Forget GAZA care about SWAT

12 02 2009

Source: The news
Thursday, February 12, 2009
By by Fasi Zaka
I think it would be absolutely inhuman not to care about the massacre in Gaza, the flagrant violation and cruelty demonstrated by the Israelis. But after talking to an old friend of mine, I can see how someone would be unmoved by the plight of the Palestinians.

A friend of mine called recently from the UK to announce the birth of his son. He was with me in university in Peshawar, and is a most amiable fellow. He is from Swat, and I had a good number of friends from that place during my student years.

The people of Swat are an extremely good looking people, and of a much more demure nature than most Pakhtuns, who are known to be boisterous. Several years after the completion of my education I went to Swat on a research project for the first and only time looking into the value chain of apple growers for the export market. I met many farmers, intelligent family men who were seeing hard times in agriculture but were optimistic about the future. Despite their hardships, they conformed to the gentleman farmer mould. If you had asked me at the time what would be the main concerns of Swat several years into the future I would have said it was the decimation of the population of bees due to pollution that was affecting the pollination of fruit-bearing trees. How wrong I was.

My friend who just had a son is in the UK, working; his wife and newborn are still in Swat. When he called he told me he was going to a protest in London to urge for action in his city. Several of his extended family had been murdered by the Taliban, and others threatened. The beauty of the valley is now irrigated by the blood of its slain innocents.

He asked me with what conscience could Pakistanis protest Gaza and be vocal about the atrocities there while remaining silent on Swat. He is right, it is unconscionable. More than the trouble in the tribal areas and FATA, Swat is problematic because it is indigenous Taliban without the benefit of being close to Afghanistan. When Swat goes, only a matter of time before Peshawar, and ultimately Islamabad too, if not the rest of the country, if the government does not detain these people.

How hard is it to take out a radio station there that Fazlullah uses to terrorise the citizens every night, announcing the roster of targets in his bloody workweek? What are the army and government thinking on this? There is already a report in the press that one of the ministers in the NWFP took out an advertisement in the local papers of Swat asking the Taliban to forgive him. Why is he still in office. The government has been shameless in only lauding Afzal Khan Lala, an octogenarian, the only resistance there is in the valley. Why is the burden of Swat on this old man?

The press has been irresponsible. Many commentators have romanticised the movement. But what is the core of the demands of the Taliban, other than regression of progress? Despite the horrific violence of the Communists, at least they gave their people education and quality healthcare that eventually helped undo the totalitarianism. The only way to undo the Taliban if they ever take over will not be education because there will be none. We will hark back to the days of brutes, leading short violent lives. There will not even be a noble savage amongst us. The moral relativism needs to end. They are massacring the people of Swat; the people live in terror every day while the army and the government watch on.

The Taliban have already issued their hit list to the media of politicians from the once serene valley. How long before they become even more ambitious and issue death verdicts to members of the legal fraternity, human rights lawyers and media men? Expect that soon. Where we can negotiate we should, no need for loss of life, even if it is enemies of the state, we need to preserve the sanctity of what is living. But sadly, we have moved beyond that phase because of the inaction of the both Musharraf and the current government.

The killing machine that the Taliban have become has created a new theatre of blood lust. They exhume graves of people to put corpses on display, they publicly kill people for minor offences, they fear education and ostracise it, they cut off people’s noses and ears. What kind of humanity is that? It’s not Islam, that’s for sure. It is an aberration.

Of all the coverage I have seen, the best came from unexpected quarters and in a totally different setting. While Hamid Mir is often criticised for being sensationalist, his reporting from Gaza was an unbelievable tour de force of mature and thought-provoking reportage. While surveying the damage in Gaza, he looked at the schools that were destroyed by the Israelis and pondered about Swat and the same that the Taliban manage to do with impunity. Without thinking everyone will denounce Israel, but hesitate to denounce what is happening in Swat. Why?

Gaza has been covered well by the world media and for the first time from both the west and the east there is tandem consternation over Israel, concentrating on it and ignoring our own plight is not sensible. The tragedy of Gaza doesn’t need to be replicated in Pakistan. We need to heal Swat, for the people of the valley and as a duty to our fellow citizens. The next generation will not forgive us for our silence.

