The Lost Population

Habib Jalib 1971

The Swat offensive continues to generate humanitarian crisis. A crisis which the Army or the state are failing to deal with. In Karachi, MQM – the major political party and social group – has adopted the language of TALIBOTHRA to deny safety and comfort to the IDPs. Tensions between the Pashtun and the Muhajir (basically, two large immigrant groups in the Karachi megapolis) date back to the 1980s. Since 2007, there have been numerous bloody incidents in Karachi of MQM groups killing and destroying Pashtun neighborhoods and businesses.

Some are rejecting the demonization of IDPs but I fear it is not enough. The Pakistan Army is doing its customary best to tell us that only the Taliban are dying in the region, even as others call for even more violence towards the region.

Again, the calculus of displacing a million to catch or kill a few thousand makes little sense to me. I do confess that I am no military strategist but it seems that the impulse here is that we “cannot differentiate” between the good and the bad. So we bomb from afar and on-high. And we have no strategy for the civilians.

In 1971, as the Pakistan army went into East Pakistan, the great poet Habib Jalib said:

You are sowing love with bullets
You are washing the nation’s face with blood
You are sure that a path is being forged
I am convinced that you are losing your destiny.

Also, worth reading is Tom Engelhardt’s Going for Broke: Six Ways the Af-Pak War Is Expanding.

29 Replies to “The Lost Population”

  1. Yes Man said “Do you think the ordinary person in NWFP considers himself more Paki than the pushtun in Kabul? Really? I think not. Maybe that’s the reason NWFP and FATA have no central government, because those ethnic people do not recognize the authority of Pakistan over them.”
    There is one major difference between the Afghan and Pakistani Pakhtoon — that of language, a basic cultural component. The Afghans speak more Dari, the national language of Afghanistan, adn the ‘Pukhto’ they speak is a different dialect. Similarly, southern Punjab is largely Seraiki-speaking and culturally different than northern Punjab (say, Gujranwalla). These differences translate into people maintaining their cultural cohesiveness even if outsiders lump them all as ‘Punjabis’ or ‘Pukhtoons’, specially when these areas are economically underdeveloped. I doubt very much that any Pakistani ‘Pukhtoon’ considers her/himself ‘Afghan’ as a cultural or socio-political entity. There are differences between the Swat Pukhtoons and those from Bannu! leave alone accross a border few have crossed (bar the taliban, traders, smugglers etc). You would have to ask those Afghans who have been refugees for years in Pakistan if they now consider themselves ‘Pakistani’, and some may say ‘yes’ because they don’t want to offend you, the Pakistani host.
    I don’t understand what you mean by ‘NWFP and FATA have no central government’, and why lump them both together with reference to their governance?

  2. “Why so much hatred for Karachi when Punjab and rest of the Sindh also rejecting IDPs? It sounds very racist.”
    To best of my knowledge Karachi is a cosmopolitan city with all the races representing Pakistan and beyond, living ther in millions. How is it racist to mention karachi? Hatred against what? Racist against whom?

  3. Yep ,as long as they do not show up in Karachi!

    Why so much hatred for Karachi when Punjab and rest of the Sindh also rejecting IDPs? It sounds very racist.

  4. From what I gathered IDPs are in bad shape and the ethnic politics of Pakistan is not helping the situation.

    “More pain was inflicted on the Pakhtun psyche by certain PPP leaders, including its blundering spokesperson Fauzia Wahab, when the IDPs were equated to the Afghan refugees. If this isn’t a slip of tongue, then it obviously means that many politicians and also other likeminded people from different walks of life in Punjab and Sindh have come to believe that the Afghan refugees too are primarily Pakhtuns and all of them need to be kept out of Pakistan’s two biggest provinces to avoid harm.” … “The apathy of some of the Sindh- and Punjab-based political forces to the woes of the IDPs looks all the more glaring when one compares it to the unparalleled generosity shown by the common people all over the country. In particular, the way the people opened their hearts and homes to the IDPs in NWFP was heart-warming to say the least. Nowhere was this magnanimity more visible than in Mardan and Swabi, the two districts that have received most of the displaced persons coming from neighbouring Swat, Buner and Dir. ”

    “Fallout of Swat military operation” by Rahimullah Yusufzai
    http://thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=179691

  5. Neena wrote
    “They all should stay at their present homes and fight away militant factor, majority always wins. Believe me all nation will be with them and hopefully visit them in next summer as a tourist.”

