Sunday, 21 September 2008

bloodshed in pakistan

one of the best things about ramadan is the social aspect. people love to invite each other to break fast in the evening, and have dinner together. the result is that almost half the month is spent eating out, with a variety of cuisine from middle eastern to african to asian.

tonight, i was invited by a pakistani family, and many of the others present were pakistanis too. the food was, of course, delicious. but the atmosphere somewhat dimmed, what with the recent bombing of the mariott hotel in pakistan. the last i heard at 6pm on radio nz was that 52 had been killed, with still many missing.

pakistan has had a history of political turbulence and violence; indeed some of the worst violence in the indian sub-continent occurred at the time pakistan was formed. it was a process that tore the area apart, physically and emotionally. at the present time, it looks like the level of violence will be escalating, though nowhere near partition levels. one thing musharraf did have was the solid power of the army behind him, allowing him to keep a tighter control of the country. the lack of democracy also meant a tighter control on violence.

despite his control over the country, anger has continually been felt throughout the country at pakistan's support of american action in afghanistan. that anger is escalating as a result of american action, as was highlighted by gwynne dyer in a piece published 2 days before the attack:

The latest incident, just after midnight on a Monday morning, began when seven US helicopter gunships and two troop-carrying Chinook helicopters landed near the Pakistani border in the Afghan province of Pakhtia.

US troops got out and tried to cross the border into Pakistan, presumably in search of some "terrorist" target. According to local officials, Pakistani paramilitary troops manning a checkpoint fired into the air to warn off the Americans while local tribesmen took up defensive positions.

On this occasion, the US soldiers stopped. With nobody around to stop them, however, another American ground force attacked a target in Pakistan's South Waziristan province on September 4 and, according to local witnesses, killed about 20 people, including women and children.

The local witnesses may be exaggerating, but the fact American troops carried out an act of war on Pakistan's territory without informing Islamabad, is not disputed. And there have been other recent American attacks, involving missiles fired at suspected terrorist targets, in which innocent Pakistani civilians have unquestionably been killed.

the mariott hotel was a target because it's an international hotel chain which represents rich foreigners. but the bombers were uncaring of the fact that many of the victims are impoverished locals working as security guards and hospitality staff. not that a poor person's life is worth more than any other, but rather it brings home the brutality of this kind of attack, as well as that of the american attacks detailed by mr dyer. there is simply a lack of consideration for innocent civilians who will be caught in the crossfire.

my pakistani friends tell me that the "talibanisation" of pakistan is increasing, as is hatred of americans and their continued attacks on pakistani soil. mr zardari continues the alliance with america, as did his now-deceased wife benazir bhutto, so is very much a target. this latest attack was also a protest at his swearing-in, which happened a couple of days ago.

one wonders how the situation can be improved, but there is no quick answer. the level of simmering anger in that country is pretty high, as they bear the brunt of the war on terror on their home soil. unless there is a significant change of foreign policy in the US, i just don't see things getting any better.

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