international affairs, muslims, politics, war on terror

Fire with Fire

The cries of Sony following the hacking of their online systems, though justified to a large degree, ring rather hollow (the company is referring to the hack as an “act of war”) after the Taliban killed over 140 people in Peshawar and a lunatic held over a dozen people hostage with a rifle in Sydney, Australia earlier this week.

Man Haron Monis, a deranged, violent man who was out on bail after being slapped with dozens of sexual assault charges, took visitors inside a Lindt Cafe in central Sydney hostage for 16 hours earlier this week, and ended up getting shot dead by Australian police. Two hostages, a barrister and a manager at the cafe, also died. Unlike Stephen Harper’s administration, which never bothered reaching out to the Muslims community during the Parliament shooting in October, Tony Abbott, by no means a left-winger, actually took some time to reassure Australian Muslims that an isolated lunatic like Monis wouldn’t be used to paint an entire population black. The event caught the world’s attention as Monis, who took with him a black flag with the shahadeh painted on it in white, asked for an ISIS flag instead–along with a conversation with Abbott himself and for his diatribes to be broadcast live. None of these requests were granted.

Equally tragic, if not more so, is the mass execution of scores of children in Peshawar by the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), a loose collections of “jihadi” groups formed in 2007 that wants to overthrow the government in favour their own version of the shariah. Due to a prolonged, cherry-picking policy that divides these groups into sections of “useful” and “un-useful” (depending on the moment) for political purposes, the Pakistani establishment–especially its influential armed forces–has exacerbated a threat that’s existed since the last days of the Soviet Union. The Afghan Taliban and their allies are given safe haven on the Pakistani side of the border (and Pakistani intelligence has shielded extremists in North Waziristan from attacks) since many Pakistanis travelled to Afghanistan back in the day to fight the Soviet occupation. This history has resulted in the kind of pick-and-choose engagement that has to stop, say most experts on the issue. Other observers have also criticized the large invasion of the TTP-strongholds in Waziristan which commenced this summer, and have pointed out that the Pakistani army’s scorched-earth strategies are being pursued while the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI, are probably still in contact with the Afghan Taliban. Nevertheless, this latest attack is probably of a weakening TTP that has seen around 2000 members of its loose-knit cohort perish at the hands of the incursion.

There’s much talk about how the Taliban, a bunch of lunatic Muslims who misappropriate the religion in the most baseless and violent of ways, are impervious to reason and negotiations. This is a reasonable argument given that peace talks with them have gotten nowhere thus far (some point out that neither side displayed much good faith, and that the US drone strikes disrupted the talks). But, and I say this as a novice when it comes to Pakistan’s situation, I’ve not witnessed a single instance when an entrenched insurgency, hiding out in the mountains where the terrain is hardly navigable, has been exterminated/uprooted by a conventional/counter-insurgency effort from the state. That kind of muscling just doesn’t seem to work out very well. The war is a war of attrition, and it seems that the government, afflicted by age-old corruption and systemic dysfunction, will have to reform itself and invest in everyday infrastructure to strengthen their society to be more resilient to the TTP–and to undercut the “jihadi” narrative.

It’s easy to forget, when one tragedy follows the next, that each episode in our recent history is embedded in a larger historical and political narrative. The post-9/11 era and the “war on terror” are not quaint labels from the beginning of this century, but ones that still apply to the forces that produce much of today’s violence. Whatever the response to these heinous acts of political violence, it’s important that we do not ignore history, which shows that an overbearing, indiscriminate response to terrorist attacks only seem to make the situation worse.

It’s not a secret by now that dysfunctional societies (or the more dysfunctional aspects of some societies) produce reactions in the body politic that reflect the polity’s sickness. Governments that invest in the right aspects of their societies–education, health, social services, etc.–tend to have less of a problem with these issues. (The Pakistanis have nuclear bombs but can’t eradicate polio, for example.) The same goes for governments that don’t kill innocent people in developing countries in search of “terrorists.”

The solutions are much more complicated than “go over there and kill them all.”

Photo: A journalist paces the Peshawar school where the TTP massacre happened this Tuesday/CC

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middle east, politics

Pakistan Drowning, Canada Offers Little

Published on:
http://thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=540

The flooding in Pakistan, the worst in 80 years, has eclipsed the devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, the Pakistani earthquake of 2005, and the Haitian earthquake earlier this year, says the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Around 1,600 Pakistanis have died, and an estimated 13.8 million have been affected, but even after the waters subside, the suffering will continue for some time.

The World Food Program reports that 80% of Pakistan’s food reserves have been wiped out, and 558,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed. This season’s rice crop in Sindh Province, part of the country’s “food belt,” has been destroyed, and the Punjab Province, which holds 70% of the country’s cotton reserves, has been devastated. It is now estimated that 1/3 of Pakistan is submerged, about the size of the United Kingdom.

A number of villages and towns along the Indus River have simply been washed away or submerged. The Swat Valley is completely closed off, and Mohenjo-daro, widely known as the world’s first planned city (2400 BC), may very well be destroyed.

All this destruction and Pakistan is only halfway through the monsoon season.

The United Nations has announced an appeal for hundreds of millions of dollars to assist in the aid effort, which is being complicated by continuing rain and landslides.

On Aug. 4, Canada announced that it was contributing $2 million in emergency aid. “[This] will help meet the immediate humanitarian needs of over 150,000 families who have been severely affected by the monsoon floods,” said Minister of International Cooperation Beverley Oda.

However, given the magnitude of destruction and the rising numbers of refugees, $2 million is nowhere near enough.

[Addendum: Canada has now pledges another $33 million.]

Despite the dispatching of 300,000 soldiers to help with the relief effort, people in severely affected areas have complained about the government’s lack of response.

For example, President Asif Ali Zardari has refused to cancel a prolonged trip to Europe to tend to the crisis. Facing protestors in Birmingham, U.K., Zardari made the excuse that he was not needed since he empowered other elected officials in Pakistan to deal with the crisis. This “excuse,” along with images of him lounging at his chateau in France, has infuriated Pakistanis.

“President Zardari has a history of leaving the country when the going gets tough,” said Fatima Bhutto, a vocal critic of the current regime and Zardari’s niece by marriage. “A local pundit anecdotally once estimated that Richard Holbrooke has spent more time in Pakistan than the president.”

Like Haiti, Pakistan is both prone to natural disasters and ill equipped to deal with humanitarian crises.

According to Bhutto, ignorance and corruption play a big role in ensuring such incompetence, but world powers like the United States are also culpable. The Obama administration has ordered dozens of drone air strikes in northern Pakistan to “wipe out al-Qa‘ida operatives,” and this complicates Pakistan’s status as a U.S. ally in the global “War on Terror.”  Thus, controversy erupts when Pakistanis see American ground troops trying to help with the relief effort.

The government has also done little to build up a disaster readiness program. “Everyone here has been complaining the government actually does not have the capacity to respond, because when there isn’t a disaster, they do nothing,” notes Qalandar Memon, a member of the Labour Party of Pakistan.

The bottom line is that the disaster has devastated five provinces and displaced upwards of 6 million people.

Relief efforts are only being conducted when circumstances are suitable, and the full scope of the damage is not yet known. Sadly, neither the Pakistani government nor the international community has responded effectively.

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