    Here is Hamid Mir with facts on the ground

    http://www.jang.com.pk/jang/may2009-daily/28-05-2009/editorial/col5.gif

    and before we give them oppurtunity to serve us a tourist next summer,
    Here is Stephen Walt on all things about empathy

    “One reason for this absence of empathy is the human tendency to filter current situations through the prism of the past. One of the more enduring findings in political psychology is that people place more weight on their own experiences than on the experiences of others, even when their own experiences are in fact atypical. ”

    http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/
    Jang yesterday reported there are laready 66 thousand pregnant women in these IDPs already, Imagine if one of those were me, you or our loved ones.

  6. Akbar I grew up in Karachi but married a Lahori man :) and my inlaws live in Lahore, Pindi and some even lived in Peshawar (a while ago). I wouldn’t want million+ people to just leave their homes and belongings and settle somewhere; its not good for anyone including NWFP population. They all should stay at their present homes and fight away militant factor, majority always wins. Believe me all nation will be with them and hopefully visit them in next summer as a tourist.

  7. Neena wrote
    “Swatis are finally standing up for their rights, I’m so proud of them. ”

    Yep ,as long as they do not show up in Karachi!

  8. Dawn writes
    “If they have confidence that the government will not once again make a ‘deal’ with the Taliban, and the army will not abandon them, the people may be more encouraged to fight the Taliban and be an asset in a conflict that has countrywide ramifications.”

    The way we are treating these good people of swat as they are displaced!

    “The people of Swat and Buner are suffering for the collective failure of all state institutions, be they civil or military. They are citizens of Pakistan and enjoy all constitutional rights. Registration of IDPs for purposes of providing relief is another thing, but insistence on their registration for seeking alternate residences provided by their relatives living in Sindh is totally another matter. It is ironic that those who themselves migrated from across the border, on rightful grounds of course, are today resisting the right of residence to Pakistani IDPs in their own country! Any Pakistani citizen living in Karachi, Lahore, Hyderabad, Quetta, Sukkur and so on can buy property and live or work anywhere in Pakistan. Somebody should tell these political parties that it works the other way round as well.”

    All Pakistanis must bear the burden of providing housing, food, shelter and financial assistance to the displaced people of Swat, Buner and other areas who are suffering for not their own follies but the tragic bad governance and poor policies of military dictators and their supporters.”

    Here Jang writes that there are 66 thousand pregnant women in these camps , some expected to deliver in nest three months. Is not htis how the original “Taliban’ movement started, millions of displaced Afghanis in camps in wretched condiyions in Pakistan, while Mujahiddin were fighting Russians. Their off springs wre Mullah Omar and his associates and rest as we know is history.
    http://www.jang.com.pk/jang/may2009-daily/26-05-2009/topst/main4.gif

    Are the people going to be able to see the cause and effect?
    Where is this metastasizing tragedy going to stop?

  9. “Akbar you said – Russians left with their tales between their legs as they could not “finish the job””
    Neena
    Thanks for missing my whole point.

  10. Swatis are finally standing up for their rights, I’m so proud of them.

    Having destroyed the once-flourishing tourist trade, the Taliban further hurt the people’s livelihood by threatening tailors and barbers and blowing up CD shops. No wonder the people of Swat have realised that it is their own survival that is at stake and that they have no choice but to help the army crush the rebels. What the government should note is that this change in attitude has occurred because the army has finally decided to do its job to destroy the enemy. If they have confidence that the government will not once again make a ‘deal’ with the Taliban, and the army will not abandon them, the people may be more encouraged to fight the Taliban and be an asset in a conflict that has countrywide ramifications. more here.

  11. Akbar you said – Russians left with their tales between their legs as they could not “finish the job”

    But that war was won by American, Saudi and UAE money and Saudi Wahabism, remember. So how that money was good enough then but not now? We are paying the heavy price for taking part in cold war. The only way to go forward is to bring peace and let the Tourism industry take hold over there so some warlords and drug dealers wont take advantage of poor people over there.

    If Sindh is rejecting IDP then other provinces should come forward and make a example of it by taking as many displaced people as possible and settle them and give them jobs. BTW if someone is Pakistani then they have every right to settle anywhere they wish, if Karachiites wants to settle in Lahore then noone should give them hard time either.

