Twenty four hours is a long time they say in politics. It seems it is even longer in the life of a nation. This morning (23rd, March 2009) a British news channel was busy showing a special program covering the situation in Pakistan’s Swat valley. The scenic valley has been in the news for months now for its detiorating security situation and the capitulation of the Pakistani government to the militants there. It is, however, being presented as an accord to implement Sharia law and not a caving in to the diktat of the Taliban.
When interviewed by the TV journalist, President Zardari made a complete denial of the reports of Pakistani territories being in the control of militants. The channel then panned to the town of Mingora in the Swat valley. If the ticker below the screen shots were to not indicate that this is a Pakistani town the average viewer could have been forgiven for assuming these to be shots of war scarred Afghanistan.
Bombed out buildings, schools razed to ground, bullet ridden walls and only weapon carrying men everywhere. Every street showed the same scenes of rugged, bearded men, most with black turbans. No where were any women to be spotted, not even burqa clad ones.
If this was not scary and confusing enough there are jeep loads of heavily armed men in turbans (that are not black) also move through the streets. These we are informed, by the TV journalist, are local militias who have taken up arms to fight the Taliban. Where are the security personnel, one wonders, in this melee of armed men? They are there but reduced mostly to traffic duties and manning dangerous check posts where suicide bombers are known to have blown themselves up. The morale is predictably low amongst the policemen. They have paid a heavy price in this ‘dirty war’ in which they have many enemies but hardly any friends.

There are scenes of public floggings and other forms of Sharia based punishments in the program….all meted out by bearded and/or masked gunmen. The reasons for the Taliban running over vast areas of Pakistani territory might be any but the fact that they are firmly entrenched in the area is undeniable and yet the country’s President continues to deny this. Maybe caught up in his vindictive wars with the Sharif brothers and the judiciary he has no time to deal with the Kalashnikov armed, bearded ‘army’ moving steadily towards Islamabad just 250kms to the south of Swat Valley.

 While the ruling elite looks to be in disarray the public plays guessing games as to who is in control: PM Gilani, President Zardari, the army? There seems no such confusion amongst those who are playing for the final prize: the control of the Pakistani state. When the Lal Masjid was attacked some months ago by security personnel from the special intelligence gathering unit, it was warned by the militants that retribution would come and true to their word they attacked the head quarters of the unit this evening (23rd,March 2009,Pakistan’s 69th National Day)). In another display of their ability to choose targets and attack at will the militants sent a suicide bomber on foot to blow him self up. The attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team was another brazen display of the militant’s encroachment into even the major cities of Pakistan.

While the Pakistani English media carries some reports of the troubles in the country, in the blogosphere educated Pakistanis complain vociferously about the world hounding them and always presenting a uni -dimensional image of their country. They partially blame the USA, sometimes Saudi Arabia and mostly India for carrying out a campaign of disinformation about their country. These members of civil society are right, of course, in claiming that Pakistan is not just about these bearded bandits. Pakistan is a land diverse in its ethnic composition and its art, fashion, literature, media, music and Sufism inspired traditions are second to none.

  But the fact remains that these heavily armed militias are slowly enforcing their writ in an ever expanding area and if the country’s power wielders can not soon come to a consensus about how to deal with the terror outfits and their terror infrastructure then these bearded men, with AK 47’s  and swords in hand, might just become the only abiding image of our neighboring country.
P.S: Even as I write Pakistan’s respected human right’s activist,Tahira Abdullah, has gone on air to paint a horrifying picture of what is happening in Swat,the situation of women there and the lies that Zardari continues to peddle while upto70%( Tahira’s figures) of that region is in taliban control.

A bullet hole is seen on a window of a bus, which was carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team, parked outside the Gaddafi stadium  in Lahore. -Reuters 

