Tuesday, October 7, 2012
Tora-Bora was the last station of the one-eyed mullah Muhammad Omar’s rule in Afghanistan; as US and NATO forces concluded their operations in the hills, even these last remnants of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan were eliminated. The Taliban that still remained streamed across the porous border into the tribal regions of Pakistan where they were welcomed as brothers by the people of FATA and as geopolitical pawns by the advocates of “strategic depth” in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. At that moment, both camps were unable to foresee the damage that would eventually result; they did not imagine for a moment that the presence of the Taliban would later serve as justification for the brutal incursion of the Pakistani military. They had forgotten George W. Bush’s famous words soon after 9/11: “And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” And so it went, the Afghan war brought three miseries for the people of FATA: militants, military and drones. The first two have been discussed from every angle, but drone attacks have almost always been considered only within the contest of national sovereignty, with little regard to their effects on the people and society in the region in which they operate. This is especially so in terms of non-material consequences of these attacks—the psychological impacts, the unrest, uncertainty, and day-to-day fears that occupy the hearts and minds of the local people over whose lands these drones fly.
“Inner peace ultimately leads to external peace. By creating peace in our inner world, we bring it into the external world, affecting other people too.” says Remez Sasson, founder of the website SuccessConsciousness.com, in explaining his ten-point plan for achieving mental peace. His first point of advice was to limit the amount of time spent reading the newspaper or watching news on the television. In our age of instant information and 24-hour news networks, the logic of this seems clear; we can drastically improve our peace of mind by cutting the amount of worrying, terrifying, enraging stories we are bombarded with by the often-sensationalistic news media.
What of those, however, who experience these events not in the form of the daily paper or the evening news, but in vision vividly the catastrophic shrapnel, scattered body parts, tattered human dwellings and human dignity ground into dust? Here I speak of the people of FATA in general and those of Waziristan in particular: they see drone attacks turn their weddings into funerals and the Jarga into a graveyard. In addition they witness militants and military (in the name of search operations) degrading their most respected elders and dragging people out of their homes despite having committed no crime. Despite the lack of newspaper and access to television in these areas, it would be absurd to even imagine that residents of Waziristan are well on their way to inner peace.
My memory of the fateful day is still green; I was sitting with some youths who had left the main village for the purpose of hunting koonj (a species of crane). For this purpose, they had divided up into groups, each with their own separate camp. Each camp needed to be at distance to avoid interfering with the other. They used to hunt at nights. They were discussing the previous night’s hunt, where there were many birds but only a few caught. Their conversation painted a disheartening picture. Din Mohammad had taken three birds, more than anyone else sitting there. Upon being praised for his good performance, he replied “I could have done even better but manganna (the local pejorative nickname for drones) reduces my intelligence capacity”. Syed Anwar, the best hunter from the previous excursion, was asked by his fellows about his relatively poorer performance. He replied by pointing to the sky. “It is the drone which captured my mind like a ghost. Every morning when I wake up I hope not to hear the pinching voice of the drone”. He sighed while telling his story. Later, Badshah Jan asked about Nor Mohammad’s earlier football mach, which he lost. The reason he gave for the poor performance of his team was that he had to miss the first half of the match because his sister and two of his cows were injured in the previous night’s drone attack on the house of his neighbor.
My reason for reporting the above conversation is to give a brief representation of the way lives of individuals are affected due to drone attacks in the area. The incidence of Ma’khoji (the local name for schizophrenia) is very high in Waziristan and after talking to the local people there I was told that Manganna is the sole reason for that. When I met Sawar Khan in D.I. Khan, where he was staying for treatment, he asked me about the situation there in Waziristan as I had just returned from there. I said that everything was alright except few shorts of firing near Wana Bazar just prior to my departure to D.I. Khan. For me and for everyone else living in Waziristan hearing gunfire is quite common but due to having witnessed the result of a drone attack in Waziristan, he became so agitated even hearing the word “firing” that he had to leave the room. This is merely one example; nearly every family in Waziristan has members that have been afflicted with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.
A teacher in an Islamabad university teaching a course on “peace and conflict” once asked his students whether the routines of their lives were dominated by peace or by conflict. Most of his students answered “peace” but most of the students belonging to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas enhanced a reverse reply. People of FATA consider conflict as the routine, not peace. Therefore they have designed their lives accordingly. It is not their wish to be like that, but the circumstances beyond their control compelled them to re-shape their lives.
Napoleon once said “give me good mothers I will give you a good nation”. He related the dignity of the nation with the dignity of the mother. Motherhood, however, is difficult at best in the deadly conditions of FATA. Mothers are constantly wary, constantly worried because of the uncertain security situation. How could she be able to educate her children with dignity and patience without inner peace while having dejection and dolefulness as a part of her life? How can she teach her child to be peaceful and moral in society when she herself considers “conflict as the routine of life”? This inner peace has been taken away by drone attacks and military operations.
It becomes crystal clear that opposition to drone attacks is not merely in the realm of issues of national sovereignty but it also affects every individual in FATA, especially the youth. Alternative strategy to counter militants is inevitable because the drone strategy has proved counter-productive and fatal for peaceful citizens.
The writer is a research fellow at Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Politics and International Relation at International Islamic University Islamabad and works as a Senior Research Analyst at FATA Research Center and can be reached by email@example.com
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