    Jan – Be nice and point me where I said it so I can respond you there.

  12. Here is another victim of Imperial Wars speaking out

    “From Palestine to Africa to South America, our quest for global economic domination kills, sickens, maims or oppresses people on a daily basis and about 25,000 children per day die of starvation. I am not okay with these facts and I am not proud of my country.

    I will spend my reflective time on MD to mourn not only the deaths of so many people all over the world due to war, but mourn the fact that they are the unseen and uncared for victims of US Empire”

    http://www.counterpunch.org/sheehan05252009.html

  13. A 28 year old Afghan poet Taroon says it well

    “We have heard these anecdotes
    That control will be again in the hands of the killer
    Some will be chanting the slogans of death
    And some will be chanting the slogans of life
    The white and sacred pages of the history
    Remind one of some people
    In white clothes, they are the snakes in the sleeves
    They capture Kabul and they capture Baghdad.”

    Taroon again
    “A fraud with the name of reconstruction
    Takes power and gold from me”

    “A veteran Afghan poet, Pir Muhammad Karwan, mourns a bride and groom killed at a wedding party that was bombed.

    Here the girls with the language of bangles
    Brought the songs of wedding to the ceremony
    With the rockets of America
    The songs of the hearts were holed ”

    http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/05/25-2

    Would the civilians caught in the fire,elsewhere be feeling any different?

  14. “Modernity in politics is about moving from exclusion to inclusion, from repression to incorporation. By including those previously excluded, we give those previously alienated a stake in things. By doing so, we broaden the bounds of lived community, and of lived humanity. That perhaps is the real challenge today. It is the recognition that the good life cannot be lived in isolation.

    I think of civilization as a constant creation whereby we gradually expand the boundaries of community, the boundaries of those with whom we share the world – this is why it is so grotesque to see bombs and food parcels raining on the defenseless people of Afghanistan from the same source.” Good Muslim, Bad Muslim – An African Perspective by Mahmood Mamdani http://www.ssrc.org/sept11/essays/mamdani.htm

  15. Neena it is NOT nice to stereotype Northern Area people as fanatics living in Stone Age.

    Akbar has asked very pertinent questions for you and others to ponder before engaging in bigoted stereotyping and demagoguery. It is NOT easy to discipline by bullets and buckwaas nor stop counter-insurgency with smart bombs – it require more brains – which may be in short supply. But the Establishment and its supporter certainly have a way with brawn in the mercenary services for Uncle Sam & Co.

  16. The reason for some many displaced people is that army wants to end this quickly. No one wants a protracted war in that area. Displacing people is difficult but that also saves lives. Tons of innocent would have been caught in the crossfire, had they stayed back in Swat and many other towns.
    I hope the army can finish the criminals in the area quickly or it will be another albatross in the army’s neck.
    Let me state this clearly that the army action is not the only solution there but now that it has started it should achieve its goals as quickly as possible.

  17. Maybe off topic, I think you need a separate category/tag for posts with Urdu poems/snippets. I know you have a search function but…please, it’s Urdu :)

  18. “Pak Army need to finish the job ASAP so these people can live their live peacefully, its not nice to be displaced from your home. But I hear its not that easy as Pak Army is mostly Punjabis and Pathans and its difficult to discipline your own people.”

    Neena,
    British draw the Durrand line, created FATA/PATA/FANA, and then ran away in 1947 as they could not “finish the job”.
    Russians left with their tales between their legs as they could not “finish the job”
    Americans are staring at defeat and tightening the screws around Pak Army(only cheaper alternative) to “finish the job”.

    May be everybody should step back and ask,
    What is the “job”?
    Is it a political/socio-economical struggle?
    Who are the actors?
    What are their interests?
    Who is the invader?
    Who is occupier?
    What would be a just solution of these conflicts?

    Pakistan’s economy is in the clutches of international monetary institutions, by design and by failure of political system, where people like Shaukat Aziz/Musharraf/Zardari 9and all their predecessors)selling it out and no organized opposition.
    Pakistan can not pay this huge standing army.So it has to do the dirty work for the highest bidder.
    To me one solution could have been to dissolve the standing army altogether and rely on volunteer forces, but the time fort hat may have already passed.

