Kiran Omar


The Pakistan Army’s Operation Rah-e-Rast (the Right Path) continues to pound Taliban strongholds and aims to flush them out decisively from Buner, Swat and other areas where they had established their control forcibly through terror and coercion.

Prime Minister Gilani announced recently that the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) can begin returning to areas cleared by the army, as early as next month. The question arises that whilst the Taliban and their cohorts seem to be on the run, which direction are they running? The recent spate of deadly bombings, abductions, suicide attacks and abductions countrywide, indicate that these militants are fast spilling over and fanning out over the entire country, threatening Pakistan’s economic and social stability and severely compromising its security.


The over 2 million IDP’s could and probably will beginning to trickle back to their homes, or whatever is left of them, but they face an uncertain and unpredictable future. They have been forced to flee leaving already meager belonging, standing crops ready for harvesting and what little assets they had in terms of livestock and farm equipment. The certainty of food shortages looms large. Homes and whatever little infrastructure there was has been severely damaged by the military pounding of mostly built areas of the region, to flush out the Taliban holed up there. Not just buildings, but the sill unreported “collateral damage” to the non-fighting population, which has deprived many families of bread earners, and many patriarchs. This loss will be especially telling in a patriarchal and joint family system. The social impact will be borne for decades. Is the government or the humanitarian organizations equipped to do anything in that area?


Many IDPs face the very real challenge of rebuilding their lives from scratch. So far both the federal and provincial governments have not made public, clear rehabilitation measures and any steps that will be taken to rebuild the fractured framework. No detailed plan of action has been announced and it is yet unclear on who will bear the brunt of the rehabilitation responsibility. The question of the IDPs prolonged stay in the Punjab and possible relocation to Sindh has also caused uncertainty and distress. The Sindh government — a coalition of the PPP and the Muttahidda Qaumi Mahaz (MQM) has made it clear that any IDP relocation plans will meet stiff resistance from them and that the Federal Government should not look towards them to pick up the costs of sheltering these IDPs. Also, Sindhi nationalists have take up their cudgels against settling the IDPs in their province. Similarly, in Baluchistan, where Baluchis share their province with the Pashtuns, there is unwillingness to accept the IDPs for fear of changing the balance in favor the Pashtuns.


Such xenophobic feelings create bitterness and anger among those who have agreed to flee their homes to allow the Army a free hand in combating the militants. The onus of responsibility is on the governments, both federal and provincial, to delineate and execute a systematic plan of sheltering, managing and rehabilitating the IDPs who have been obliged to stake their all in the fight of terror. To date no such measures are in place or have been made public.


President Zardari has been spending the maximum time overseas and announcing that he getting aid for the IDPs, but no one knows how much will actually be spent on the intended beneficiaries, and in what manner? Will it be used for infrastructure or societal redevelopment? Is there a time line that has been established for the phased usage of this assistance that seems to have begun to trickle in, although not in the tumultuous avalanche the President anticipated.


Stemming this tide with artillery and mortar is not in itself the long term solution to this problem. The Army’s action, for better or worse is now a necessity, the State having run out of viable options. The question remains: is it enough to fight militancy with armor alone? Today public opinion in Pakistan is deeply divided on the raison d’etre of the Taliban and their ilk. The “jihad” in the name of religion, polarizes large sections of society. A so called “jihad” is being waged and religion is being used as the rationale for this war — ironically by both sides of the divide. The latest move of setting up an official “sufi council” only indicates that the government has its own religion card as well.


Levels of education or social standings have little to do with public support when the issue comes down to religious beliefs. There is ambiguity in this support, and a hesitancy to call the evil by its name. There is a strong sentiment being expressed in some segments of society that the actions of these militants is propelling Pakistani society towards more “modest” and “Islamic” lifestyles. The question here arises whose version of Islam is being forwarded? Which school of Islamic thought is being promoted? Who will set out the definition of terms like “jihad” that will be accepted by all? The reality on the ground is that there is no clear way for any country with large Muslim populations to agree on one common terminology or style of governance that can be accepted by the numerous practicing schools of Islamic ideology as THE ISLAMIC SYSTEM. If countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and even Saudi Arabia could not come to a common understanding of the ISLAMIC SYSTEM of governance, that is acceptable to ALL Muslims of ALL sects, how can a young, deeply troubled country like Pakistan be able to do that for themselves?


The state must come to terms with the reality that what stems rising tides of anger from a discontented population is good governance, accessible and efficient justice and stability. As argued by Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy in his recent article “Preventing a Taliban Victory”, (Dawn newspaper, Saturday, 20 June) “A nation’s best defense is a loyal citizenry. This can be created only by offering equal rights and opportunities to all regardless of province, language and, most importantly, religion and religious sect. Navigating the way to heaven must be solely an individual’s concern, not that of the state.”


It is not bricks and concrete that will define Pakistan as a nation, it is ideology and clear sense of identity that will set down the foundations for a stable and secure society. A lasting peace can only be achieved when people are unequivocal on their collective identity as a nation united around a common purpose, sharing a common vision of a shared future.


The leadership has an important and active role to play in cementing the polarized segments of society around a shared identity and common goal. The weak, vacillating leadership (or lack thereof) that is in charge of the country today, is consumed with forwarding vested interests and private agendas, with an almost complete lack of forward thinking or planning on the direction the country should take to ensure its stability.


People need to know with surety that their  leadership can steer the country through choppy waters, care for their welfare and is making sincere, honest efforts towards laying down the foundations of a just and equitable society. This certainty is crucial to foster if people are to be “won back” into believing that the State is discharging its duty and that people do not have to look towards extra-state elements to redress their grievances and give them justice.

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