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  • Technorati: graph / links

    The human angle to the story of a war

    by Fe'reeha on 13th May, 2009 at 6:21 pm    

    While the news focus of Pakistani media has shifted from the debates on Swat peace accord to the war zone, one must commend the national and international news outlets for concentrating on the internally displaced people.

    There is active and vociferous coverage of thousands of people who have been displaced from their homes. In the past, Pakistani government faced acute criticism for not meeting the demand of the IDPs on time and for being somewhat insensitive to the needs of those whose home towns were under attack. This time round, it seems the government is also keener on making sure the “human angle” of this war story is not over looked hence a plethora of statements by political pundits has targeted the issue of IDPs.

    Yet the tragic reality looms on our heads. In a few days time, the story of IDPs like any other story will become old news. Editors will grapple to find new angles and aid agencies will have to shift their focus elsewhere. But the damage to the hearts and minds of those internally displaced may be irreversible.

    In the time of war, aid agencies and media flock in the afflicted zones to cover the best and most powerful story. But does anyone look for solutions? And who actually looks beyond the obvious?

    So what is beyond the obvious in this case?

    The blaring reality is that the story of IDPs is just beginning to unfold. While thousands are reaching neighboring areas of Islamabad, many more are expected in coming days. What will be the future of these people?

    Also, most of the news stories talk in facts and figures. How many are there, how many more to come and what amount of money are we talking about?

    But there is something more to these numbers. These are lives of the people we are talking about. People who like me and you have plans and dreams of their lives. For instance, the first time expectant woman who I saw talking on a private TV channel must have made her plans for giving birth to her first child surrounded by her caring family. She perhaps too has the right to picking up the right colour for the pillow of her baby and making plans for her child before the time of delivery.

    Yet now, cramped in a camp amongst hundreds and thousands of hungry faces and growing diseases, what will be her feelings as she tries curbing labour pains at the time of the delivery of her first born? The moments, precious moments that will arrive in everyone’s life only once, are one casualty of this war we hardly talk about.

    And what about the future of the child who is yet to be born?

    And what about the eighty-two year old Jeevan, cladded in light blue shalwar kameez, with a white beard and wrinkled face. Did he ever know that the eyes which had seen the sun set on his home town every night may see the last sun set in a crowded camp from where the skies are not even properly visible? Surely, this must be a fear reflecting in those wise old eyes.

    There is something innately wrong with the fact that the people of Pakistan are on roads. One may blame the Taliban or any other factor, but truth remains that these people did not deserve it. Their lives may have been different than our lives in our homes here miles away, yet the basic values and chain of thought was perhaps the same. The quest for a “normal” life in “peaceful” surroundings, where you can get married, have children and wait for your death are all threads of collective dreams of humanity.

    While aid agencies will focus on giving the IDPs clothes, putting bandages on their visible wounds and finding ways of filling their appetites, will there be anyone to wipe the tears in their eyes with an understanding warm hand? Will there be anyone who will understand the extent of their loss and look for scars which are unseen?

    Indeed, collateral damage is a ruthless and vague term for it does not account for the broken dreams, darkening shadows and silent sighs of dying desires.

      |   Trackback link   |   Add to del.icio.us   |   Share on Facebook   |   Filed in: Current affairs, Pakistan, Terrorism

    11 Comments below   |   Add your own

    1. zak — on 13th May, 2009 at 8:14 pm  

      timely article..some useful links to people who want to help the IDP’s



    2. dave bones — on 13th May, 2009 at 11:52 pm  

      Yeah Swat is really sad although a few people in that direction declared me as the enemy, as infidel, heretic to my face and behind my back in the street, I felt it was their culture and not mine and no one openly threatened me. I was just something they hadn’t ever seen. People live under norms I don’t agree with but I have been pleasantly suprisedby basic humanity fundamentalist Islamists have shown me in Pakistan and outside Finsbury parkmosque.

