Home > Cabbie Stories, Na-Pak fauj, Politics, Taliban, War > My country is at war… with itself (part-I).

My country is at war… with itself (part-I).


Really, what are we doing to our own people?

War never was, and never can be the solution to anything — especially not the Taliban. War is not a solution especially when sections of our Armed forces aren’t really in favour of doing anything about the Talibs.

One of my regular-cabbie-friends is from a village near Waziristan. The guy himself is very soft-spoken, not-very-tall, and completely devoid of facial hair (no, I don’t think all bearded people are fundos — I just added this here as part of the guy’s general description).

He decided to regale me with his thoughts on the Taliban and the so-called operation against them. In the following narratives, I have deliberately left out the names of people, because these are not the stories of a person or two — these are the experiences of a people who we have deliberately chosen to first ignore, and then oppress, for the interests of the Na-Pak fauj.

A couple of days after the current Operation Rah-e-Nijat began in South Waziristan, my cabbie friend’s village was raided by the Army. A house-to-house search was conducted to round up the Taliban. “This was so stupid,” my friend said. “For one, you can’t really look at people’s physical descriptions in our area and classify them as Taliban. If that is your yardstick, almost everyone would be a Talib in my village. Most people have long beards; many wear their shalwars above their ankles. Very few, however, are Taliban, or even sympathisers of the Taliban. Given this, how was the Army going to find Talibs via a house-to-house search? ”

“Secondly, the Army-waaley definitely knew who the Taliban were. They warned them in advance about the house-to-house search, and all of them escaped,” my friend said. “We also heard about the search, and hid all the weapons that we had.”

The house-to-house search was conducted, terrifying women who had lived in seclusion and strict purdah most of their lives. What did the Army find? “They took away all the gold and jewellery,” my friend said. “We hadn’t particularly hidden them; we’d just hidden our weapons. We never thought that the Army-waalahs were robbers of this calibre!”

He also spoke about drone attacks on Pakistani villages bordering Afghanistan. “You hear about these attacks, and the number of people who died. For you, they’re probably just statistics. Numbers,” he said. “For us, these numbers are attached to the names and faces of our relatives. We hear about these attacks, and the deaths of our children. With all of this, would you really blame me if a person like me went and joined the Talibs? I know that they are merely fighting for power, but many others think they are fighting the Army and the oppressive war that the US has imposed upon us. Can they be blamed for sympathising with the Taliban?”

I really had no answer to this. Really, what are we doing to our own people?

War never was, and never can be the solution to anything — especially not the Taliban. War is not a solution especially when sections of our Armed forces aren’t really in favour of doing anything about the Talibs.

While the Operation Rah-e-R[i]as[a]t was under way in Swat and Malankand, Ahmed and I visited the refugee camps in Swabi and Mardan, along with Aasim Sajjad, Asha Amirali, Aalia, and two other activists of the Islamabad-based People’s Rights Movement (PRM). This was back in June 2009.

One “normal-sized” camp along the Swabi-Mardan road was a little off the highway. We stopped on the road to get footage, and panned the camera from one end of the camp to another. Taking in the breadth of the camp,  at a fairly normal speed, took several minutes — and to think that this was one of the “medium-sized” camps.

To say that the stories at the camps themselves were horrifying would be an understatement. In Swabi, we first ran into a group of people waiting around a government tent. We asked them what was wrong. They said that the people in the tent were refusing to register them. ‘Without registration, we cannot go to the camps. Where do they expect us to go? This is stupid,’ they said.

At one of the Swabi camps, we met an 18-year-old girl. She was there with her two younger sisters and their chacha (father’s younger brother) and chachi (chacha‘s wife). “Some people have told me that my parents are at a camp in Charsadda, but we’re not sure. We have no way of getting in touch with them,” she said.

The family owned a rickshaw which was driven in Mardan. This rickshaw was sent to their home in Swat, to rescue the family. “There was a curfew. As soon as the curfew lifted a bit, people used to rush out of their homes with whatever they could carry, and leave,” she said. “Five people could fit on to our rickshaw, apart from the rickshaw driver — three at the back, and two people up front on the driver’s cramped seat. So we decided that me and my sisters would leave with my chacha and chahi, and my parents will join us later. My chacha and my youngest sister sat up front, while my other sister, my chachi and I struggled to fit in the back.”

The group came to the camp in Swabi, and struggled to live there, while waiting for the girls’ parents. “All we brought were the clothes that we were wearing. You can’t fit anything in a rickshaw that is already carrying six people,” she said.

She then called to a young man from a neighbouring tent, and asked him to tell us details about their lives. This 23-year-old man — extremely handsome, I might add — was the “elected head” of a group of tents. The residents of the camps had, by then, decided to organised themselves according to tent numbers. Each group of around 50 tents then elected a “head” who was responsible for liaising with “the authorities.”

The young man in question had a mobile-repair shop in Swat. He was fairly fluent in English, and his conversation with us was peppered with colloquialism. “Did you know that there are Talibs in this camp too?” he asked us.

