Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Costs Pakistanis Are Paying In This War Must Always Be Part Of The Story

I really, really liked this piece in Dawn. It talks about the tremendous toll the war against the Taliban is taking on soldiers in the military:
His son Captain Bilal Zafar was killed in the prime of his life, cut down by a rocket-propelled grenade while leading a charge against entrenched Taliban fighters.

"I loved him so much that once I told him 'I will not get you married. Because I love you so much I am afraid I will not be able to share my love with your wife'," he said, sitting under a huge poster of the commando and the last SMS sent to relatives.

"If there was an American dignitary sitting in front of me I would certainly try to ask him, 'What else can a human being do more than sacrificing their life? Has any other army in the world suffered so many casualties fighting militants?'"

There is definitely a pattern on display here. Something bad happens in the world, Pakistan (or Pakistanis) get blamed, Americans/Indians say "you're not doing enough, do more", and Pakistanis get defensive in the media. Rinse, lather, repeat.

I think one of the reasons this is the case is that there tends to be little understanding in places other than Pakistan about the tremendous costs the military and Pakistani civilians have borne in this war. Close to 10,000 civilians have been murdered in the last five years, and about 2,500 soldiers have died. Those are huge numbers, easily dwarfing the casualties of any other state in this war.

Now, if you want to argue

1. That the military's efforts against the Taliban aren't sincere and that strategic depth/India is still the guiding concern, or
2. Pakistan and Pakistanis deserve what they are getting, or
3. There is still a lot more to be done

that's fine. I've heard and read each of those positions expressed many times, usually but not always in anti-Pakistan arenas. But my point would be that you can simultaneously hold those positions and point to the costs suffered in this war by Pakistan. It's not mutually exclusive.

Every article on Pakistan and the Taliban war should have the sentence "In the last five years, 10,000 civilians and nearly 3,000 troops have died." Every last one. The decontexualization that takes place when these figures are not mentioned is incredibly damaging to all concerned, and the war itself. It elides the very real and indisputable fact that ordinary Pakistanis are victims in all of this.

Again, how we got here and whether the anti-Taliban efforts are enough are valid discussions to have. But the "do more/do it now/you suck" mantras need to be tempered by, or at least suffused with, the knowledge that this war as hurt Pakistanis above everyone else.

19 comments:

takhalus said...

Unfortunately Military casualties are massively underreported as well, leave deaths aside major injuries and and the toll they have taken on the militarys hospitals is a story in itself.

Smci said...

You're talking just the last decade or so.

I think it'd be nice once in a while for people to just acknowldge that 5 million+ Afghan refugees were absorbed by Pakistani society during the Soviet debacle.

Most of the people that were our age during that time, including my own parents, seem to have a view that "Pakistan was one thing before the Afghan War, and something completely different after it."

We're talking crime, drug addiction, and God knows whatelse.

Islamization is unfortunately the "sexy" sensational part that grabs attention in history telling. But rarely do any so-called "experts" here in DC opine about the immense socio-economic burdens it had on civil society.

So the naysayers can (most of the time justifiably so) say Pakistan sucks. But show us how you would handle the situation given the circumstance we were in.

Anonymous said...

Whether any article on the war mentions number of soldiers killed or not, does it change anything on ground? Does it change the dangerous situation Pakistan finds itself in?
Whether you like it or not, the fact that Pakistan army is not able to / not willing to tackle the Taliban is what makes others to ask you to do more. And if more is not done and if Pak army still considers terrorists as assets, Pakistan, as we know, may one day cease to exist.

And let us not forget that US tax payers are partly funding this war and they have right to demand results.

Ahsan said...

Anon923:

1. Actually, yes, it does change things on the ground, because it changes the pressure that Pakistan faces, which makes Pakistan more or less likely to do certain things on the ground. And yes, it makes things more dangerous, because it continually puts the state and its population on the defensive, from which rationality doesn't flower naturally (to say the least).

2. "the fact that Pakistan army is not able to / not willing to tackle the Taliban is what makes others to ask you to do more." Maybe. I'm not entirely sure what connection Faisal Shahzad has with a military operation in North Waziristan. It does seem to me that the lack of (reality-based) sympathy that Pakistan and Pakistanis get means that it's pushed to do more.

3. So are the Pakistani taxpayers. But the difference is that Pakistanis are paying with their lives. The average American is not. "The right to demand results" is a truly obnoxious formulation.

Anon_for_a_good_reason said...

But the "Do more" mantra is not about doing more..but about doing specific thing which Pak Army have not done that is target Taliban elements attacking India,West etc.
Pak Army havent touched QST,Punjabi Taliban(LeT,JeM etc),HQN,Hekmatyar etc.

Al-Qaeda,TTP,on and off against Swati Taliban are so far been the only target consistently.


US is forced to target the rest of the taliban with drones and special forces.

Therefore its no wonder that..Pakistan's "sacrifices" are still unappreciated..and for a very good reason.

bonobashi said...

@Ahsan

I don't what the good reason is, probably an obviously Indian nick, but Anon beat me to the keyboard. Without diluting a word of what you've said, look at it for a second from the friendly Indians' point of view, and leave out - for that same second - the parts of speech snide ones about oxymorons and how many Indians constitute this community of friendly ones.

