Fear, power & people’s voice

Weekly Bang-e-sahar Saturday,April 5-11,2008
By Khadim Hussain

THE trail of events in the Pashtun belt from tribal Waziristan in the south to the Swat valley in northern NWFP has brought a cloud of fear and despair to the region. This has changed the entire sociocultural and ethno-tribal dynamics of society.In Swat and Waziristan, power has been transferred from the local elite to the Taliban and from the civilian administration to the military establishment. The writ of the state was probably the first casualty in the process. Most observers therefore believe that this marginalisation in the Pashtun belt is mainly responsible for strengthening militancy and militarism, which instil fear in the people and help the militants in their bid to fill the void left by the collapse of socio-economic and political institutions.The extremist movements in Swat since the 1990s have been strong in the area where the landed aristocracy has traditionally retained a firm hold. The people who joined the extremist movements of both Sufi Mohammad and Fazlullah were mostly those who belonged to landless families. The religious groups had always been considered inferior and were not allowed any say in the socio-political affairs of the area. Both movements gave the marginalised power and prestige and pushed the erstwhile Khans and traditional elders to the side, besides making the majority of the common population voiceless and powerless.Chomsky argues that “the resort to fear by systems of power to discipline the domestic population has left a long and terrible trail of bloodshed and suffering.” In his essay `A Resort to Fear’ he elaborates using the examples of Nazism in Germany. “The `ordinary’ folk were driven to fear of a Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy to take over the world, placing the very survival of the people of Germany at risk. Extreme measures were therefore necessary in `self-defence’.”We clearly find the same theories doing the rounds through the ideological drama being played in the Pashtun belt. George W. Bush declares war on those who are going to snatch `freedom, liberty and democracy’ from the American people while bin Laden and Mullah Umar (besides Fazlullah, Baitullah Mehsud and Faqir Mohammad) claim that the US is hatching a conspiracy with the rest of the `Christian world’ to annihilate Islam. In this case, militarism and militancy reinforce each other in a dialectical manner.The perpetuation of fear both by the systems of power and by militancy marginalise a whole community and culture, turning the majority of the population into `subalterns’, a term coined by the Italian intellectual Gramsci. Rob Burton, a professor at California State University, says: “Gramsci used the term both literally and metaphorically to describe those who had been marginalised, forgotten, overlooked or `othered’.” Burton further says that “The voices of resistance (of the subalterns) might be expressed through songs, films, murals, oral and written stories, letters, even community-based traditions such as dances or village gatherings.” Is this true in the case of those trapped in the fear created by militancy and militarism? Can the common people trapped in fear have the strength to express themselves?There has been a substantial collapse of the power of expression among the common people of Swat and Waziristan in recent months. Sociocultural gatherings in Swat since July 2007 have come to a halt. Even marriage ceremonies are held in a quiet manner. Music and other types of artistic expression have become a story of the past. It seems the people have become mute and are unable to express even an innocuous opinion. Those who could create space for such expression, like political parties and social organisations, have either closed down or abandoned their liberal and democratic stance. The individuals who used to give a voice to the people have been eliminated or forced to leave the area.The Pashtun intelligentsia is divided in deciphering the major causes of the trauma. One group of opinion-makers focuses only on a larger picture making the people believe that the war has been imposed by the US and other western powers, and thus cannot be reversed. The other group believes that the militants have appeared out of the blue and that the rebellion must be quelled with force. In both cases, the common people are left with no option and have to live in a dungeon of limitless fear.It has been observed that focusing on the larger picture of conflict has not been helpful in dissolving the immediate state of fear. The people must be able to assign themselves a role. Focusing on the larger picture only deprives them of this role. Instead of giving conspiracy theories more space to grow and engulf the whole population, a better option is to support the people to work for their collective survival by overcoming their fear of the unfamiliar. This can happen only when there are spaces for expression and communication. The intelligentsia must help the people rediscover their voice to play a decisive role in ending their suffering.Poets and writers represent another stratum of society that could give a voice to the people. We have yet to see any novel or short story in Pashto that gives expression to people’s feelings, though some very excellent poetry has been created by some very promising Pushto poets on the subject. English writers like Khaled Hosseni in his A Thousand Splendid Suns and Feryal Ali Gauhar in her No Space for Further Burials have given expression to the fear sown and grown in the minds of a whole generation trapped between militancy and militarism.Feryal Gauhar’s expression is more incisive and revealing in discovering the language of fear. “There are many languages here, and the only one I have managed to understand is the one which speaks of fear” as she put it. And what does this language look like? “As if the tongues of all the people here had been pulled out and chopped into pieces and scattered to the wind”. That is the way the language of fear works.The political parties, especially the secular, progressive and nationalist organisations, can and must play a very important role in creating spaces for the expression of the masses in areas like Swat and Waziristan. In the first place they can develop collective leadership to include those who have remained marginalised all these years. Secondly, the political parties can and must develop an agenda of the common people with their consultation. Thirdly, the political parities must help people gain access to spaces in which different interest groups from within and without can engage in a meaningful dialogue. Perhaps only this can bring an end to the era of fear and terror in the Pashtun belt.—Courtesy Dawn