  19. Jan no one should be displaced by Army or whoever and please where I said they have only two choices.

    Northern people should have rejected those Talibans in the first place but they embraced them and they even welcomed fanatics from across the border. No one can rule such huge area without any local support. I’ve very close relations with ANP supporters but they say things are getting scary over there. Pak Army need to finish the job ASAP so these people can live their live peacefully, its not nice to be displaced from your home. But I hear its not that easy as Pak Army is mostly Punjabis and Pathans and its difficult to discipline your own people.

  20. Neena said elsewhere: “We all know Northern Area people are somewhat fanatics and live in stone age.” In other words, they have two options: be IDPs or be in graves. By the generalizing “Northern Area people” with a broad brush is a sign of bigotry or ultra-ethnic-chauvinism.

  21. Re: “Do you think the ordinary person in NWFP considers himself more Paki than the pushtun in Kabul? Really? I think not.”

    I am neither Pakistani nor Pashtun, but will say that I suspect the answer depends on where one is from: I suspect the answer will not be different (from the one a Lahori might give) if the Pashtun is from Peshawar or Mardan; can’t say about FATA.

  22. Re: “fake nation states with no borders”

    All nation-states are “fake”, none are “natural” — though some imagine themselves to be so, and some are able to create facts on the ground, thereby confirming their naturalness in a circular way (e.g. Germany seems more “natural” today than it did in 1930, with millions of ethnic Germans living outside Germany’s borders. That virtually all Germans are now gathered in Germany is not the result of nature but of war, upheavals, and population transfers at the end of WWII).

  23. I love how this blog has an undercurrent of “Pakistani Pushtuns are not Afghanistani Pushtuns, There is a difference!” What is the difference exactly? fake nation states with no borders? tribal affiliations? Do you think the ordinary person in NWFP considers himself more Paki than the pushtun in Kabul? Really? I think not. Maybe that’s the reason NWFP and FATA have no central government, because those ethnic people do not recognize the authority of Pakistan over them.

    So what will be the result of this war on Swat? More ethnic divisions in Pakistan. Who says the taliban (or the Pakistani Taliban as you people like to call them) will not become a vehicle for national determination for an entire ethnic group? So now you have the Baluchis (http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=126&art_id=nw20090523203259137C275237) and the Pushtuns in open rebellion with the Sindhi’s waiting.

    Pakistan as Yugoslavia, with Punjabis as Serbia, Bosnian muslims as Pushtuns and Croats as Baluchi’s. What can one say? The British handed this country rancid lemons, and now they are being infected by the lemonade they drank from it.

  24. The atrocities has nothing to do with the prospect for talibanistan scenario – it merely wanted to score brownie points with Uncle Sam & Co and keep on tracks the gravy-train for the Military, Inc. It also proved that the Ruling Elites luxury lifestyle could only be maintained through bloody repression and atrocities.

    Qalandar’s point about MQM using the code word “taliban” for all pukhtuns for settling scores and ethnic politics is also my observation – besides the reasons of economics and resentment as to why these folks are not taken care of closer to their region in Punjab.

    The NYT reports that landless peasants, enraged at years of corrupt government and a bumbling legal system, comprise the core of the TTP’s shock troops in Swat. “This nation, after all, often seems nothing more than a slow procession of sorrows.
    We are in the midst of the greatest internal refugee crisis in Pakistan’s history. Perhaps close to two million souls, adrift in the brutish netherworlds of makeshift camps and slum cities.”

    Jalib verses give expression to the plight and rage of the brutalized people:

    Jis ne itne dukh diye
    woh kub khushi se jaaye ga
    Asaa uthao
    ke firon isi se jaaye ga

  25. RE: “Since 2007, there have been numerous bloody incidents in Karachi of MQM groups killing and destroying Pashtun neighborhoods and businesses.”

    I might add that the Karachi society’s “well heeled” segment has been conspicuous in its acceptance of the MQM logic, and on my recent trips to the city I have frequently heard explanations turning on the “necessity” of “controlling” “these people”, who are proliferating, taking over, etc. [Whether or not (e.g.) ethnic Pashtuns are displacing other ethnic groups from (e.g.) fruit markets has, of course, nothing to do with the Taliban, but “Taliban” is being used as a code to settle ethnic scores.] That a group composed almost exclusively of the descendants of migrants from (what is now) India should have adopted the “outsider”/”native” rhetoric demonstrates yet again how there is no “essential” ground in political reality…

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