Just two weeks ago I had read an article by Brian M. Downin, ‘Losing the game: Pakistan on the brink’. It had listed all the travails of this nation, self-inflicted or otherwise, and the picture the author had painted was grim to say the least. At that time I had wondered if this was not over pessimism. After all a lot of countries go through periods of turmoil but very few crumble under the weight of their problems.
Now, after this morning’s attacks on the Sri Lankan cricket team, that had braved the odds to agree to play in the country where no one else wanted to play, I am not too sure. It is indeed beginning to look as though Pakistan might actually go under if the current state of affairs continues unchecked. With this attack in the heart of Lahore, on a visiting sports team, there is a stark change in terminology. All over the world the experts and ordinary people alike are now not debating whether Pakistan is on the brink but are talking instead of the ‘the end game’.
So where exactly does our nuclear armed neighbor stand at this point in their 61 year history? There are articulate arguers are on both side of the debate. While the impulse to talk of Pakistan as a nation going down the drain is stronger at the moment there are those too who are trying to talk of this Lahore incident as just one unfortunate incident. They draw comparisons with the train attacks in Madrid, the Mumbai attacks, the blasts that have occurred in Turkey, Egypt and many other countries in the recent years. People did not give up on these nations and did not stop visiting them. This argument is simplistic in the extreme as this is not one isolated incident for Pakistan.
 Apart from the attacks like the Marriot hotel blasts and the notorious Taliban grip on Swat valley (and all the misery it entails for the population there) Pakistan has been suffering from almost a never ending series of attacks. There have been suicide bombings, indiscriminate firing, and grenade attacks on funerals, schools, high courts and market places. The difference is that the world does not take notice when 8-10 Pakistanis get killed but when outsiders or high profile people and places get attacked then the incidents get world wide coverage.
 It is precisely for this reason that this time the terrorists have chosen to attack the Sri Lankan team whose very visit, in adverse circumstances, was supposed to make the point that Pakistan was not the wild, west and people could and should visit it. Now by attacking that very team the terrorists have upturned that notion and declared loud and clear that they can and will attack, at will, wherever whichever target they choose to. They have got the world’s attention alright!
Where Pakistan goes from here is hard to predict. The usual list of LeT, Taliban, Al- Qaeda, ISI, the army and ‘foreign hands’ has been aired by all but who is to say who on that list is the ring leader and who are its willing followers? Who is the horse and who the charioteer? Does the army drive the Islamic militants or is it now the other way round. And what is the position and status of the young civilian government in the conundrum that now passes for a Pakistani state?
Pakistan indeed now stands at the proverbial fork in the road. Which way it chooses to go will determine whether it survives or goes under. One road is the old one of denial, obfuscation and duplicity that Pakistan has tread for almost its entire existence. The other one is the unfamiliar one of acknowledging that the menace that has spread through out the country is largely of its own making and it must denounce and fight it not to win accolades from the rest of the world but simply to ensure that Pakistan has some chance at a better future.
While for the foreseeable future Pakistan will be a sort of international pariah, especially where sports of any sort are concerned, in the longer run it can win its way back into the community of world nations by setting its house in order. The rest of the world can play a constructive role in this by not raising the chorus of ‘we told you so’ and by finding ways to support those within Pakistan who seek to liberate their nation from the menace of terrorism.

P.S: While the Pakistani government through various spokespeople has started parroting the line about a ‘foriegn hand’ the media has come out and declared this a case of home grown terrorism.Many ordinary people are also saying this in the Pakistani blogosphere.

Editorial from Dawn (Pakistani English Daily) :

From a Blog:

By now everyone would have heard about the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket players in Lahore,Pakistan.The team bus came under attack from militants as they arrived for Day 3 for the second test match against Pakistan.The details are just coming in and the numbers of injured players varies from 3 to 8(depending on which channel you listen to).The TV images bear an uncanny similarity to the attack carried out in 2001 on the Parliament in India and in Mumbai in 2008.Backpack carrying men with guns in hands just converged on to the scene and fired.5 policemen have been reported killed.

Lanka cricketers wounded in Lahore attack

That this has happened in Pakistan,a cricket crazy country, is not surprising.The Taliban type forces that are hell beant to creating chaos in the entire country ,with possibly the final aim of taking control of this nuclear armed country, have been working to a clear cut plan. They want to spread as much terror as possible using the simple method of these back pack carrying foot soldiers.For this they need to not just create actual mayhem but spread as much fear as possible.What better way to isolate Pakistan further and create fear then to attack cricketeers in a cricket loving nation? Now which country will ever think of sending their players to the country? In one simple- to- mount attack the terrorists have achieved their goal.

It would be pertinent in this scenario to ask our English speaking,bleeding- heart, liberal media, about the wisdom of their gospel that India should do all it takes to maintain contacts with Pakistani people and civil society via cultural exchanges and especially through cricket. When in the wake of the Mumbai attacks of November 2008 the Indian governement had said that the Indian players would not be sent to Pakistan for a series,this section of media in every chat show and cricket program had questioned that decision and rued the fact that we as a nation were bowing to terrorists by failing to send our players across.

What do they have to say in their own defense now? If the Sri Lankan team ( that has no political or military conflict with Pakistan) could be so audaciously attacked imagine what could have happened to the Indian players. At that point the Pakistan government was in full denial mode about Pakistanis having carried out the Mumbai attacks and the tension between the two countries was very high and very palpable. It is time that this section of media and media persons and the so called intellectuals of the nation stop confusing between the Pakistani state, the Pakistani “non-state players”, and the civil society.

When India refused to play there it was not meant to imply that we expected ordinary Pakistanis, members of the civil society, to come out toting guns to kill our players.On the contrary these people, most probably, would have welcomed the Indians with traditional hospitality………. but when was the last time that the civil society in Pakistan has actually got to call the shots and set the tone of the national events? The undeniable fact is that their country is in a state of chaos with they themselves not very sure about who has the reins of the nation in hand.

The sad and stark truth is that until such a time that political stabilty returns to Pakistan(if it does at all) and the tide of terrorism (religion dictated or otherwise) is reversed it will remain an unpredictable country, travel to which will remain a risk fraught activity. NOW CAN OUR ENGLISH MEDIA GET THIS SIMPLE FACT??