One comment

  1. Warbucks

    There’s clearly an array of powers at work creating the case right now for a war on the Pashtun tribal regions. These things don’t just happen in a vacuum. Wars seem to start with the careful choreography of the news media. The war masters, the maestros, start feeding their lap dogs, the press. The music is then played by the press for the rest of us to hear.

    Notice how all the papers are beginning to play the same thing about the Afghan and Pakistan border? The theme of “lawless frontier” is being played every week. The sound drowns out the reality of a noble 5000 year old culture of some 42-million people.

    We hear instead about the vilified denizens of a “lawless tribal frontier.”

    What you missed it? Well, it’s only been playing for about two weeks. You need to tune in to the inside pages. The maestros have been composing for a while longer…. Their creative juices kicked in about the time Sen. Obama, answering one of those deadly sucker-punch sound bite questions showed us his war face telling us he would take action on “high-value terrorist targets” in Pakistan if President Pervez Musharraf “won’t act.

    That’s the sunshine it took to start the war-sap flowing. War-sap is sticky stuff, its residue has been known to encapsulate the creatures that get too near and preserve them there for posterity. There is a legal system in place of course, in this lawless frontier. It’s been there for 5000 years. The Pashtun call the system the jirga. But its not part of the sharia law, it’s unique to the Pashtun and precedes Islam by thousands of years. But we don’t sing about that just now.

    Please, I definitely don’t want the Pashtun to start signing their homeland song either. I don’t want to learn that an 1893 border line drawn with the blessing of Queen Victoria divided a group of mountain dwellers along the Afghan and Pakistan boarder in two.

    I thought mountain ridges where proper borders. Everybody uses them. I just can’t handle the sound of another this-a-stan or that-a-stan popping up. So please, I don’t want to know about a Pashtunistan. And I definitely have no interest in anything 5000 years old, if it means Obama can catch Osama on good intelligence, bring it on! That should be Commander Obama’s war face call: “Bring it on!” Hmmmm, that sounds familiar.

    What is this Pashtuni-whatever, Pashtunwahli, anyway?

    They openly express somewhat defiantly, total cultural independence and have seen conquering armies and powers come and go through the millennia. Probably because of their original geographic high mountain foothold they could stand off vast armies with terrain advantage. Well it’s about time maybe for all that to stop. And, how come they sound more like American cowboys than foreigners? Darn it, if we are going to start another little war, can’t we start it with some body that doesn’t live like my great, grandfather? The old Pashtun nationalist non-violent Kahn Abdul Gaffari Kahn 1930’s photo, even looks like grandpa!

    Setting aside the Pashtun mostly pray to the same God I do, grandpa did, and great grandpa too, how on earth did they adopt the same code as the old cowboy code of the west?

    According to “lawless frontier” musical score, the first impressions I hear is Pashtun love rifles, chewing green tobacco, and appreciate a good sense of humor. So what’s not to like? I can’t go to war on that.

