Saturday, November 03, 2007

Quote Of The Day

A Pakistani soldier explains why he refused to fight Taliban forces in Swat:
I surrendered because I realised that I was only fighting fellow Muslims.

Hmmm, I see. The most obvious point to make is that Pakistani soldiers have proved remarkably adept at fighting, killing, torturing and raping fellow Muslims - fellow Pakistani Muslims - in the past. Plenty of Bangladeshis and Balochis will attest to that. But that view ignores another obvious point, one Ayaz Amir makes in his column today.
In the tribal areas, and now in Swat, the army is stuck in low-intensity conflicts it has no heart or stomach for fighting. Facing an external enemy is one thing but fighting your own countrymen, especially when of the same racial stock (a distinction which did not apply to our brethren in East Pakistan), is quite different.

While his words may make you squirm, it won't make them any less true. One of the reasons West Pakistani soldiers were so aggressive and inhumane in the civil war of 1971 was the ubiquitous view in the armed forces that the Bengalis were (a) a vastly inferior race, (b) not true Muslims, and (c) not true Pakistanis (all of which were quite funny, considering they were (a) more educated per capita than the rest of Pakistan, and (b) fought as hard or harder than most West Pakistanis for independence from the British). I was speaking to a friend who has done extensive research in Pakistan and she told me that a Pakistani woman once told her that the widespread rape of Bengali women by West Pakistani troops was a good thing because it would improve their gene pool. These widely held racist views of the Bengalis allowed our soldiers to commit gruesome and untold war crimes against their own population even though they were technically "fellow Muslims". The same, though to a lesser extent, is true in Balochistan.

The ethnic dimension of the current war in FATA and now Swat has not been given sufficient attention, I don't think. One of my professors here is compiling a dataset comparing proportions of ethnic representation in states' militaries at the time of their independence. He found in Pakistan's case that in 1947, Bengalis comprised over 50% of the population and about 1% of the armed forces, and Balochis too are severely under-represented - primarily because neither Bengalis nor Balochis were designated as the "martial races" by our military leaders. The Pathans, on the other hand, have faced no such problem and have in fact been over-represented in the military. What this means is that our army, made up of a significant number of Pathans (though still dominated by Punjabis), is quite squeamish when fighting fellow Pathans. I suspect what the soldier I quoted in this post meant was that he surrendered because he realized he was fighting fellow Pathan Muslims, not fellow Muslims.

By the way, the birth place of the soldier in question? Dargai.


Ali Kabir said...

There is something here that really worries me, and I cant seem to get my head round it in a coherent manner at this moment.

Do you think the martial emasculation of the Baluch, has resulted in them not being considered Pakistani? i.e. Is the definition of a 'Pakistani' premised on the role his or her ethnicity has within the military complex?

I say this because of the contrasting reaction of the general population towards military operations in N.W.F.P. and Baluchistan. The inherent anti-americanism (which I fear, after a year of professional life in Pakistan, is much more entrenched in the national psyche than I had ever imagined) explains the contrasting reaction somewhat, but not entirely.

One last thing - I cant remember the last time I heard a joke about a Baluch. Ethnic caricatures about Muhajirs (Pan eaters), Pathans (stupid), etc, abound; what is the ethnic caricature of the Baluch people?

The Baluch have long been ignored not it appears that they are being forgotten.

Ahsan said...

no, i don't think balochis arent considered pakistani because of their exclusion from the military. i think their population (sparse) and their distance from the business, intellectual, political, military and cultural capitals of pakistan (pindi, lahore, khi, faisalabad etc) render them unobservable in the national psyche. for instance, the sindhis are similarly under-represented in the military, but no one ever disputes their "pakistaniness" simply because they are, for lack of a better word, there.

i also think you're wrong about the anti-americanism not explaining the entire disjunct in the reactions vis-a-vis the conflict in balochistan and the conflict in FATA. i think the anti-americanism explains it all. think about how little pakistanis cared about this region until the US got involved. conversely, run a thought experiment where it was a bunch of balochis who rammed planes into the WTC on 9/11, and pakistan and the US were engaged in a hunt for balochi militants. what do you think the imran khans, hameed guls and ayaz amirs would be railing about everyday? the poor balochis, thats what.

zeyd said...

A.K and A.B, I agree with your points, though I noticed neither of you mentioned whether the Baluchis consider themselves Pakistani or not. Now I'm no Balouchi (in fact I'm a mixture of the other 3 provinces) so I can't speak for them, but I have a few Balochi friends and man do they have some contrasting views.

A particular friend of mine is a member of the B.L.A and has talked to me about Balochi independence since I was 15. It's been 9 years but the dude still believes it's a possibility. The thing that strikes me is that he, his cousins, his villagers, guards etc don't call themselves Pakistani. They don't consider Balochistan to even be a part of Pakistan.

The nationalist movement in Balochistan has been existent before the creation of Pakistan and though it had always been suppressed, I' don't see it fading away any time soon.

Ahsan said...

yes, i suppose we treat balochi nationalism as somewhat of a given. i guess the discussion kabir and i were having was not on balochis view of their identity but on non-balochis' view on balochis' identity. but i take your point.

somewhat tangentially, i should also mention that the case of balochi nationalism is a very interesting one when you consider that (a) as presently constructed (abysmal literacy rates, no infrastructure, etc etc), it would not survive as an independent state. the literacy rate for women in balochistan is somewhere less than 3%, and by literacy i mean "able to write and read your name"; (b) they don't want to join iran and iran certainly does not want them to join (c) they don't want to join afghanistan. that, my friends, is the definition of "in limbo".

balochistan: all resourced up and nowhere to go.

ali (NB's friend) said...

two quick things:
1) re the 'martial race' and 'our military leaders'- did you mean our military leaders at independence/partition as in the british or pakistanis? because didn't the british aspire to raise a martial race during their rule, long before independence - which consisted of mostly punjabis and pathans? well, the pathans by default because the british kept fighting the pathan before ruling over that region. and yes, the bengalis were seen as the literary/poetic renaissance type, far from a martial race. my over-simplified point is: blame european imperialism.

2) re baluchistan- i've often heard ppl say in pakistan that when you go to islamabad it's like you're not in pakistan. but i've always felt, through visiting my relatives who used to live in quetta in the 80's-90's, that quetta does not feel like pakistan at all. well, i've never been to peshawar but i've heard quetta is like a mini-peshawar which does feel like pakistan, so nevermind...