I can cry myself hoarse to fellow Indians about the new wind of change blowing over Pakistan. All they have to do is point to what is going on, on the ground. The Idiot Bomber leads to a flurry of action, people being detained left, right and centre, and government officials breaking out into a cold sweat because Hilary's not amused any longer. Meanwhile, Indian diplomats keep handing over dossier after dossier of FBI evidence about what's going on within the LeT, and all that happens is that there's a court case, with the prosecution saying something like,"We want this guy detained, because the Indians think he had something to do with the Mumbai blasts. We haven't got much from them, nothing which counts, really, but it seems rude not to do something, so how about it, judge?" It doesn't sound likely that anything emerging from interrogations and wire-taps, including international surveillance of telephone circuits, will stand up to the exacting rules of a court of law demanding strict compliance with the rules of evidence. The point is that none of the action resulting from Shahzad's damp squib came out of such evidence either. That didn't stop the Pakistani authorities from acting.

Can you really, honestly blame an average Indian for asking for more action relevant to his situation of threat, and for overlooking the sacrifices made fighting the Taliban and the insurrection in the North West? I found it difficult.

Ahsan said...

Anon for a good reason and Bonobashi:

My point was not to claim this war has been prosecuted perfectly or even necessarily well.

My point was that when people (usually from outside Pakistan) ask Pakistan to do more, they do so without the requisite understanding that doing more almost always results in significant blowback in the form of 10000 dead in 5 yrs. As I said, you may not care about that, but people should be at least made aware of the fact, and the people who should be in charge of increasing that awareness (journalists) don't do their job very well. That is all -- it's not a particularly controversial point, I don't think.

pc said...

Agreed. Pakistan suffered more than any other country. It is sad and terrible.

Pakistan played a dangerous game in the last 30 years and lost. Pakistanis have not realized that yet and think they are still winning.

India too dabbled in 80s wrt Sri Lanka and lost. But Indian politicians realized that soon enough.

So far only US has survived these wicked games.

Anonymous said...

Ahsan -

Your point is well taken and is true. Pakistanis are dying in severe numbers.
But as Bonobashi pointed out it makes it all the more perplexing regarding Pakistani's commitment. Indeed if your people and senior Armymen included are casualties in such large numbers, what stops the Army from taking the logical course to deal with the problem? It is one rational peeps simply cannot understand and hence there is a logical leap to the next theory viz:
The Army is so blindsided by the Indian threat that they are even willing to sacrifice their own just to keep India unsettled. There are numerous pointers to this all trudged out by your press regularly.

Its a vile theory but as the worthy Holmes put it: When all theories are discarded, the last one however unlikely must be the truth.

And your point about this not being a perfectly fought war is a misnomer. If it is a case of lack of an improper battle strategy that can still be understood, but a deliberate sustained policy of cherry picking the threat points only makes it worse.
In fact articulating the disclaimer about casualties would only serve to throw this theory into stark relief. That is one of the key reasons the sympathy that would normally accrue to a calamity like this is not so easily forthcoming.
I can see that there are many Pakistanis (columnists, bloggers like yourself et al) that understand this and articulate it well but form the outside perch it seems that nothing really changes on the ground unless Big Chief wants it to.

Peace.

Anil

J said...

Ahsan, I wholeheartedly agree but I think that their is a slippery slope involved here. More consciousness of the death toll in this war could be used for political mileage to benefit Taliban sympathizers. This is of course just a possibility. This war and the sacrifices made by the people of Pakistan should be sources of pride for this nation. Other such sources include national unity following the Oct 2005 quake, the 1992 and 2009 cricket world cups, the absorption of millions of refugees from Afghanistan, and so on.
A more united face in an event such as this war could actually result in a more vigilant public as everyone would feel that they are involved. After all it took an alert t-shirt to prevent mass destruction in Times Square only some weeks ago.

Anon_for_a_good_reason said...

The interesting thing is that Taliban-AQ is not as dumb as people think.They are now acting like a syndicate of terrorist groups,though their professed goals are different.Isnt it intriguing that though Mullah Omar is publicly against attacking Pakistan,Pak Taliban groups regard Omar as their Amir.Al-Qaeda members are busy stitching up these disparate groups,resolving their mutual conflicts and synchronizing their goals slowly with Al-Qaeda's anarchic optic.
The problem is Pak Army is still in India-centric mode..rather than being threat-centric.

Commonsense dictates that when country is fighting for survival stability-wise& economy-wise.. offensive realist posture should be at least temporarily suspended if not abandoned.The Kiyani's polemics about capability-centricity& not intentions-centric etc are hollow..and not more than sentimental excuse & its quite revealing.
If Pakistan persists with 1000-cuts/highly militaristic foreign policy formulations for resolving "disputes" or a coping mechanism to deal with unpleasant realities.. then it's a matter of a time that it will elicit reciprocal reprisals in kind from India,US or Afghanistan.

Anonymous said...