The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email: fasizaka@ yahoo.com

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Fata insurgency challenge of highest order: Obama

24 01 2009

Source: Pakistani newspaper

WASHINGTON, Jan 23: An international challenge of the highest order and an urgent threat to global security is how the new US President Barack Obama described the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan in his maiden speech to his diplomatic corps.

Mr Obama was equally forceful while talking about another pivotal issue that has occupied US policy makers for half a century: the Middle East. ‘Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel’s security. And we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself against legitimate threats,’ he said.

‘Now, just as the terror of rocket fire aimed at innocent Israelis is intolerable, so too is a future without hope for the Palestinians,’ he added.

Reacting to his statement, the pro-Israeli neo-con media welcomed Mr Obama’s commitment to Israel but rejected his suggestion for creating a better future for the Palestinians. ‘We need to wipe them out,’ said a neo-con blogger. Some Arab commentators were also disappointed.

‘Mr Obama dispelled any notions of a change in the US Middle East policy,’ As’ad Abu Khalil, a professor of political science at California State University, told a US media outlet. ‘It’s like sprinkling sulphuric acid on the wounds of the children in Gaza.’ But both groups noticed that Mr Obama acted fast, unlike his predecessor George W. Bush who ignored the Arab-Israeli conflict for too long and was not sincere to his own peace plan.

Just two days after talking oath, Mr Obama made telephone calls to Washington’s long-standing allies in the Middle East – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan.

But his Thursday afternoon statement at the State Department makes it clear that he is equally, if not more, focused on South Asia. ‘Another urgent threat to global security is the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ he said.

‘This is the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism.’

Drawing a parallel between the two issues, Mr Obama observed: ‘There, as in the Middle East, we must understand that we cannot deal with our problem in isolation. There is no answer in Afghanistan that does not confront the al Qaeda and Taliban bases along the border.’ He also acknowledged that the military option alone cannot end this crisis. ‘And there will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ he said. ‘This is truly an international challenge of the highest order.’ The American people and the international community must understand that the situation in the two countries ‘is perilous and progress will take time,’ he warned.

Mr Obama conceded that violence in Afghanistan was ‘up dramatically.’ In describing the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Mr Obama did not focus only on the existence of the so-called terrorist safe-havens in Pakistan, indicating that his administration is open also to pointing out the drawbacks of its Afghan allies.

‘A deadly insurgency has taken deep root. The opium trade is far and away the largest in the world. The Afghan government has been unable to deliver basic services,’ he said. Mr Obama then turned to the issue that he also highlighted during his election campaign: militancy in the tribal areas.

‘Al Qaeda and the Taliban strike from bases embedded in rugged tribal terrain along the Pakistani border,’ he said, adding that this does not only threaten Afghanistan but also is a threat to the United States. ‘While we have yet to see another attack on our soil since 9/11, al Qaeda terrorists remain at large and remain plotting,’ he warned. Toning down his election rhetoric, which focused on using the US military might to subdue the militants, in this policy statement Mr Obama spoke instead of setting ‘achievable goals.’ ‘Going forward, we must set clear priorities in pursuit of achievable goals that contribute to our collective security,’ he said.

Mr Obama said that his administration was committed to refocusing attention and resources on Afghanistan and Pakistan and to spending those resources wisely.

‘We will seek stronger partnerships with the governments of the region, sustained cooperation with our Nato allies, deeper engagement with the Afghan and Pakistani people and a comprehensive strategy to combat terror and extremism,’ he declared.

‘The world needs to understand that America will be unyielding in its defence of its security and relentless in its pursuit of those who would carry out terrorism or threaten the United States,’ the new US president warned.

Earlier, President Barack Obama has described his new chief diplomat Hillary Clinton Hillary as “an early gift” to the State Department.

“It is my privilege to come here and to pay tribute to all of you, the talented men and women of the State Department,” Obama told the employees during a visit to underscore “my commitment to the importance of diplomacy in renewing American leadership.”

“I’ve given you an early gift, Hillary Clinton,” he said amid laughter and applause. “You will have a secretary of state who has my full confidence,” he said of his one- time Democratic rival for the nation’s highest office.

The former first lady too, leaving the bitterness of the election campaign behind, reciprocated his sentiments: “We are not only honoured and delighted, but challenged, by the president coming here on the second day.”