|The War against Terrorism:
How it impacted on the region
By Fazal Qureshi
Take the example of the two biggest countries of South Asian region. India and Pakistan are embroiled in bitter and one might say the most dangerous tussle in view of their nuclear capabilities, over Kashmir. While for India it is a clear cut matter of "cross border terrorism" meaning infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan, for Pakistan Indias use of military force in Kashmir is a clear example of "state terrorism" aimed at crushing a genuine freedom fight for the right of self determination promised to the people of Kashmir in various UN resolutions. Irrespective of who is right or wrong, the point to ponder very seriously is that the two countries are nuclear powers, have fought several destructive wars in the past and have moved from the brink of one only recently after urgent intervention from an alarmed international community.
A similar situation exists in our host country, Sri Lanka and here too we find two different terminologies being used for use of force and violence to achieve objectives, one by the Government and the other by Tamil rebels. Then there is the case of Nepal where the nation is faced with a serious insurgency of the Maoist rebels, both hurling charges of terrorism and state terrorism at each other. Even in countries where there is no serious uprisings of the nature of Kashmiris, Tamils and Maoists, acts of terrorism do take place in the form of bomb blasts, assassinations and bloodshed by various extremist misguided religious and militant groups. The most distressing factor in all these happenings is that in most cases, the warring parties prefer to fight it out on the battle field, rather than get together on a negotiating table to sort out the issues that give rise to such violence.
Therefore it is very right to draw the conclusion that today the region of South Asia or the region of SAARC, is badly mauled by the scourge of high level of violence in which in addition to young men of the warring parties, innocent civilians, men, women and children, are getting killed in ever larger numbers. This state of affairs is a shameful blot on the fair image of the whole region which has always claimed with pride to be the inheritor of the one of the oldest and peace loving civilizations of the world where tolerance, love, peaceful co-existence and communal harmony was the hall mark of its foundations. This region of peace and harmony has very sadly turned into an area of intolerance, religious bigotry, fanaticism and bloodshed.
It does not make any difference whatsoever that all countries and groups place the blame for the situation on their opponents. To an impartial observer it is very clear that almost all sides, governments and resistance organizations alike, are the victims as well as the perpetrators of violence - of terrorism in one form or the other. No amount of intellectual and logical or holy deductions can absolve them from a portion of the blame and responsibility. It is indeed a very sad development from another angle, that is South Asian region is among the poorest in the world, where poverty and deprivation levels are among the highest in the world, where people do not have enough to eat, enough to wear, enough to cover health problems, enough to educate, in short not enough of basic needs of a reasonably good life for a person and his family. What more tragic impact of this grave ongoing, never ending strife can be than diverting precious limited resources from human welfare, from making schools, hospitals, and homes to manufacturing guns, bombs, missiles, and tanks.
So when one opens a discussion on the subject of "terrorism" one is immediately confronted with the question "What actually is terrorism?" Which one of the wide variety of definitions orbiting around the globe can be accepted by all as a standard definition of the word under discussion? When we call for ending terrorism do we mean that people should give up their right to rise against injustice, exploitation, foreign occupation and domestic oppression? Is it that an oppressor state, or a foreign occupying power has all the legal right to use force to crush a hapless people, while the people so oppressed do not have the right to respond, to fight back even with arms if driven to a wall in desperation?
As an argument one might say all should agree not to use force as a means of achievement of goals whatever they may be. No armed insurgency in the name of peoples rights and no use of preponderant military might by a state to deny genuine human rights of an oppressed people. Or if there is an armed conflict, and the world has never succeeded in eradicating that possibility, then the warring parties should spare civilian targets. But have ever any war, any rebellion, and any armed clash in the history of the world been able to spare untold suffering to the civilian population?
And it is also a bitter reality that throughout history religions and civilizations have encouraged, supported, eulogized and applauded the courage and velour of people who sacrificed their lives for the causes they believed in. These types of scenarios we are witnessing around the globe even today. Ill armed civilians, as in Afghanistan, in Palestine and elsewhere in the world clashing with mighty military machines of states, strapping bombs to their bodies and hurling themselves at their oppressors.
So where do we stand in the face of such diametrically opposed perceptions of todays violence oriented confrontations? The only sane way out, it appears, is that all parties, states and insurgents here and all over the world, agree to give the option of violence to settle their scores, but to sit down on a dialogue table to find ways to resolve and remove factors which force people to resort to violence. Many nations in the world have learnt this lesson after a bitter experience of decades of blood letting. The case of Northern Ireland is one good example worth following. Israelis and Palestinians are now once again moving towards a dialogue. Similar developments have taken place in Sri Lanka and Nepal. Hopefully other parties of the region, particularly India and Pakistan would also adopt the course of dialogue to seek peace, not war.