    If I fell out of the sky and landed in a group of people like that, I’d get along just fine, especially if I were being chased by the law. What they call Nanawateh we call asylum. Nanawateh is extended even to an enemy, just like the Cowboy Code of the Old West. Except if you are granted asylum (called Lokhay Warkawal) by the Pashtun elders as a group you’re in like Flynn! They protect you even if it means forfeiting their own lives. Man that is lawless. Imagine a code of living where a principal was so honored, that it exceeded my duty to the state. Hmmm. Now that is lawless. Isn’t it?

    You know, if the Pashtun just hang in there with there non-violent thesis a few more generations, they’ll be the dominent culture of the entire region with the new awakening of intellectual prowess and coming Islamic Reformation which is beginning right now. Their hopes of control over their resources, a name for themselves, and an end to fundamentalist radical Islamic persecution will fade away and they will be the dominant culture. They would be wise to muster whatever assets are needed, magically go find Osama bin Laden and turn him over to the world court thus avoiding a coming war in the tribal area.

    Better to just seek hospitality, then they’ll treat you like a king, which makes me want to open a 5-Star hotel somewhere in the snowy peaks along the boarder if I can find a few acres for a ski-lift not planted in opium poppies, viewed on Google Earth satellite, not that anyone is actually checking the carefully cultivated fields above 6,000 feet along the borders. I would feel right at home there, not unlike parts of Tennessee or California.

    Look at the forces arrayed here. My little fantasy war is going to happen if the Pashtun don’t cough up bin Laden. The Democrats need to show they can be trusted with national defense again, be it Hillary or Obama. And McCain says fight to win.

    The second verse of the song is still being written: Floating the contingency balloon. Up, up, and awa-a-a-ay, in my beautiful ball-o-o-o-on….

    Obama or Hillary, or McCain get sworn in January 20, 2009. By mid June, whoever is President is going to make a push into the boarder regions the so-called “lawless frontier tribal zones” and “on good intelligence,” unless of course my leader does it first before June 20th. The operation will be Pakistan’s (well okay we’ll give them a few billion). It will be a fast coordinated air-ground attack with airborne US intelligence and lots of surrounding US air cover as a safety check to insure the operation stays within operational parameters. Pakistani’s will not go into Afghanistan and vice a versa. Meantime the Pakistan Navy will be backed up (some would say surrounded and outgunned) by the US Navy to keep a lid on the operation seeing to it they don’t launch an attack on India by Pakistan Islamic fundamentalist-leaning ground forces. We’ll hold India’s hand throughout the entire episode and offer security where needed.

    Up, up and awa-a-a-ay in my beautiful …. This thing’s going to happen regardless of who wins.

    You can’t deny the poetic justice in someone with a Muslim name (Obama) catching a renegade terrorist (Osama). Can you imagine the songs that we could write about that? To the tune of “Froggy went a courting.”

    Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, uh-huh,

    Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, uh-huh,

    Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, he hunt Osama on the Mount,

    Obama went a hunting and he did hunt, un-huh. …..

    The best time to wage this little war would be during the Chinese Olympics. China would likely remain quiet with their hands temporarily full with the Olympics.

    So my fantasy, glorious, contingency war needs to be brief, violent, and force the Pashtun jirga to rethink their long term cultural interests. It needs to end with Osama in a holding tank, brought up on charges in the world court.

    If it fails? Well what do you expect from the lawless tribal frontier area in Pakistan with questionable army allegiance? Corruption is everywhere.

    I’d still like to open a 5-star hotel with some good ski-runs. You don’t suppose the opium production their so good at, has anything to do with the foolishness of some of our drug laws? Nah.

    Victor Davis Hanson says you have to look at war with a long term perspective in order to understand its meaning. Long term is real long term. It may well turn out that while many say Bush’s legacy must be a failure, history may have a completely different take on things, long after both you and I and our great grand children have come and gone. It may turn out, that doomed legacy of a Bush Presidency we hear so often this campaign-cycle ends up being written 1000 years from now as the President who started Islamic Reformation and brought freedoms that enabled thinking people to ask questions about religious practices that eventually changed the world and started the east and the west talking again.

    The Ritz, I like that franchise, a 5-star Ritz, mini-conference center and 18-hole Tiger Woods certified golf course. A Pashtun bag-piper paying my old favorite, “The Ass in the Graveyard” with double malt scotch, in the bracing night air.



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