“They cut their hair and shaved off their beards and ran away with the rest of the population,” he claimed. “We know who they are. The Army guards here also know who they are, but they will not take action against them. If we inform the security-waalahs about Talibs in our midst, the security-waaley will go and tell the Talibs who informed on them, and then dead people will turn up around the camp. I saw a friend of mine butchered by these maniacs back home in  Swat — I will not have the same done to me.”

This friend of his worked part time as a guide. “He lived in the house next to mine. Our houses were just separated by a low wall. We had grown up together, would eat our meals together. One day, an Army Major came to our town, and my friend showed him around, because, well, he was a guide,” he said. “The Talibs found out. They kidnapped my friend. The next day, we saw his body in the main square,” he said. At this point, his voice broke; he hid his face and stopped for a moment, hoping that we would not see him crying.

After a couple of minutes, he continued. “You think that the purpose of te Army operation is to wipe out these barbarians, you are severely mistaken,” he said. “The Talibs have been in Swat for around four years. Maulana-whatsisname — the head of the Taliban — set up an FM station. Our women used to listen to it every night, and appreciated his work, because he talked about Islam. When he asked for funds to build a madressah for our children, our women sold their jewellery to get money for him. Eventually, his rhetoric became more and more hate-filled. We realised that he was up to no good, stopped listening to the radio broadcasts, and stopped giving him money.”

The army, he said, was aware of all of this. “Why did they not take action against him then? I repair cellphones. I know that signals can be intercepted and blocked; people can even be traced, and our security-waalahs are saying that they don’t know where the Talibs are? Tell me, does that make sense?” he asked.

“We hate the Taliban, and we hate the Army. Both have brought us nothing but misery. They have made us homeless. Our people are dead. What more do you want from us?” others at the camps asked us.

I asked a group of old men who they disliked more — the Talibs or the Army. “If you’re going to ask us stupid questions of this sort, we’re going to say that the Talibs are right and the Army is right. We’re the idiots here. Please kill us,” they replied sarcastically.

One popular story that we heard from almost everyone we interviewed at the two camps was about a particular kilometre-wide road in Swat. ‘The Army is stationed on one side of this road. The Talibs have camps on the other side,” The Army knows this; the Talibs know this. If the two of them hated each other so much, why are neither attacking the other? Instead, they bomb our houses and kill our people,’ they said.

The situation at the camps was also terrible. Aid was being massively misused. “You see this Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) tent right outside the camp?” my friend at the Swabi camp asked us. “They stop all aid trucks and take everything. They sell off most of the things. The rest they distribute from their own camp, pretending that this aid is from the JI. Government aid is also being channeled through them. They think this will make us love the JI. Haha!”

At the Mardan camp, we met an old man who was living there with his daughter and her children. They don’t know where the woman’s husband is. They walked to the camp from their village in Swat. Somewhere along the way, the husband was separated from the group. The woman’s smallest child was suffering from some skin allergy. She took the toddler to a doctor at one of the medical tents in the camp. The doctor did not have the required medicines, and gave the child paracetamol instead.

Another pretty young girl jumped when I said that I was from Karachi. “I am too!” she said excitedly. “I was born and brought up in Banaras Colony, Karachi. Then I was married off to our relatives in Swat. I was around 10 years old at the time. When the war first started, we went to my family in Karachi, but could not stay there for too long because our men could not find jobs and my parents are also poor people. We went back to Swat when they said it was safe for us. Now we have been thrown out again,” she said.

She told me that she thought she was 17, but could not be sure. She had, to date, given birth to four children. One of them had died soon after birth.

Despite the fact that these people had nothing of their own anymore, except for the clothes that they wore and the meagre rations that they received, we were forced at every camp to not leave until we had “had something”. “We will be insulted if you leave without food or drink,” my Karachi-born Swati friend said with a laugh. In Swabi, families got together and made glasses of Energile for us. In Mardan, they gave us tea, and insisted that we have more, but we said that we had to go.

Men spoke about how they left the bodies of those who died during bombings inside houses. “We didn’t have time to give them a proper burial, because we had to run for our lives,’ they said. ‘We covered them up, put them in a room, locked the house and ran. We don’t know if our houses will still be standing when we go back — if we can ever go back.’

‘The authorities first told us that we will be able to go home a week after we came here,’ they said. ‘After a week passed, they said “three more days.” Then three more days. We’ve been here for almost two months now.’

Almost three million people were “displaced” during the Swat operation. Many of these families are said to have gone back home (or what was left of their homes). I’m not sure, because I haven’t had a chance to go back to the camps, and an ISPR press release is the last thing that I’ll ever believe.

Less than a month later, the Army announced the South Waziristan operation. Many will be displaced again. The Taliban will escape again. My cabbie friends tell me that the reason Karachi has been relatively peaceful up until now, despite constant attacks in Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar, is that most of the major Taliban commanders are hiding here. ‘They know that Karachi is the only place for them to hide right now. If they attack Karachi, the only other place  for them to go is in the sea,’ they said. ‘The police and the agencies know this too, but they’re not taking action against them either. Some of them don’t want to for “ideological” reasons; others feel that a crackdown against the Talibs hiding in Karachi would be like stirring up a hornets’ nest. To show that they’re “doing something” they round up random Pakhtoons.’

