VIOLENCE NOT INEVITABLE In WESTERN PAKISTAN
Dick Bennett 3-23-08
"The thing I find most puzzling about the United States today is how
little real debate there has been over the almost unanimous acceptance of
the idea that the only way to defeat terrorism is through policies of war."
These words apply to US imperial actions, either through attack or
threatened attack, in a dozen or more countries in recent years-from Panama
to Serbia, to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Let's take a hard case-western Pakistan. In referring to the clans
and tribes along the Afghan border, our government leaders and pundits
sometimes sound like the citizen of Gabon, who said about its 72-year-old
autocrat, Omar Bongo, the longest-serving leader in the world: "God brought
him to us and only God can call him away." Western Pakistan is perceived
by most US leaders and mainstream media as intractably violent and orderly
only by violence. Vice-President Dick Cheney on March 20 urged Pakistan to
battle extremists in its border regions, and almost on the same day
apparently U.S. missiles from an unmanned drone struck a "suspected militant
safehouse and killed about 20 people." In some areas a "Talibanization"
takeover of mosques and suicide bombers seems to be spreading.
But such violence has not always been the case, and the future of
western Pakistan is not inevitably violent. Let's remember three things
about this in many ways benighted part of the world: the nonviolent
movement of Ghaffar-Badshah--Khan during the 1930s, the yearning for
schools apparently all along the northern and western frontiers, and the
present rise to power of the three secular parties, including the third in
size Awami National Party.
The biography of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan by Eknath Easwaran, A Man to
Match His Mountains: Badshah Khan, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam, centers on
the metamorphosis Khan effected in the violence-afflicted Pathans of India's
northwest frontier, especially in Waziristan, turning them into peaceful
nonviolent disciples of Gandhi during India's independence movement.
Easwaran focuses on the spiritual change and on Ghaffar Khan's leadership
and his emergence as the frontier Gandhi. The book's great achievement is
telling an American audience about an Islamic practitioner of nonviolence at
a moment when few in the West understand its effectiveness and fewer still
associate it with anything Islamic.
The story of Greg Mortenson's long struggle to bring education to the
Balti children of northern Pakistan, entitled Three Cups of Tea, reinforces
a vision of peace parallel to that of Khan's (who also built schools). In
this area similar to the Afghan border provinces, Minnesotan Mortenson
encountered bandits, precarious mountainous travel, avalanches, being
kidnapped, the absence of school materials, and the shortage of food, water,
and medicine. But he also became the hope of the many who wanted education
(including refugees from Afghanistan after 9-11 who had been bombed by U.S.
planes), and not the madrassa schools being built by Saudis. His
conclusion: "If we try to resolve terrorism with military might alone, then
we will be no safer than we were before 9-11. If we truly want a legacy of
peace for our children, we need to understand that this is a war that will
ultimately be won with books, not bombs."
Finally, in the recent elections in Pakistan the deeply
conservative northwest voters threw out the Islamist parties that ruled the
ethnic Pashtun North West Frontier Province for five years, and gave their
support to secular parties that promised streets, jobs, and peaceful dialog
(opposing U.S. pressure to intensify attacks on suspected militants linked
to al-Qaida and the Taliban). The main secular party in this Province, the
Awami National Party, has been invited to join the government being formed
by Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party and Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim
League-N (against President Musharraf's Pakistan Muslim League-Q. The
alliance of Awami with the two largest secular parties should not astonish,
since Islamist parties in Pakistan have never won more than 11 percent of
Let us remember too UNESCO's "Seville Declaration," summarizing the
scientific evidence against the view that we have an inherent tendency to
make war, and Douglas Fry's extraordinarily well-supported case in The Human
Potential for Peace that humans possess propensities not only to behave
aggressively but also to behave cooperatively with kindness for others.
Amazon.com, Editorial Reviews.
Easwaran, Eknath. A Man to Match His Mountains: Badshah Khan, Nonviolent
Soldier of Islam. Plough, 1985.
Fry, Douglas. The Human Potential for Peace: An Anthropological Challenge
to Assumptions about War and Violence. Oxford UP, 2006.
Gannon, Kathy. "Voters Toss Religious Extremists: Northwest Conservatives
Back Secular Parties." TMN 2-21-08.
Guerrero, Patty. Rev. of Mortenson, Greg, and David Relin, Three Cups of
Tea, in Worldwide WAMM (March 2008).
"Pakistan," ADG (Feb. 21, 2008) p. 8A.
Pennington, Matthew. "Pakistan's Key Opposition Agrees to Govern Together."
TMN (Feb. 22, 2008).
Pitman, Todd. "Bongo Now Longest-Serving Leader," ADG (3-22-08).
Rubin, Trudy. "The General's Dangerous Aim." ADG (Nov. 12, 2007).
Wood, Edward, Jr. Worshipping the Myths of World War II: Reflections on
America's Dedication to War. Potomac Books, 2006.