Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bombing Western Pakistan

By Dick Bennett

“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 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 US leaders and mainstream media as intractably violent and orderly only by violence. Vice-President Dick Cheney on March 20, 2008, 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.”

With what result? Since then the drone attacks and special operations ground attacks have steadily intensified. At least 110 drone attacks on Western Pakistan were reported in 2010. In retaliation, “Talibanized” takeovers of mosques and suicide bombers have spread. .The Bajur region, for example, saw “an unusual show of strength by insurgents,” despite Pakistan military’s claim to have cleaned the area; and the first female suicide bomber killed at least 45 people. Expectedly; after all, Western Pakistan and Eastern and Southern Afghanistan are the home of the Pashtun tribe, main source of the Taliban. .

But such violence has not always been the case; 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 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 Pashtuns of India's northwest frontier, turning them into the 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, 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 2008 elections in Pakistan the deeply conservative northwest voters threw out the Islamist parties that ruled the ethnic Pathan/Pashtun North West Frontier Province for five years, and gave their support to secular parties that promised streets, jobs, and peaceful dialog (and opposed U.S. pressure to intensify attacks on suspected militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban). The main secular party in the northwest, the Awami National Party, was invited to join the government being formed by Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (against President Mushaffraf’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 the vote.

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.

We can assume that Western (Pashtun) Pakistan is not necessarily programmed for war, particularly not for war against the United States. So let us ask why they are behaving so violently now?

Ali, Zulfiqar and Laura King. “Attack Kills at Least 20 in Pakistan.” TMN (3-17-08)(US bombing Pakistan)., 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.”
Guerrero, Patty. Rev. of Mortenson, Greg, and David Relin, Three Cups of Tea, in Worldwide WAMM (March 2008).
“Missile Strike Kills 7 in Pakistan.” ADG (12-17-10).
“Pakistan,” ADG (Feb. 21, 2008) p. 8A.
Khan, Anwarullah. “Pakistan Bomber in Burqa Kills 45.” ADG (12-26-10).
“Pakistan Counts 25 Missile Kills: U.S. Drones Struck Militants’ Trucks.” ADG (12-28-10).
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.

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