      The Balkans has shownus that this is a reallyfragile thing which can break down.This makes me glad you lot are here holding political figures to account for divisive things they say

    3. platinum786 — on 14th May, 2009 at 10:06 am  

      The War in Pakistan will not be won in the battlefield, but in the refugee camps. 1.5 million people have been displaced, because of the mistakes the Pakistani government has made for decades, with the backing of the USA.

      These people are normal people, not tribal people or people who live in caves etc. Some of them live rural lives, some of them live in cities, sit exams to study at university, have jobs, have business, run ski resorts etc. what is also important to note is that extremism or even islamist politics is not the norm for this society. They have always been conservative Muslims, but within the same people the Kalash people live, and Sikhs lived, side by side, for generations, until yesterday.

      The people of FATA cannot be blamed for what is happening in Swat and Makaland, it is not of their doing, they are the biggest victims of this war, and it is essential that the Pakistani government in particular keeps that in mind at every step.

      This war will take years, more people will die, a lot of people will lose opertunities, there will be misery for the people of Swat and Makaland, it’s how they are helped afterwards which will determine, what happens in the larger picture.

      The TTP pays it’s fighters Rs15,000 a month, if we treat these refugees with indignity, then we will create terrorists amongst them. I read a heartbreaking story of an 18 year old lad, who was sitting his exams, he’d been dodging bullets for weeks to get to the exam hall, and he was in his final exam, he only needs a few marks to get into the most prestigious engineering university in Pakistan, and the army marched into the exam hall, declared the exams had to be stopped as the area was unsafe and they expected a battle in the area soon. He has lost the opertunity of a lifetime, if he’s sat in arefugee camp and humiliated and has no future, that Rs15,000 a month might begin to seem quite attractive.

    4. Jai — on 14th May, 2009 at 1:41 pm  

      There is something innately wrong with the fact that the people of Pakistan are on roads. One may blame the Taliban or any other factor, but truth remains that these people did not deserve it.

      Correct, but the principle blame lies with those elements within the government, military, ISI etc which were responsible for creating the monster of the Taliban (and are currently sympathetic towards them), and most of all with the Taliban themselves. If the Taliban hadn’t attempted to annex chunks of sovereign Pakistani territory inhabited by hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people, reneged on subsequent peace deals, and then declared an outright challenge against the validity of the Pakistani government and the legitimacy of the country’s judicial & political systems, then this tragic sequence of events wouldn’t have occurred.

      While aid agencies will focus on giving the IDPs clothes, putting bandages on their visible wounds and finding ways of filling their appetites, will there be anyone to wipe the tears in their eyes with an understanding warm hand? Will there be anyone who will understand the extent of their loss and look for scars which are unseen?

      Certainly not the Taliban, unless they wished to cynically exploit people’s suffering & grievances for their own recruitment purposes or to cause further turmoil within Pakistan.

      Indeed, collateral damage is a ruthless and vague term for it does not account for the broken dreams, darkening shadows and silent sighs of dying desires.

      Correct, but again, the principle blame lies with the Taliban. It’s a terrible situation, but considering that this is now basically a full-scale war and the civilians are having to leave (or be evacuated) for their own safety, ultimately 500,000 civilian refugees is better than 500,000 civilians dead.

      Not just because of the sanctity of human life and the wish to protect innocents (although that’s obviously the most important thing), but also because one can imagine the protests (and local & global consequences) if these numbers really did constitute “collateral damage” in the literal sense of the term rather than the metaphorical sense.

      War is a nasty, nasty business, but this is what happens when aggressive forces behave the way the Taliban have (and there are plenty of precedents for this throughout history) and, also, when conflict is not confined to armies facing each other across battlefields away from densely-populated civilian areas. In terms of the latter, the human race hasn’t necessarily progressed in the right direction compared to how war was often waged in numerous parts of the world in the past during conflicts over power & territory.

    5. Niels C — on 14th May, 2009 at 2:09 pm  

      One reason, not to wish for a Taliban victory, is that the West will se the biggest exodus since Iraq.
      Whats’ left of the pakistani middle class will come running.

    6. Jai — on 14th May, 2009 at 2:39 pm  

      Whats’ left of the pakistani middle class will come running.

