By Nadeem F. Paracha
A couple of questions, gentlemen: If US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas whip up an enraged sense of revenge among the area’s Pashtun populace, what do terrorist attacks by the extremists create?
On TV talk shows one often hears anchors and politicians bemoaning how drone strikes that (along with the militants) also kill innocent people, are creating angry Pashtuns who then go on to become extremists because taking revenge is a cherished Pashtun custom.
But what about the hundreds of Pashtuns who have been slaughtered by the extremists in mosques, shrines, markets, political rallies and sometimes even outside their own homes?
If collateral damage from a drone strike takes out the family of an honourable Pashtun in the tribal area and he then takes up arms, or decides to wrap his waist with a suicide vest, then what does that Pashtun who lost a loved one in a terrorist attack from an angry extremist do?
Does he pick up a gun or wear a suicide belt as well to take revenge from those who killed his loved ones?
Or are just those Pashtuns who have become terrorists (due to drone strikes) the only real Pashtuns who follow real Pashtun traditions, while those who died or lost friends and family members in extremist attacks, fake Pashtuns?
So, once again, let me try to understand this. Pashtuns who lost loved ones in US drone strikes become extremists. They then go on to kill those they blame of siding with the US because seeking revenge becomes their traditional and customary duty.
But if taking revenge is such a Pashtun tradition, who do those Pashtuns whose loved ones were blown up, shot or beheaded by the revenge-seeking extremists, take revenge from?
Sorry for going round and round here, but think about it. Aren’t we continuing to offer a rather simplistic explanation fattened with the over-exaggeration of certain Pashtun traditions and myths in trying to figure out what makes a Pashtun man kill in the name of revenge and religion?
Drone, Pashtun tradition, revenge are words that are spouted out whenever our knees go on a collective jerking spree.
So, extremists become extremists because of drone strikes. Their violence is their revenge against the state, government and the people of Pakistan who supposedly allow these strikes to take place.
But, it’s back to the same question: If US drone strikes create extremists, what do extremist strikes create? Also, if drone strikes are creating violent religious extremism, what are extremist attacks creating?
Do extremist attacks create enraged atheists who move out to slaughter, torture or behead religious extremists? Do they create Muslims who toss away their faith and become peace-loving Buddhist monks?
No. What both drone strikes as well as those by extremists are creating is an ever-expanding narrative that eschews complexities and embraces one-dimensional, black and white simplicities: Pashtuns are an honourable but vengeful race so extremist violence will vanish once the drone strikes end and the US pulls out of Afghanistan.
I sincerely hope so. But, of course, as the few realists left in this country in this context would tell you, the mentioned narrative is simplistic hogwash, if not entirely to do with apologists who still believe that extremist violence is some kind of an anti-US and ‘anti-imperialistic’ statement.
Yes, negotiations can take place with angry men hurt by the slights of a superpower or the state. But can they take place against sheer criminality?
The realists suggest that what may have begun as an angry ideological reaction to American military action in Afghanistan more than a decade ago, has mutated into becoming a thorny network of brutal criminality that, apart from the usual attacks on mosques, Sufi shrines, schools, political rallies and in markets, now also include kidnapping for ransom, extortion, smuggling, bank robberies, et al.
So, if drone strikes turn peace-loving men into violent extremists, do terror attacks by these extremists turn bad Pakistani Muslims into good ones?
One has to be extremely cautious in taking a position on the drones’ issue. For years now, all kinds of surveys and reports have been waved, pointed at and talked about.
Some reports talk of the widespread collateral damage that drone strikes generate, whereas there are some equally detailed reports claiming that the collateral damage is minimal and drones almost always hit their target, taking out dangerous militants hiding in places where the Pakistani authorities cannot, or even fear to trade.
The truth however lies somewhere in the middle of these two positions. It has to because not even the finest researchers and media personnel have ever been able to visit and closely analyse the on-ground situation in areas where drones hover over and then strike.
Blindly condoning drone strikes is as mindless an act as is the blind condemnation of these strikes.
The truth behind what really takes place due to the strikes is still very much with the Pakistani armed forces that are fighting a brutal war in Pakistan’s rugged tribal areas.
Because by the looks of it, I am quite convinced (and disturbingly so), that neither Pakistan’s news media nor even its top politicians really have a clue about this. They’re simply mouthing off a simplistic narrative.
Thus, it has now become imperative for the armed forces to truthfully brief the country’s civilian leadership on the issue.
It will then become equally binding on the civilian leadership to share with the Pakistani people the truth in this matter, instead of muddling it just because it might contradict the popular narrative that many politicians and media personnel have been advocating.
Yes, the truth hurts. But the damage caused by a lie has a deeper, more lasting impact.