Taj M Khattak
Monday, March 21, 2011
On a cold January morning nearly forty years ago, when I was a PoW, I found myself pushed into an Indian interrogation cell for some softening up. Forced to strip and subjected to incessant baton blows, I soon ended up in a corner and on the ground, shivering with cold. When my humiliation was complete, I experienced a feeling which can be best expressed by what Mao Zedong once said: Strongest is the man who has nothing more to lose.
I got straight up and shouted some full-throated invectives at my tormentor. Soon the burly man backed off, noticing that his baton wasn’t inflicting the same physical pain any longer. My shouting at least got me back my clothes, even though my dignity wasn’t restored; not in terms of my mistreatment, that is.
The relatives of the two men shot dead by Raymond Davis in Lahore may have received some compensation for the loss of their loved ones. But for the rest of us Pakistanis, getting their self-esteem and dignity back will take much longer, if we get it at all. The fact that the government, the opposition, the military establishment and the judiciary, all have contributed to the release of Raymond Davis is the biggest disappointment.
Davis’s release was in sharp contrast to what happened to Mir Aimal Kasi, who was accused of shooting down two CIA men outside their Langley Headquarters in Virginia in 1993. Davis and Kasi were accused of the same crime: murder. In the American’s case sham legalities and fake diplomatic immunity came into play to win him freedom. If there were such a thing as justice in the world, Davis would have met the same fate which Kasi did. Either both would have been executed, or both freed. But Davis went scot-free, by paying for his release and flown out of the country in which he had committed the crime. Kasi – betrayed by the rulers, some even receiving head money-was abducted from his own country back to the United States to be executed.
While Davis may still have been in neighbouring Afghanistan, our “strategic partners” in their endless “war on terror” killed another 41 Pakistanis in a jirga in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in a drone attack on Thursday. Such gatherings have been subjected to suicide bombings in the past, but now lives are in constant danger from drone attacks as well. These people are not safe at any given time and anywhere in their own country today, and that is a sobering thought. How are they expected to react, or what they should logically be doing in such a situation, is a question the think tanks in Washington need to address with some urgency.
The routine, non-serious messages of sympathy from the Presidency and the Prime Minister’s Secretariat in Islamabad should cease, especially since the attitudes of the occupants of these two high offices towards drone attack victims are now well known, attitudes which can only make Pakistanis hang their heads in shame. The real message from ordinary Pakistanis to the occupants of these exalted offices should be that if you cannot protect your own citizens as your first duty, at least please refrain from rubbing salt into their wounds.
The drone attack was criticised in strong words by the chief of the army staff, but this should have been done when the first drone attack took place under his watch. Those who died in the latest raids were as innocent as most of those 1,700 Pakistanis who have perished in these attacks so far. The ISPR release was therefore too little, too late. Coming in the wake of the release of Raymond Davis, in which the military establishment reportedly played an important role, this condemnation rang with the same hollowness as the words from the Presidency and the Prime Minister’s Secretariat.
In April 2010, the chief of the PAF visited the Combined Air and Space Centre of the US Air Force in Southwest Asia. His host, Lt Gen Mike Hostage, later called it an opportunity for the chief of the air staff to meet the “terrific” US airmen, some of whom obviously used their childhood skills in video games to good effect on Predators and Reapers now raining hell on defenceless Pakistanis.
These “terrific” airmen have the blood of innocent Pakistanis on their hands, and shaking their hands can only mean condoning their crimes. If the guardians of our airspace cannot protect their fellow Pakistanis from drone attacks, the least they can do in dignified protest is to keep away from visiting such Command Centres.
One’s heart goes out to the people of Khyber-Pakhtukhwa, who are routinely battered by suicide bombers on the ground and by drones from the air. They cannot even assemble to resolve their disputes in accordance with their age-old customs and traditions, as were the unfortunate participants of Thursday’s jirga. The legality of these attacks has been questioned by UN human rights investigators. But beyond questioning the legality, the United Nations has done little to stop this carnage.
It is said that during World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill were looking for a name for the newly formed world body to replace the League of Nations. After hitting upon the present name for the world body early one morning, FDR, paralysed by polio from the waist down, excitedly wheeled to Churchill’s room and knocked. He pushed the door open when there was no response.
There he found Britain’s prime minister drying himself after a shower, without a stitch on. Roosevelt announced the words “United Nations” and Churchill reportedly responded, “That is it.” The United Nations was born that moment, but ever since then it remains a paralysed organisation helpless in the face of naked injustices.
Karim Khan, the Islamabad-based journalist from Machikhel village in North Waziristan, has started the initiative of filing a class action suit in a US court against Defence Secretary Robert Gates, CIA director Leon Panetta and the CIA’s former Islamabad station chief, Jonathan Banks. The action has already forced Mr Banks to leave Pakistan. It is believed that more families want to follow Mr Karim’s example, not so much in the hope of winning lawsuits but to gain international publicity for this illegal employment of the CIA by the US administration to kill innocents in other countries.
Karim Khan and others need to be helped to appeal to the sensitivities of the American people whose conscience hopefully is not as dead as their government’s. Our rulers have disappointed us completely and there is hopelessness all around. Organisers of civil society protests on Constitutional Avenue in Islamabad should seriously consider collaboration with Karim Khan and others for action in US courts.
As for my grilling four decades ago, after I was back from the interrogation centre that evening I entered in my small diary a sentence which I had read in Leonid Brezhnev’s biography. Then a colonel in the Soviet Red Army and holed up in his bunker which was pounded relentlessly by German artillery, he vowed that if ever he got a chance to plan the defences of his fatherland, he would never let this happen again. Brezhnev went on to become president of the USSR and the Soviet Union’s defences were at their peak during his rule. Of course, I cannot follow through on what was said in those borrowed lines.
But others can. From now on, we Pakistanis should seriously start thinking in terms of exercising our options – through actions, not merely through protests.