      Well, that’s not necessarily a bad thing (especially if it consists of numerous educated/qualified professionals), although I expect that the US will be their first choice as a destination (as happened re: Persians/Iranians after the overthrow of the Shah).

      However, in the case of those (at all levels of society) who are either unwilling or, more likely, unable to flee to the West, I can imagine that India would experience huge numbers of refugees pressing against its northwestern borders.

    7. platinum786 — on 14th May, 2009 at 2:52 pm  

      Talk of Taliban victory is far fetched. For all it’s ills the current government has managed to spin it’s way out of the mess it is in. The peace deal with the NAR was a farce, but the militants took the bait and any apologists have not got ground to cause anti military aggitation on.

      In the past the apologist vibe (which is pretty big) was that the Taliban has local support as they’ve championed a local cause (The NAR in Swat). The apologist would suggest that if the people got what they wanted the Taliban would have their bluff called and would be forced to lay down arms, hence avoiding war.

      This happened, the manner in which it was done was disgraceful, but the essence of the deal was not. However the Taliban did not surrender and the apologists were left wrong footed.

      The hardcore are obviously developing a new angle on this, it’s now “an ethnic conflict against pukhtuns” however that has little legitimacy as nobody in Pakistan wants to talk ethnicity right now and secondly the ANP government of NWFP which is an ethnic pukhtun party ordered the operation.

      However the vast majority of the public is behind the operation, the army is behind the operation, the politicans have no choice but to back it and more importantly than ever before, the clergy are backing the operation. shai’s make ~20% of Pakistan’s population, they’ve always been anti Taliban, the Sunni-Hanafi-Barelvi group (you might know them more commonly as Sufi’s)which form ~50-60% of the population are now vocally supporting the operation and even willing to offer men to fight against the Taliban and the sunni-hanafi-deobandi population who form the remaining Muslim population are also backing the operation. There are even statements from Deoband in India (the HQ of the Deoband movement) where they have issued a Fatwa against the Taliban and extremists.

      The big deal is, anyone who is anyone is backing this operation, Pakistan is united right now, and when Pakistan is united, nothing and nobody can defeat us.

    8. Shamit — on 14th May, 2009 at 3:04 pm  

      I think the world or the majority of the world are united against this menace called Taliban.

      And, now it is time for the international community to start backing the huge efforts to sustain and rehabilitate these refugees. India should play a big role in helping with funds as well as medical support — now that would be winning hearts and minds.

      And we do need to think out of the box. I hope there is a concerted effort to ensure that somehow those stories that Platinum has highlighted above have some sort of happy endings. That means those students be given visas to complete their studies from other parts of Pakistan or for that matter the rest of the world including India.

      Talk about winning hearts and minds — these gestures would be hard to beat by guns or screwed up ideologies.

      And, the Pakistani Government needs to make sure that money is not squandered or is not ending up in anybody’s personal coffers.

      We need to win this war on all fronts as Platinum has rightly suggested.

    9. platinum786 — on 15th May, 2009 at 9:53 am  

      Here is an interesting article about the level of help given to the refugees by the local communities in which they have fled too;


    10. Jai — on 15th May, 2009 at 10:51 am  

      Shamit & Platinum786,

      Very good points by both of you as always, guys. I particularly liked Shamit’s comments about “out of the box thinking”.

      One of the constants in the human story is that, usually (unfortunately not always), sooner or later people say “No more” and rise up against malevolence, corruption and injustice. It’s inspiring to see that this is happening in Pakistan too, in relation to the population’s reactions to the Taliban’s aggression and brutality.

      But then I would have expected nothing less, as I said on one of the original threads a while back when the Taliban was apparently making significant headway in Pakistan. Like many thugs and extremists, they suffered from overconfidence and overplayed their hand.

      Now let them pay the price for their arrogance.

    11. Ali Murtaza — on 15th May, 2009 at 1:36 pm  

      Very good article Fe’reeha. The extent of human disaster is of course always more powerful when seen through human eyes.
      The stance of Pakistani politicians in this regard is quite objectionable, for they are busy making political statements instead of giveing all their energies to what should be termed as a national tragedy.

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