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The unnecessary war

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The unnecessary war
By Roedad Khan

A internally displaced girl, who fled a military offensive in the Swat valley region, holds her pot while awaiting a serving of tea at the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) Yar Hussain camp in Swabi district, about 120 km (75 miles) northwest of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad June 7, 2009.
REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Somehow, our history has gone astray. We were such good people when we set out on the road to Pakistan. What happened?

Marx once said: "Neither a nation nor a woman is forgiven for an unguarded hour in which the first adventurer who comes along can sweep them off their feet and possess them". October 7, 1958 was our unguarded hour when democracy was expunged from the politics of Pakistan, perhaps forever, with scarcely a protest. The result is the mess we are in today.

"Liberty once lost", Adams famously told his countrymen, "is perhaps lost forever". We Pakistanis lost our liberties and all our democratic institutions in October 1999. Sadly, Pakistan also lost her honour and became a ‘rentier state’ on General Musharraf’s watch when he capitulated, said yes to all the seven demands presented to him at gunpoint by Secretary Colin Powell and joined the "Coalition of the coerced". Regrettably, this situation remains unchanged even though the country is now under a democratic dispensation!


A lesson to be drawn from the works of Gibbon is that Rome’s enemies lay not outside her borders but within her bosom, and they paved the way for the empire’s decline and fall – first to relentless barbarian invaders from the north, and then, a thousand years later, to the Turks. Many early symptoms that heralded the Roman decline may be seen in our own nation today: concentration of power in one person without responsibility and accountability, contempt for the constitution and political institutions, absence of the rule of law, high-level corruption and greed and last but not least, periodic military intervention in the affairs of state and prolonged military rule. When the history of Pakistan comes to be written, the verdict of history will almost certainly be that military rule, more than anything else, destroyed Pakistan.

If you want to know what happens to a country when unbridled ambition of its rulers flourishes without proper restraint, when absolute power enables the ruler to run the country arbitrarily and idiosyncratically, when none of the obstacles that restrain and thwart democratic rulers stand in his way, when parliament is cowed, timid, a virtual paralytic, well: visit Pakistan. Today it is like a severely blinkered cart horse painfully pulling a heavy wagon on a preordained track to nowhere.

All the philosophers tell the people they are the strongest, and that if they are sent to the slaughterhouse, it is because they have let themselves be led there. Authoritarianism is retreating everywhere except in Pakistan. Why? In other countries there are men and women who love liberty more than they fear persecution. Not in Pakistan. Here the elite who owe everything to this poor country do not think in terms of Pakistan and her honour but of their jobs, their business interests and their seats in a rubber-stamp parliament. Surrender rather than sacrifice is the theme of their thoughts and conversations. To such as these talk of resisting autocracy is as embarrassing as finding yourself in the wrong clothes at the wrong party, as tactless as a challenge to run to a legless man, as out of place as a bugle call in a mortuary.

How can you have authentic democracy in a country where de facto sovereignty – highest power over citizens unrestricted by law – resides neither in parliament, nor the executive, nor the judiciary, nor even the constitution which has superiority over all the institutions it creates? It resides, if it resides anywhere at all, where the coercive power resides. It is the 'puvois occult’ which decides when to abrogate the constitution, when to dismiss the elected government, when to go to war and when to restore sham democracy.

Are people anxious? Dejected? Fearful? Angry? Why wouldn’t they be, considering the daily barrage of rotten news assaulting them from every direction? We live in a country that is terribly wrong and politically off course. What is worse, it is no longer a sovereign or independent country. It is a lackey of the United States. When will this tormented country be whole again? When will this sad country be normal again? The engine is broken. Somebody has got to get under the hood and fix it. President Zardari is so swathed in his inner circle that he has completely lost touch with the people and wanders around among small knots of persons who agree with him. The country is in deep, deep trouble. An uncertain future leaves us stranded in an unhappy present with nothing to do but wait. Eventually, the cup of endurance runs over and the citizen cries out, "I can take it no longer". A day will soon come when words will give way to deeds. History will not always be written with a pen.

In the backdrop of this gloom and doom, President Zardari, under American pressure, unleashed the hounds of war, turning the beautiful valley of Swat into a vale of tears. As a result of army action, millions of innocent people, men, women and children, young and old, were uprooted, rendered homeless and forced to flee. Was army action unavoidable? Was it absolutely necessary? Did the people of Swat have to pay this terrible price? And what for? All these questions remain unanswered.

"One day", Churchill wrote, "President Roosevelt told me that he was asking publicly for suggestions about what World War II should be called. I said at once 'the Unnecessary War’". Today Pakistan is at war with itself. The country is tearing itself apart. Why? One thing is clear. There never was a more unnecessary war, a war more easy to stop, a war more easy to prevent, a war more difficult to justify and harder to win than that which has wrecked Swat.

Let me state clearly that the war in Swat, like the war in FATA, is not our war. It’s a proxy war imposed on us by our corrupt rulers who owe everything to Washington. It is perceived in the Pakhtun belt as genocide, part of a sinister American plan for the mass extermination of Pakhtuns on both sides of the Durand Line.

With temperature rising, living conditions in the camps and elsewhere, fast deteriorating, the army operation has morphed into a war that is hard to win and harder to justify to the people affected by it. One thing is clear. While the Pakistan army wields a large hammer, not every problem is a nail. The lesson of history is: never fight a proxy war, never deploy military means in pursuit of indeterminate ends and never use your army against your own people.

No army, no matter how strong, has ever rescued a country from internal disorder, social upheaval and chaos. Army action can never quash the insurgency in Malakand division or FATA. It can only be managed until a political solution is found. No one can be bombed into moderation. This is a false and dangerous notion. The Taliban can be deterred militarily for a time but tanks, gunships and jet aircraft cannot defeat deeply felt belief.

President Zardari is playing with fire and acting like Conrad’s puffing gunboat in Heart of Darkness, shelling indiscriminately at the opaque darkness. The enemy is nebulous and the battlefield is everywhere. He has no address and no flag, wears no uniform, stages no parades, marches to his own martial music. He requires no tanks or submarines or air force. He does not fear death. As the Soviets found in Afghanistan, the enemy doesn’t fight in conventional ways, but from behind big boulders and from concealments. He doesn’t have to win. He just has to keep fighting. Asymmetrical warfare is what they call it now.

The war’s end remains far out of sight but the battle for the hearts and minds of the people seems to have gone awry. If you want to know how the displaced persons feel, go to Mardan and listen to the wretched of the earth. You will hear the thrumming, the deadly drumbeat of burgeoning anger.

The writer is a former federal secretary.Email:;