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Reclaiming Pakistan’s lost space

Imran Khan

It is amazing to see the glibness with which the Pakistani rulers continue to lie to the nation about the drone attacks and the surrender of Pakistan’s sovereignty to the US.

Feigning anger and regret over the drone attacks which have multiplied yearly since the Zardari government came into power, the civil and military leadership continues to give access to the US to kill Pakistanis in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) of the country through these lethal drone attacks.

Even a parliamentary resolution has failed to push the government into acting against these drones and moving to control the freewheeling, gun-toting and murderous American Rambos in the guise of CIA operatives, US Special Forces and private US mercenaries, who have added to the murder of Pakistani civilians and security personnel.

Instead, as the WikiLeaks revealed, Prime Minister Yusuf Razai Gilani informed the US government that they could continue with their operatives and drones in Pakistan while he made declaratory noises to the contrary for the Pakistani nation’s consumption!

Much earlier, Bob Woodward, in his book ‘Obama’s Wars’, had put on record how President Asif Ali Zardari, in a revealing cavalier mindset, informed the US leaders that collateral damage in terms of Pakistani lives was of no concern to him. That Pakistani lives are simply irrelevant “collateral damage” shows the utter contempt the “democratic” rulers of Pakistan have for their people.

Meanwhile, despite skilful propaganda to the contrary from Western sources (both through NGOs and officials) and some of their embedded media personnel in Pakistan, the people of Fata are increasingly becoming more vocal and resentful of the drones and therefore more resentful towards the Pakistani state.

Even Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) members from Fata have denounced the drone killings as primarily targeting civilians. While only a handful of militants have been known to die in the drone attacks, the civilian death toll goes beyond 2,000 and includes a large numbers of women and children.

Beyond those killed, there are hundreds who have been physically disabled and an equal number that is suffering from shell-shock and trauma — with no provision of any medical care and assistance for the entire Fata region.

The ratio of militants to civilians killed is around 1:10 — a figure reaffirmed by Gulabat Khan, a Malik from North Waziristan. Reflecting the mainstream tribal view in Fata, he also regretted that nobody has bothered to inquire or offer assistance to the locals who have suffered human and material losses as a result of the drones.

Worse still, the government has still not inquired into the killing of the 40 Maliks in the recent drone attack against a tribal jirga. Khan vowed revenge against the US and the Pakistani state, which would go on for 500 years.

Therefore, it is not surprising to find the tribes of Fata announcing a jihad against the US, which means more radicalisation spreading to the rest of the country.

For Pakistan, the costs of this subservience to the US and surrender of national sovereignty has proven extremely costly and far outweighs any short-term gains that may have been made — although that is itself a contentious issue.

Terrorism has run riot across the country and President Zardari himself has declared that Pakistan has so far suffered with 33,500 casualties and a $68 billion loss to the economy; hundreds of thousands have been displaced far beyond Fata, which has become a devastated region losing its tenuous connection with the rest of Pakistan since the people are now being compelled to acquire food and material from Afghanistan instead. This is how we have destroyed the Fata people who were in the forefront of supporting the creation of Pakistan and gave their lives for Kashmir in 1948.

Ironically, Pakistan has also become far more insecure as a result of becoming a surrogate for a US militaristic agenda that is rapidly slipping into a quagmire of confusion and hysteria. By opening up the whole country to the US, our rulers have also allowed all manner of external intruders into conducting low-intensity operations in our sensitive areas not only of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but also of Balochistan.

Add to this the bombings of shrines and mosques and the accentuating of Shia-Sunni and Deobandi-Barelvi divides, and the costs for Pakistan of the present alliance with the US rise even higher. Even Karachi and, increasingly, Punjab are becoming susceptible to militancy and violence as the provincial governments remain unresponsive to the needs of their people and the federal government remains preoccupied in appeasing the US and the destabilising International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Not that the US has achieved anything from its military-centric approach to fighting terrorism. All that has happened is that a more conducive environment has been created for extremism and militancy post-9/11. The hope that Obama would bring more rationality to a trauma-ridden US policymaking elite was dashed very early on when the generals prevailed on him in connection with the militarist policies in Afghanistan; and just as the Zardari regime has pushed further the detrimental policies of Musharraf, so Obama has done the same in terms of accentuating the neocon militarism.

We feel it is time for all hues of the Pakistani nationalist leadership to put aside its other differences and come together on a singular platform of reclaiming Pakistan’s sovereignty and national dignity so that we can isolate and fight the militants and extremists in our midst more effectively through a strategy of space denial.

Since the Parliament has failed in pushing the government into taking the necessary steps to end drone attacks and de-link from the deadly US militaristic agenda for this region, PTI has been compelled to bring people on to the streets and take direct action against this loss of sovereignty and drone killings. The Pakistan Air Force chief had declared over a year ago that Pakistan had the technical capability to bring down drones but the political decision was lacking.

The US public has to realise a number of points:

One, that they have to extricate themselves from this so-called ‘war on terror’ which is causing a loss of $140 billion a year in Afghanistan as well as undermining the US position in the region. Ann Paterson, the previous US ambassador to Pakistan, admitted the adverse impact on the US of the drone policy.

Two, the US is violating its own humanitarian laws with the drone attacks by acting as judge, jury and executioner and incinerating the families and neighbours of suspects.

Three, in the long term, the US ‘war on terror’ has added to the radicalisation of Muslim youth in the US and Europe.

Today, we Pakistanis of all shades and convictions need to come together to support our Fata brethren and protest their killing and displacement. We have to show by actions that they are one of us and we will not allow the US, Nato or our own misguided rulers to continue their military policies against the people of Fata.

We also want to show that we are sensitive to their developmental needs and the urgency with which Fata needs to be brought into the mainstream of Pakistan. It is not enough to simply issue statements against US policies and drone killings: we need to act so that the voice of the people becomes a force for the rulers to reckon with.

Unless we stand up for our rights nobody will protect us. As we gather together the multiple strands of the Pakistani nation to reclaim our territorial integrity, sovereignty and national dignity, the message will go out to the rulers and their foreign masters that they are nothing without the support of their own nation.

*The writer is chairman of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and former captain of Pakistan cricket team, who has to his credit Pakistan’s only World Cup victory of 1992.

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