The very fact that outsiders have to push Pakistan by saying "do more" to tackle terrorists who threaten the existence of Pak is disturbing. It is a fact that some of these terror groups are considered assets by Pak army / ISI to implement their plans in India / Afghan and may be even US. This prevents it from fully targeting the terrorists. Hence the "do more" call.

Moderate Pakistanis, instead of cribbing about "do more", should be happy that someone is putting pressure on Pak army to get rid of the terror groups. If not, terrorists will one day take over the whole of Pak and establish Islamic rule.

-Anon923

jk said...

The most incisive comment here is this one: "the "Do more" mantra is not about doing more..but about doing specific thing which Pak Army have not done".

This is the nub of the matter. The post says "you can simultaneously hold those positions and point to the costs suffered in this war by Pakistan. It's not mutually exclusive". I agree entirely, but those invoking the costs are ordinarily obfuscating those very same positions (bar the one about Pakistan getting what it deserves, which is repugnant).

Much, much more important than outsiders repeating and mentioning the real costs borne by Pakistan is Pakistanis recognizing that 'do more' really means do the right thing'. It is that deafening silence which is issue to be addressed, and the argument should be that *that* can be held simultaneously with the view that Pakistan is already suffering.

I would also raise the principal agent problem inherent in this, which is that while ordinary Pakistanis have suffered above all, they have done so at the hands of a security establishment with little regard for the consequences of its actions. Recognizing "costs" must also be about self-diagnosis and introspection, and the "pakistan is suffering" argument, while patently true, is often configured to block just that.

Anonymous said...

Just FYI...

Ten Million East Pakistani refugees streamed into India -mostly West Bengal- in 1970-71 (who remembers that now??)

2-3 million Bengalis were killed (a disproportionate number were Hindus) -- who remembers them now??

Thousands died in 1980s in Indian Punjab as Khalistani forces, armed by Pakistanis, instigated a reign of terror -- which Pakistani feels sorry for this now??

60,000 to 70,000 have perished in Jammu & Kashmir, thanks to the constant infiltration by a myriad of trigger hapy Jihadi outfits and a heavy handed response by Indian army. Which Pakistani is willing to really give peace a chance in Kashmir now??

Without even counting the bloodshed inflicted by forces close to Pakistan, I think it is safe to say that Pakistan has lived by the sword. And, now if it is suffering from the blowback you want us na-pakistanis to acknowledge what exactly??

Anonymous said...

Just FYI...

Ten Million East Pakistani refugees streamed into India -mostly West Bengal- in 1970-71 (who remembers that now??)

2-3 million Bengalis were killed (a disproportionate number were Hindus) -- who remembers them now??

Thousands died in 1980s in Indian Punjab as Khalistani forces, armed by Pakistanis, instigated a reign of terror -- which Pakistani feels sorry for this now??

60,000 to 70,000 have perished in Jammu & Kashmir, thanks to the constant infiltration by a myriad of trigger hapy Jihadi outfits and a heavy handed response by Indian army. Which Pakistani is willing to really give peace a chance in Kashmir now??

Without even counting the bloodshed inflicted by forces close to Pakistan in Afghanistan, I think it is safe to say that Pakistan has lived by the sword. And, now if it is suffering from the blowback you want us na-pakistanis to acknowledge what exactly??

anoop said...

Indians and Americans say "do more" because their Citizens dont come and Terrorize the populace of Pakistan. But, the people from Pak do Terrorize other countries.

I agree that Pak has given lot of sacrifices to the war on Terror,rather, war on TTP(only),which includes Taliban elements from Punjab. This is not a war on Terror but war on Taliban that attack Pakistan. When the state starts targeting Terrorists in general without discrimination this may be called "War on Terror".

So, in this case which "war on Terror" are you talking about? And, why cant India and US ask Pakistan to stop Terrorists?

I sound cold, I know. Sorry about that.

Hope Pak becomes a truly secular,democracy like India. Right now India is suffering the negative effects of Pakistani mismanagement of strategic affairs which it has nothing to do with. That is unfair.

Akhila said...

Trust me it pains me at the core of my heart when I read about US Drones and the destruction it is causing to the innocent civilians in your country ..

It is your country's top leadership which has always .. to date supported terrorism in all forms .. they were the ones to support taliban also secretly .. now when the taliban nuisance has become uncontrollable, they are crying hoarse .. unfortunately, the Pakistani civilians are paying the price of the leaders' foolishness.

Uzair said...

Fantastic post Ahsan.

cityspidey said...

CitySpidey is India's first and definitive platform for hyper local community news, RWA Management Solutions and Account Billing Software for Housing Societies. We also offer residential soceity news of Noida, Dwarka, Indirapuram, Gurgaon and Faridabad.
You can place advertisement for your business on city spidey.

CitySpidey
Noida Local News
Noida News
Dwarka News
Dwarka Local News
Gurgaon News
Gurgaon Local News
Ghaziabad News
Ghaziabad Local News
Faridabad News
Faridabad Local News
Neighbourhood News
Local News
Noida Society News
Dwarka Society News
Gurgaon Society News
Ghaziabad Society News
Faridabad Society News
Indirapuram Society News
Indirapuram News
Indirapuram Local News
Delhi Local News