As a representative of Pakistan, it would be relevant for me here to give a brief description of what terrorism has meant for Pakistan. As a front line participant in the international fight against terrorism, the Government of Pakistan declares that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations is a scourge, which the world community has to eradicate. But Pakistan also believes that in order to eradicate terrorism completely it is important to go deep into causes which force people to undertake such acts of desperation. There can be no doubt that without providing justice to struggling people as in Palestine, Kashmir and other parts of the world, terrorism cannot be eradicated.
Pakistan has remained a victim of terrorism since long. And the major source of this has come from the uprising that continues in Kashmir which has soured its relations with neighbouring India for decades. And while India blames Pakistan for all acts of terrorism in Kashmir and on the Indian soil, Pakistan blames India for all bomb blasts in shopping areas, buses, trains and in other crowded places.
This is a dangerous situation which has many a time before, and in the recent past driven the two countries to brink of war. Here too the only way out is to sit on the dialogue table. To say that all violence must be stopped before a dialogue has not worked anywhere, not in Ireland, not in Palestine, and will not work in Kashmir. What should come first - peace or dialogue - has been a impasse whose answer has eluded the world and also countries in our region.
Pakistan also faces a threat of terrorism from its own fanatical religious elements who are greatly annoyed with the pro American policies of the government. This anger and frustration; no less fuelled by the American invasion of Afghanistan, an even further threat of American attack on Iraq, has motivated misguided elements to carry out acts of sabotage and violence against domestic targets, as well as against foreigners and even against churches and hospitals run by foreign charities.
Pakistan was created in the name of Islam but for the last five decades religious parties never won more than a handful of seats in the national and provincial assemblies. Despite the fact that 70 % of people in Pakistan are illiterate, still they never voted for the Mullahs. They backed moderate political parties like Muslim League, Pakistan Peoples Party rather than for religious parties like Jamat Islami or Jamiat Ulema Islam. But then came the American attack on Afghanistan, and gave such a boost to anti West elements that in the last years general elections, religious parties have come into power in the highly sensitive North West Frontier Province which borders Afghanistan.
Now for the role of media in Pakistan in relation to international and domestic terrorism. For the media in Pakistan too the September 11 terrorist attack on USA ushered in a new era of challenges and insecurities. When responding to President George Bushs call, President General Pervez Musharraf said yes to joining international fight against terrorism, the Pakistani nation and more so Pakistani media suddenly became the front line entities in international fight against terrorism. With the American invasion of Afghanistan Pakistan came into world limelight, acquiring a completely new, highly strategic intentional status. For the people and the media of Pakistan it was a giant leap upward from the dismal position of being an international recluse of years, with manifold American and internatonal sanctions on account of nuclear explosions followed by suspension from the Commonwealth after General Pervez Musharraf overthrew the elected Government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in October 1999.
After that, the overriding policy posture in Pakistani media can be summarized something like this. In its editorial pages, editorial writes, columnists mostly voiced a whole hearted condemnation of the terrorist attack on USA and terrorism as a whole, whether omestic or international. However as the American bombardment of targets in Kabul, Kandahar and other Afghan cities dragged on into days and weeks, resulting in killing of civilians, the public sentiment and so the tilt in Pakistani media gradually came to reflect heightened concern and sympathy for the sufferings of the Afghan people. This is the same posture which an overwhelming part of the media in Pakistan continue to follow with somewhat bigger vigour on the issue of a possible US attack on Iraq.
The media commentators, were and are even today not merely skeptical but openly critical of the American tilt towards use of force. Most analysts think Sept. 11 type attacks could happen again if the basic causes that prompted such terrorism are not investigated and rooted out. If problems of Palestine, Kashmir, Chechynia and festering sores in other parts of the world are not addressed you can never effectively root out terrorism. In the case of India Pakistan relations as an overview one could say that media in Pakistan has played positive role of advocating peaceful means rather than resort to war. Pakistan media stands firmly behind the course of dialogue with India.
It is my well calculated understanding that the media not merely in Pakistan but in India and the whole region have played a very positive role in encouraging parties to come the dialogue table. I can see that the media in the region have always thrown their weight in favour of peace and against use of force. But it is also a bitter reality that media in most of our countries has failed to persuade rulers and policy makers to listen to the voice of sanity. One must remember that there can be no unilateral stoppage of use of arms by one side, it has to be done by both sides simultaneously. Let us hope the voices of sanity will prevail and the people of our region will once again witness peace and harmony in the area diverting their resources and energies to improving the quality of life of the common man.
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