Feb 24, 2009

Barking mad

'Mad as a bag of snakes' is one of those colourful idiomatic terms that conjure up a whole range of imagery. We have many ways of indicating that a person's action or the actions of a group of individuals or even of an entire state – are indicative of a loss of grasp on fundamental realities that suggests that madness has taken hold. There are innumerable documented cases of politicians and men of power the world over having taken leave of their senses, and sanity has never been a prerequisite for good governance. Which brings us to the small matter of 30,000 rifles and their distribution in NWFP as a part of the strategy to combat terrorism. Were you to sit down with a group of people carrying certificates, signed by eminent specialists in mental health, which said they were of sound mind and ask them if it was a good idea to distribute a lot of guns to a volatile population; they would in all likelihood say 'no…bad idea' – and swiftly move on to the next subject. They might, as sensible people in full possession of their faculties, spend a few moments wondering who might think this was a good idea, but the whole notion is so preposterous that they would wrap it in several layers of common sense and consign it to the dustbin marked 'Barking mad'.Such complexities of reasoning and the application of simple logic are obviously not things that have troubled the minds of those who run NWFP. Their reasoning goes something like this…'Well chaps, looks like we have a bit of a problem here. Those Taliban chappies getting a bit out of hand of late. All sorts of grubby foreigners coming in here and stirring up trouble. Time we got rid of them. Tackled them head on. So what do we need to do? Any suggestions? Hmmmm….no. Pelting them with strawberry blancmange is possibly not what I had in mind. Any others? Ah…asking them to tootle off back from whence they came? Hmmm…not bad, but what if they have married local women, put down roots so to speak? Might not be too keen on going back to Loopystan or wherever it was they came from in the first place. No, my idea is that we form Village Defence Committees, properly mandated by elders, and issue guns – with the appropriate licenses of course – to men who we approve of. No guns for criminals or untrustworthy types. Men of doubtful character. Definitely not. Only guns for the good guys. Then we ask them to fight on our side against the baddies. See off these men who are causing trouble; these criminal elements and miscreants. If they don't, well we just take the guns back off them. Sorry…didn't quite understand the question…well we will just go around to their houses and say…errr…can we have our gun back. Please. What do you mean 'what if they won't give it back?' Of course they will give it back, these are honourable men. What's that you say? How will we regulate the weapons once issued? Ah…well, we will ask the holders of these rifles to be…errr…very very careful with them. Not lying about unattended, that sort of thing. Command structure? Yes, well we are working on the detail of that at this very moment. No, we have no plans to pay them; this is a form of community service. Hmmm…yes you do have a point there…engaging in community service does not usually mean that you get involved in full-blown firefights with the chaps down the road. Nor, as you point out, does it normally involve getting…errr…killed.That the government of NWFP has an immense problem on its hands is undeniable. Large parts of it are no longer under central or provincial government control. Security forces are fighting on several fronts and, thus far, not masking significant progress. An infant peace accord in Swat has yet to prove its durability. Does anybody seriously believe that injecting thirty thousand guns into this chaotic mess is really going to do anything other than add another layer of madness? We need fewer guns in fewer hands, not more. For all our sakes, think again. Please.
by Chris Cork The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan.

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