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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Why Do Humans Dying in Pakistan Matter Less than when Dying in London?

Muhammad Feyyaz |

The London attack on March 22, 2017, has generated intense international condemnation alongside the pouring in of solidarity assurances from global leaders to stand with Great Britain in the hours of despair. The response and its digital coverage are not unusual compared with earlier incidents of such nature in the western world. The contrast with identical perpetrations across non-western countries is interesting, Pakistan being a case in point.

Since the onset of the war on terror, this country has perhaps suffered the most at the destructive hands of terrorism. There is an equally staggering toll of sacrifices rendered by its valiant armed forces and law enforcement organizations, let alone tales of amazing resolve demonstrated by its citizenry in coming forward to directly engaging with the terrorists. Identically, terrorism has ravaged the country economically, whereas the scale of psychosocial trauma experienced by the teeming surviving victims and wards has never been determined. This tally does not take into account the fissures that participation in the war on terror has inflicted on the social fabric of the nation.

Read more: Seven People arrested for attack on UK Parliament

Yet, none of the horrific acts of perpetration if any have ever evoked discernable reactions among the international community, more specifically the developed world, for whose cause this country purportedly entered the war on terror.

Is the Differing Treatment of Terrorism in Pakistan by the West due to Pakistan’s Own Conduct?

On the contrary, Pakistan’s neighbors, in particular, India, have always been treated exceptionally upon the occurrence of non-state violence on its soil. The puzzling treatment raises some important questions.

Pakistan’s participation in the global war on terror is essentially viewed from the lens imbued with national priorities of foreign nations

First, does the answer of biased western conduct essentially reside in Pakistan’s idiosyncratic behavior as a state, e.g. enduring support to Kashmiris including the use of violent proxies for coercing Indian policy, or due to providing eternal perch to Afghan groups, or both?

Or is the enigma situated in Pakistan itself because of its lack of nurturing democratic values, or it’s own faltering foreign policy priorities, that have failed to harness diplomatic and material provisions against the war on terror in the country?

More importantly, can it be that Pakistan’s politico-military leadership has been entirely unskilled in weaving together a counter-terrorism philosophy which is consistent with international legal norms and obligations? We cannot also discount from this security mosaic, the internally divided house on the definition of terrorism and identity of terrorists, and not least the realpolitik of terrorism.

Read more: Pakistan: Terrorism at Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine; What does it mean?

One can argue that many countries in the world are beset by similar challenges, UK and Turkey are two conspicuous examples. The question, however, remains, why is there this discrimination in the valuation of a Pakistani life versus the western one? More broadly, the issue entails racial or orientalist content. Grounding it in a local context, one possible answer lies in the instance of one myth cum betrayal and one important failure in Pakistani statecraft.

Myth of General Pervaiz Musharraf abandoning the Afghan Taliban after 9/11

There is no more appetite for freedom struggles. Elicit endorsement of domestic security policies that maybe draconian are accepted in building international coalitions.

The widespread myth is that General Musharraf took a U-turn policy in favor of the US by abandoning the Afghan Taliban. The fact is while superficially it seemed that the military regime indeed dumped Afghan groups, contemporary records now indicate that Musharraf had been persistently persuading the Bush administration from the outset not to dislodge Taliban or at least spare their traditional stronghold in southern Afghanistan.

The bloody capture of Kabul by Northern Alliance changed the whole scenario as is underscored by Ahmed Rashid in his seminal book Descent into Chaos.

Read more: Lahore terrorism: abject failure of Pakistani intelligence & policing institutions

The US betrayal manifested itself in a steady rehabilitation of Afghan groups along the border and hinterland of Pakistan. The recompense to this burden, moral if we wish to so label it since Taliban were the creation of erstwhile Pakistani civilian government of Benazir Bhutto.

They were used as instruments to further the geopolitical interests of Pakistan. Indeed, the Indian factor or Pakistan’s strategic depth policy has played crucially in the hosting of Afghan insurgents. Fundamentally, however, Pakistan security establishment has stood with the Afghan Taliban despite the castigation of being an ‘untrusted ally.’

The moot is that it is one of the interests of the US that Pakistan seems not to have accomplished, certainly not on the latter’s terms because terrorism for the two countries is not a homogenous phenomenon but essentially mediated by respective interest paradigms.

The more often public rhetoric of support by the US has thus been only conditional, and less appreciative of Pakistan’s participation in the war on terror. The powerful American media, hand in hand with its government, readily accentuates the half-truth more as a monolithic and complete reality.

Read more: Chemical terrorist attack ‘huge concern’ says London fire chief

Today’s Situation due to Pakistan’s Inability to Differentiate between Kashmir and Terrorists

So far as the role of Pakistani statecraft in the fight against terrorism is concerned, it encompasses an inability to clearly differentiate between popularly driven armed resistance and terrorism with respect to Kashmir. This is where the world stands with India, particularly in the post 9/11 environment wherein the distinction between self-determination, especially if accompanied by acts of violence, and terrorism has become blurred. There is no more appetite for freedom struggles. The western endorsement of domestic security policies, that are draconian in character such as those used by India in Kashmir, now in return for building international coalitions.

The powerful American media, hand in hand with its government, readily accentuates the half-truth more as a monolithic and complete reality.

There was a strong need to emphasize and propagate support for freedom struggle in Kashmir as a separate category right from the start since Kashmir was one of the motivating factors in the decision to partake war on terror. More importantly, it was required with full vigor during the initial years of war on terror when Pakistan was an intensely sought after partner by the western alliance. Neither the media nor the foreign office was used optimally. Foreign missions were not able to disseminate information abroad asking for a differentiation and segregation of Pakistan’s historical stand and support for Kashmiris vis-à-vis evolving recent global terrorism. The statecraft dismally failed the cause.

Read more: Defeating Terrorism: Pakistan needs new “Road Maps” & a “Visionary Leadership”…?

In sum, Pakistan’s participation in the global war on terror is essentially viewed from the lens imbued with national priorities of foreign nations, and not how Pakistanis perhaps wish their narrative to be embraced. It should not be surprising, therefore, why terrorism victimization in Pakistan does not receive the same level of resonance among important actors in the international arena.

How will Pakistan Sell its Narrative

A serious introspection will be warranted to reflect upon the deficiencies in selling our geo-contextual history in a way that sits neatly with the national interests of major powers. This necessity, apart from sustaining prevailing political enterprise, will work however by first putting own house in order. This can only be achieved by transcending from moral afflictions by political elites, and misogyny and bigotry by religious enclaves.

Needless to say, that proxies would require gradual reintegration and rehabilitation for which keen international stakeholders can be found. The public pronouncement of this measure by itself will likely neutralize good-bad Taliban dichotomy. Similarly, Afghan peace process must be fully supported and helped to ensure early repatriation of refugees and the militants.

Finally, in case there is the expectation that objective ramifications and concerns engendered by terrorism in Pakistan should be shared by the broader world community, some genuine concerns such as alleged involvement of Pakistani-based transnational organization in acts of illegitimate violence i.e. involving killing of innocent and unarmed civilians, will need to be addressed as a precursor.

It might sound disquieting, but there is no second route to creating space for a reckonable diplomatic leverage for mutual cordiality with other nations as well as to resolve the Kashmir issue.

Muhammad Feyyaz teaches research methodology, peace and conflict and terrorism studies, at the University of Management and Technology, Lahore. He can be contacted at faizy68@googlemail.com and tweets @faizy681.