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During my recent trip to Pakistan with Kathy Kelly and Dan Pearson of Voices for Creative Non-Violence, I found a confusing set of circumstances. Taking a cue from the United States, the educated and westernized elite believe in ‘crushing’ the Taliban, while others believe Taliban are the only people standing up to the madness of the United States. The Pakistani government is weak and corrupt, garnering no respect from the elite or the peasantry. Pakistan’s government abdicated its responsibility when it surrendered the country to the United States. Furthermore, to please the United States, the government launched a major assault on its own people. To eliminate a few thousand Taliban the ‘operation’ has displaced over 3 million people from Swat, Buner and Dir, and more are leaving South Waziristan as the army starts an offensive there. By the time we arrived in Islamabad on the morning of May 25, 2009, the army ‘operation’ in Swat was well underway and the drone issue had taken the back seat in public consciousness. We spent the first two days meeting with activists/elites at Civil Junction Cafe. Almost everyone spoke English and was educated or had spent some time abroad. A majority of them supported the military operation and believed in ‘crushing’ the Taliban. We met displaced people from many villages and towns, mostly from Swat, and some from Buner and Dir. We met them living just outside Islamabad (Bara Koh, Satra Meel), in Attock, Swabi, Mardan (Haathia, Jallah), Tarbela, Ghazi and Hasan Abdal. We met them living in empty buildings (hospital, schools, colleges), private homes and tented camps. Afghan Taliban have said there is no connection between them and the Pakistani Taliban and that Taliban from Swat are not the same as Taliban of South Waziristian. Many of the displaced people with whom we spoke echoed this statement, adding that about two years earlier, outsiders with long hair and beards started to come into their towns and take over police stations. They promised “nizam adil” and quick justice. They also offered large sums of money and arms. Some locals - poor, unemployed and criminally minded joined them. In the beginning, people supported them. Women donated money and even their jewelry for the cause. Swatis are religious people; women dress modestly, observe pardah and believe in education for girls. We met several female high school and college students, in various camps.
When the so called Taliban started burning girls’ schools, forcing their way into the villagers’ houses in gangs of 10 or more and making unreasonable demands, those who criticized them disappeared. Days later their bodies would be found decapitated, their heads hung in the village squares. Only then did the locals realized that these were not sincere Muslims. They did not observe normal Islamic code. For example, among other things, the obligatory prayers did not apply to them, and they even changed the “ayas” of the Qur'an to fit their purpose. Taliban in South Waziristan, on the other hand, are left over 'mujahidin' from the time of the Russian invasion. They married locals and have been assimilated. The US is conducting drone attacks in North and South Waziristan. The Taliban in both those areas are fighting American aggression, just as they fought the Russians. The majority of the casualties from the drone attacks have been civilians. The traditional life of the North West Frontier Province’s proud people has been disrupted; there is no peace, nor do people enjoy the normal life we all take for granted. A man from North Waziristan told us sad tales about the aftermath of drone attacks. He told us that hospitality is a Pashtun tradition that applies to enemies as well as friends. If any Taliban visits them, they feed and protect them. Quite often the drone attacks came long after the Taliban had gone. The villagers have to carry the injured for miles before reaching the paved road and wait there for any means of transport to reach the Red Cross facility. What will happen to the displaced people when their homes, their crops, their fruit orchards and their livestock are destroyed? They are living under horrendous conditions; coming from a colder climate, the Punjab heat is unbearable for them. How and when are they going back to their homes? Who is going to take care of them until they can return? The United Nations is already overburdened and out of funds. A majority of the affected people, (~80%), are cared for by the community and charity organizations. How long can the goodwill and resources of these organizations last? The western media is raising the specter of Pakistani nuclear bombs falling into the hands of ‘terrorists’. Nothing could be further from truth. The Taliban fighters are primitive, uneducated people fighting a guerrilla war to preserve their centuries old life style and tradition and rid their country of foreign meddling. They do not have the sophistication to assemble the nuclear bomb even if they stumble upon it. The Pakistan army is the only stable and over half a million strong institution in Pakistan. It is extremely unlikely that it will succumb to ragtag local Taliban. The notion that terrorists will gain access to nuclear weapons is another scare tactic used by the great super power to frighten its own population, causing them to close their eyes and let Uncle Sam keep them safe. The drones, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), have been dropping bombs in South Waziristan since 2004. A Pakistani newspaper - The News, April 10, 2009 – reported that: “Figures compiled by the Pakistani authorities show that a total of 701 people, including 14 al-Qaeda leaders, have been killed since January 2006 in 60 American Predator attacks targeting the tribal areas of Pakistan.”
http://www.thenews.com.pk/top_story_detail.asp?Id=21440. Since Obama took office the frequency of drone attacks has increased and expanded into Baluchistan. With every drone attack, with every casualty, the anger against the United States and the Pakistan government rises and more ‘Taliban/terrorists’ are created Many people coming from different villages in Swat and Buner had stories to tell, some general and similar, many personal and heart breaking. Some told of how they had to leave with just the clothes on their backs, how they had to walk for miles and sometimes for days before finding a car or a truck and shelter somewhere. They were confused as to why the police yielded to Taliban take over so quickly; why the government didn’t stop Maulana Fazalulah from broadcasting on FM radio; why an army half a million strong could not handle small groups of renegades. In all the camps and private homes we visited, we were told that no one has received any assistance from the government. The NGOs and local communities are the only ones generously and actively taking care of the displaced people. People who still have relatives trapped inside the war zone are unable to contact them because all the telephone towers have been knocked down by the army to prevent the ‘Taliban’ from communicating with each other. One woman told me one of her neighbors was beside herself because, in the rush to escape, she lost her child whom she was carrying on her back. One woman handed her son to his father, - he put the child on the ground for a moment, and the child went missing. The father thought the child was with the mother and the mother thought he was with the father. An 8-year-old boy’s parents were killed and two of his siblings who survived were lost somewhere in the crowds. Only with time will we know the full extent of misery caused by the Pakistan army’s operation, which is going on and expanding to other areas. p.s. --Since this writing the army has ended the operation in Swat and people have started returning to their homes. What they found there and how they are surviving is still uncertain, but life is slowly returning to normal. “Things are good in Swat now,” a friend told me. “The shopping centers are open; people go out, doing their business like in any place.”
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