addressed. Only if the obscure enemy can be identified can the government – or the public – find the best way of dealing with it. Targeted strikes and drone attacks can only work if there is a finite number of segregated individuals causing the trouble. Otherwise, the entire country can be made a minefield with new generations of “militants” quietly emerging from behind the tents of refugee camps.

What needs to be figured out is how to prevent this from happening. Perhaps it is time for those in power to raise their glance from the military drawing board and take in the bigger picture. They might find that the very neglect that bred this struggle is being amplified on a much larger scale. While the government and its foreign benefactors concentrate on building offensive strategies, padlocks are being placed on school gates all over the country. Those attending elite institutions in the capital are having exams cancelled, just as those in Swat were left to wonder about their future. With their destinies so intertwined, the people of the country may find that it may not be wise to continue this war with each other. All that remains is for those wielding weapons to discover the same.

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