Abuses on the Path to Salvation

Jan 2013

All told, one has to credit the AI researchers for being uncompromising in their denunciation of army abuses. This has always been the honest liberal’s central virtue: unremitting defense of everyone’s right to have rights.

Years ago, in his conclusion to The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon observed acerbically that those who never tire of talking of Man seem to have no qualms murdering real men “everywhere they find them.” The recent report by Amnesty International (AI) on human rights abuses in northwest Pakistan—promptly branded a ‘pack of lies’ by the Pakistani military—is a testament to the enduring truth of that indictment.

The military’s much-ballyhooed 2009 offensives against the Pakistani Taliban were accompanied by very public grandstanding about the Pakistani state’s mission in the tribal regions. The task, we were told, was historic: to seize and civilize a region that had been captured by villainous obscurantists. Barbarians had amassed at the gates. “60 miles from Islamabad,” screamed the New York Times, and in counterinsurgency ‘expert,’ David Kilcullen’s frantic assessment, the country risked total collapse. Famously, even elements of our progressive intelligentsia threw up their hands and fell in line, entrusting the ‘battle for civilization’ to GHQ.

Three years later, chunks of the northwest have been retaken, including much of the two centerpieces of the 2009 offensive, Swat and South Waziristan. But, the war rages on. A little under half a million residents remain displaced, and in this summer’s anti-polio drive, government officials resigned themselves to reaching only 70 percent of the targeted 1.05 million children. Areas in the two Waziristans, as well as parts of Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, Mohmand and Bajaur all lie outside the state’s grasp. But in the public eye, at least, the war has ebbed. Jinnah’s Pakistan may confront longstanding pressures from fundamentalists across the country, but the threat of an imminent Taliban takeover seems remote.

The AI report chronicles, unsurprisingly, that this home-grown ‘war on terror’ has mirrored its US cousin in all relevant respects. Pakistan has learned well from its starred-and-striped benefactor, it seems. AI’s researchers document a terrifying pattern of mass detention, rampant torture, and extrajudicial murder. For all the talk that the state’s repressive arms represented civilized Pakistan’s last stand, neither democracy nor ‘civilization’ have been advanced by these years of war.

At the time, some wrote eloquently about the offensives and their immediate impact. But, the truth is that there will almost certainly never be a reliable accounting of those months. Claims of precision have never masked the necessarily indiscriminate character of counter-insurgency. Lest we forget, millions were displaced from their homes, consigned to the brutish netherworlds of refugee camps or city slums. Many have lauded Pakistan’s rambunctious media yet it, too, surrendered meekly to the whoop of total war, becoming little more than an appendage of the ISPR, the Army’s public relations office.

What the AI report also dispels, decisively, is a more circumspect justification of those offensives. Those progressives who endorsed the operations did so with a heavy heart, no doubt. War, they lamented, is a nasty business, but one that would be justified by the law and order that would follow in its wake. This is precisely what has been most insidious about operations Rah-e-Rast (‘The Correct Path’) and Rah-e-Nijat (‘Path to Salvation’), however. These were never conceived as battles to impose democracy or enlightenment values, but rather as wars of restoration. The task was to reinstall the much-despised maliks (tribal leaders) and political agents at the head of the brutish regime by which FATA has been ruled for a century.

Under the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), the region’s desperately poor population has been deprived of due process and effective representation for the entirety of our modern history. In 1954, Pakistani Chief Justice A.R. Cornelius rightly labeled these regulations “obnoxious to all recognized modern principles governing the dispensation of justice.” (3) Fifty-odd years later, the principal task of the military’s civilizing mission has been to re-impose them. Read on>>

Footnotes

3. Amnesty report, p. 40.

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3 Responses to Abuses on the Path to Salvation

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  2. […] Pakistani troops at an honors ceremony welcoming Mullen to Islamabad, Feb. 9, 2008. – Read: Abuses on the Path to Salvation | Adaner […]

  3. […] Army Abuses on the Path to Salvation […]

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