Nov 6, 2009

Where is the government?

By Dr Masooda Bano

The magnitude of the tragedies resulting from the current round of suicide bombings in Pakistan is unprecedented. The recent attack in Peshawar, which has resulted in death of over 110 people, was one of the very cruel attacks. It targeted a shopping area, which, as a routine, is full of women and children and they indeed ended up being the main victims. In addition to those dead, there were the injured and worst still those who had gone missing, whose families can't even locate their bodies leaving them in agony to wonder whether the missing children have been killed or simply kidnapped during this chaos. This is horrible. The agony-stricken faces of the family members of the victims looking for bodies, as captured by the media, have been most disturbing. Yet, the brutal continuity of these attacks and their growing intensity fails to trigger any change in the working of the government.

It is business as usual with the president, the prime minister and members of the parliament. Though the elected representatives of the people, the holders of these offices don't even feel the need to face the public or hold a special address apologising to the masses for this complete break-down of law and order across the country. There is simply no willingness to take any responsibility that comes with the holding of these offices. This is not just true for those holding the ministerial and senior positions but also for ordinary members of the parliament. The apathy of the members of the parliament, the ministers and top leadership is shocking. People are dying every day in violent attacks and these representatives don't even make the effort to visit the scene of crime, talk to the victims or meet their family members.

There are two distinct issues here. The first is the government's complete failure to check growing violence in the country. Not only is the government militarist strategy repeatedly failing to check the so-called Talibans, worst still is the fact that we are no better informed today than at the time of the formation of this government (for example, who are these Taliban, who is arming and funding them etc). We are repeatedly going in circles not even sure of nationalists, sometimes attributing all blame to the foreign Taliban and sometime on the so-called Pakistani ones. The government has provided the public no convincing evidence to illustrate that it actually is making progress in understanding who the real enemy is.

This is a huge failure, especially after the intensive military operations approved by this government. The top militant leaders might escape in these attacks but the military operations should have definitely led to capture of some of these Taliban and the reclaiming of the Taliban-controlled areas must have led to confiscation of their belongings that can help reveal their background and their motives. Yet, the success of these forces to continue to carry out such deadly suicide attacks on a daily basis shows that the government has made no progress at all in this regard.

While the failure of the government is now a regular feature of public debate, the less addressed but equally worrying issue is the callousness of the elected representatives to reach out to the victims of these attacks and to make an effort to go out and understand what is happening. All they seem to be capable of is sitting comfortably in the parliament, very few of these elected representatives had the guts to venture out to Swat when it was apparently under the Taliban hold; even fewer have contemplated visits to tribal belts and there aren't many physically moving around in the areas after an attack to assess the scene of the crime. How many of the female parliamentarians sitting on reserved seats and drawing parliamentary salaries and benefits from national exchequer have been out to help the families that have lost their mothers, sisters, daughters in the attack in Peshawar?

This apathy of the elected members towards the lives of the ordinary people is unacceptable by any standard. The government's unstated policy now is that Pakistanis must consider these attacks as a given and live with them. But the public should not tolerant this callous behaviour. There should be more calls on the elected representatives to actually visit the areas in which military operations are carried out and also the areas where the attacks take place. Spending time at these places and engaging with the communities will give these representatives a much better understanding of the forces out to destabilise Pakistan than shuttling in their protected cars between parliament and television talk shows.

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