Feisal Naqvi

Lying to ourselves: a response

In Uncategorized on December 26, 2012 at 7:58 am

My previous article, “There will be blood” has been politely, but firmly, criticized in a post titled “Lying to ourselves.” That post , in brief, says the following:

–        My column was excessively emotional

–        The belief that we are not “fighting back” is a “myth of Mayan proportions”; belief in that myth shows that I am living in a bubble which has little to do with reality.

–         The 20,000 number killed by me is incorrect.

–        The media is deliberately silent when it comes to collateral damage from military operations

–        We are becoming as brutalized as the people we are supposedly fighting.

Let me try to respond to these criticisms one by one.

First, the figures I had cited are admittedly disputable. I concede that a safer estimate of the number of people killed by the TTP is 10,000.

Second, I don’t have a problem with the post being emotional. I am privileged enough to be granted a bully pulpit for saying what I want to say. My interest as a columnist is in communicating and reaching out to people, not in writing a legal brief. I’m not saying that I fake the emotion; just that I don’t see any reason to hide it if that is actually what I am feeling. The more important question is whether my emotion is leading me to faulty conclusions. In this case, I don’t think it did.

Third, I think the author of the post wrongly conflates my point with that of a different author. I am well aware of the fact that there is an armed conflict going on in the tribal areas. My point is that this conflict is not reflected in our social attitudes towards that conflict and especially the TTP. In fact, the precise question I had raised was “What does it take for a society to be sickened by its own behaviour and to change its attitudes?”

The specific point that I am referring to is the fact that our predominant social response to the war with the TTP is to deny that there is a war going on or even that the TTP is trying to wage war on the state. Instead, we blame anybody but the TTP for the atrocities which happen on a daily basis. Just today, Qazi Hussain Ahmed has suggested that the TTP should be allowed to open an office in Pakistan. What we see instead of public uproar is a slow legitimization of the TTP as being just aggrieved – whether because they want to bring Islam to us heathens or because they are disturbed by drone strikes. I think the TTP are terrorists, plain and simple. Let them first be prevented from killing my fellow Pakistanis and I will then worry about their grievances. I have no obligation to be sympathetic to murderers.

The author of the post may well have a legitimate point that our military response is wrong. I respect that view even as I disagree with it. However, my point is simpler. We cannot fight a war against an enemy while simultaneously refusing to condemn that enemy. The TTP does us no favours of that sort. And our confusion only makes it easier for them to operate.

So far as silence regarding collateral damage is concerned, my point is that I simply do not have access to what happens there. As cynical as it may seem, out of sight is out of mind. The TTP’s victims, on the other hand, die in plain view on my television screen every night. Does that mean that collateral damage is acceptable?  Obviously not. But at the same time, there is a fundamental difference between TTP strikes and a military response.  The TTP is deliberately targeting civilians. The Pakistani Army is not deliberately targeting civilians but cannot strike back without also killing innocents. If you do not accept the death of innocents as an inevitable consequence of war then the only other option is for the Pakistan Army to surrender rather than kill a single innocent. And while I detest and condemn the death of innocents, surrender to the TTP is not something I want to see.

The final point, regarding our national brutalization, is partly valid. To begin with, it misreads my point. What I was trying to say was that the judgment of history on our rulers would be terrible – not that I would like Zardari’s bones to be disinterred and strung up. At the same time, I can see how people could have misread my column that way and perhaps I am now getting too cute with a post-facto rationalization. On that point, we’ll have to let the readership decide.

Once again, I am grateful to the author of the post for his comments and his courtesy.


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