Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Bajaur tragedy

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Umar heads a Lahore based Think Tank

The Bajaur tragedy

Eighty three seminary students died in an aerial missile attack in Bajaur, a remote part of NWFP. Parts of the western media and most locals suspect that it was an American attack but our government and forces vigorously deny any American involvement and insist that the attack was carried out by Pakistani forces. Locals say that young students died but the government claims that the dead were 20-30 years old extremists. Despite these differences there is consensus that eighty three human beings, Pakistanis and Muslims were killed. I wonder what is so noble about killing of so many humans and countrymen that is forcing our government to get credit for this act?

The world over the security agencies use force as a necessary but undesirable tool to maintain the writ of the state. Usually it takes the shape of arresting the rebellious elements and then putting them through the legal process. The form of force used in most civilized countries is guns and not missiles. It is the more desired form of lethal force because it can be made discriminating and used only when absolutely unavoidable. In comparison missiles or other explosives cannot be that discrete. They are highly destructive and kill anyone and everyone who comes their way. No wonder respectable countries reserve the use of explosives and missiles only for the foreign enemies. Then the use of such excessive force against own people on some flimsy US intelligence report is absolutely incomprehensible. Such strange and distorted intelligence reports have already started many wars with lakhs of casualties. Use of lethal force on such reports have already caused major troubles to the countries acting on it and must be avoided.

This internal use of missiles by the local forces killed 83 Pakistanis but these were not the only casualties. The list of the casualties is unending. To enumerate a few,

The first serious associated casualty is the old Pakistani stance that we are free of extremists and we do not export terrorists. This attack is a clear confessional statement that we do harbor terrorists training camps in Pakistan although not with the official support.

The second casualty is our de facto official statement that there is no democracy in Pakistan. The apparently elected government was not consulted before this episode nor any of its functionaries allowed commenting about it later. The world might find it amusing that killing of 83 Pakistanis by security forces is not enough for the elected government to bother about.

The third major casualty is our statement made by this action that we do not trust our judiciary and cannot expect it to deal with the suspected extremists sufficiently. Here one person acts as a prosecutor, judge and the executor with impunity.

The fourth major casualty is our long standing stand on Kashmir and the claim that Indian security forces are using excessive force against the locals. As far as I know they never dropped missiles on the occupied Kashmiris neither did they kill 83 people in one episode. Now we are left with no credible argument to pursue our old Kashmir policy. We might have lost our most potent weapon with this missile attack, our moral superiority.

Then the most important casualty of this unfortunate attack might be the most difficult to get over with. A pact with the locals was scheduled later the same day and the government attacked and killed 83 people killing with it the credibility of the government and that also with its own people. Credibility of a person and a nation is its most valuable asset that allows it to deal with its people. It is the credibility that instills confidence in the parties trying to come out at a mutually acceptable solution. The loss of credibility of either party makes the compromises difficult and only the guarantee of a third credible party can manage it. This loss of credibility might have negative consequences with the other pacts the government of Pakistan has made with different groups like Waziristan and the Balochi factions. Cracks in the mutual understandings are already visible which can deteriorate further. The Indian credibility problem in Kashmir was the key factor in the held Kashmir uprising as our credibility problem caused the East Pakistan debacle. No nation can afford to lose its credibility any where especially with its own people and we jeopardized our credibility on a foreign intelligence report. It was certainly not very prudent.

Firing of missiles at our own people has seriously worsened the situation but it is still manageable. Sensible confidence building steps can control the situation and mend the dented credibility of the government. An apology by the government would help. A neutral parliamentary committee might be formed to investigate this episode freely and come out with recommendations. Posthumous trials of the deceased may be conducted and the names of the miscreants along with their mischief established but the innocent must be compensated. And then we must devise a system in which using lethal force against our own people becomes nearly impossible. In most of the western democracies any policeman using firearms is automatically suspended until it is established that his act was justifiable mostly on the self defense grounds. We should also follow this policy. Only this action can assure us discontinuation of such tragedies seriously harming the nation. We must realize that no matter how bad the situation it can always be made worse, something we can’t afford.


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