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  1. omar
    March 25, 2010 at 03:50

    I happened to write a somewhat tongue-in-cheek history of this glorious war in a comment to a friend today and I will share it here so that readers can catch up on the background. Kindly excuse the flippant tone…
    It would be more accurate to look at recent history as:
    1. CIA arms and trains mujahideen to fight Soviets, Saudis pitch in with dreams of salafist empire, Pakistan army accepts contract in exchange for money, lots of money, chance to rule Pakistan forever, salafist empire dreams of its own.
    2. CIA finishes its “task”, lots of Afghans dead, Soviet Union humiliated, end of story.
    3. Pakistan expands CIA initiated jihadi machine and points it East towards India. Thinks its proxies also occupy Afghanistan now (but the tail is actually wagging the dog; but the general staff is too moronic and blind to notice). Dreams of Central Asian empire. Dreams of humiliating India. Dreams of lots of cash. CIA joins in with pipeline dreams. Saudis contribute like crazy to the new Islamic wonderland being built by their students.
    4. Saudis and CIA SLOWLY (painfully slowly) figure out that their students have ideas of their own. Pak army (bless the general staff’s IQ) still clueless, still dreaming of Srinagar, Red fort, Samarqand and Bokhara….
    5. Students go berserk, bomb New York. CIA involved? probably not, but its a fun conspiracy theory and it will grow and grow….
    6. Pak army switches sides. Does it REALLY switch sides? who knows. General staff wargames 5 years of American presence, lots of cash…
    7. General staff wrong as usual. CIA still around after 8 years. India not conquered yet. Samarqand and Bokhara pretty much out of reach. But of course, lots of cash. Also lots of dead Afghans and random Pakhtuns (especially poor khasadars, poorest and most upright and honorable soldiers in the country). To the army’s dismay, also a few dead brigadiers and colonels….
    8. Kiyani sahib becomes chief. Probably the highest IQ person to ever do so (not saying much, this is the army…just kidding, just kidding). Army will now fight its creations, maybe even allow civilian rule. Maybe stop playing “regional power’ and start building country. then again, maybe not. …
    9. Obama is president. Wants to stop wasting money in Afghanistan. Willing to pay Pak army in exchange for services rendered. Who knows what the hell is going on behind the scenes….Unfortunately, more dead people in Afpak.
    10. Pak army declares total victory. Giant celebrations to be held in Minar e pakistan, OOPS, moved to Alhamra hall 2, double OOPS: Zaid Hamid to be elected Khalifa on August 14th, internet buger-jihadis looking forward to meeting General Kiyani and Maria B
    11. unfortuntely, more dead people in the days to come. fortunately for some, also more cash….kasb e kamal kun, key aziz e jahaan shwi (Achieve excellence and you will be the beloved of the world)

  2. Asad
    November 7, 2009 at 06:22

    Interesting piece. However, it does owe a lot to the clichéd theory “agencies/ army know everything”. I think you should also start looking into the possibility that the agencies might not know everything and you are facing a group of people whom you have largely under-estimated. Like many other things, “agency” has become our escape route; an excuse. I do not believe that operation is the only solution but I can also not see any solution which does not have the operation as an integral part. If the current operation is followed by effective governance with people aware of what their responsibilities and rights are, then things would get better. Otherwise…

    • Bolshevik
      November 16, 2009 at 00:28

      Asad,

      The Taliban here are, to use another cliche, chickens that have come home to roost. I’m not denying their existence, nor am I underestimating them. What I’m saying is that the operation is not the solution to this problem, because a major section of the Army does not want to get rid of the Talibs. The idiotic “strategic depth” policies are still in place; the powers-that-be still hope to use the Taliban against various targets in this region.

      I will write about possible solutions to the Taliban issue in part-II of this post. It will take a while because I’m super-busy and super-lazy, but I’ll try my best to put it up asap. : )

  3. APakistani
    November 6, 2009 at 14:50

    well, didn’t we all know that already? The article itself is biased towards Army at the first place (i mean have a look at your blog categories!). and then these people, instead of feeling for the poor people of those areas are praising how mind blowing and inspirational piece of sh*t author has written. you people disgust me!

    • Bolshevik
      November 6, 2009 at 17:54

      APakistani: I’m not biased TOWARDS the army. I’m biased AGAINST it. Having said that, can you factually refute anything that I’ve written here? I’d love to hear your views, as long as it is not mere ad hominem.

      Baka: :-)

      Sabahat: ThanQ. Rabayl was largely responsible for making me write this. :-D

  4. November 6, 2009 at 09:53

    urooj,

    this was one of the most mind blowing pieces i’ve ever come across on the war.

    -a

  5. November 6, 2009 at 07:46

    Great work. As always. You are a truly inspirational person.

  1. November 16, 2009 at 20:35

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