Apr 282008

If militants in South Waziristan are seriously to end their violence, they must get something of a ‘feeling’ for the enemies they previously considered faceless and without minds
As I write, I can hardly hear myself think. A storm is rattling all around me; and because I have chosen to bring my computer out onto the darkening terrace — and sit writing in the rain to better marvel at the thick chaos of the air, the sweeping and swooning of the angry trees, the thunder, and the blur of the rain on my screen may be impeding my intellect slightly.

The storm matches my mood over the last few days. I have been unusually nasty to a wide variety of people. I cannot really feel justified in blaming the heat — although that’s probably part of the truth — but the only other reason I can think of is that I am expecting people to try to fleece me. In Pakistan, I am a celebrity and a curiosity; yet anyone who approaches me for what they probably think is a friendly chat or an offer of help to a farangi has been met this week with frostiness at best, and on occasion actual screaming.

Why it has been this week particularly that the population of Lahore has chosen to show me exactly how much it loves foreigners, I don’t know. I have been offered lifts by men in flashy cars, couples in homely minivans, men on bicycles; I have had women enquire from a distance two inches, “Hello. How are you?” and then engage me in ten minutes of conversation which I try desperately not to have, about my job, where I live, if I am Christian (the answer is too complicated for my Urdu or, indeed, my English), and my husband’s name.

Now, I understand that concepts of privacy are different in different cultures, and that I am especially interesting in a country where, still, relatively few foreigners wander around non-touristy areas looking like they know what’s what. But I can’t get over my annoyance, especially when, having discovered that I live here, work here, and am not a tourist, rickshaw drivers still attempt to charge me double.

I have been trying, unsuccessfully it has to be said, to get into the minds of my molesters. Is it naivety and simple curiosity? This seems patronising. A sense of hospitality that means they must offer help and friendship to the foreigner? The abrupt termination of many conversations when the initiator sees fit would suggest not. Am I really so ‘other’ that my clear unwillingness to talk is not noticed, that I am not attributed an opinion of my own? Best not think too hard along such lines.

Honestly, I’m no closer to an answer to this. But in considering it a crash course in ‘trying to get into other people’s minds’, I’m realising how hard this is to do so. When one has been brought up with certain attitudes, how difficult it is to really feel something totally different. Baitullah Mehsud, for a start.

Now I know he has not been an America-hater all his career, that the Americans were in many ways responsible for his movement in the first place — but many of the young men who make up his forces must be finding it odd to suddenly be ordered to hold back their righteous jihad against the Government of Pakistan and the nasty Americans who have recently graduated to bombing their villages from across the Afghan border.

I read somewhere recently that the British government currently traces the origins of 70 percent of the terrorist plots it considers serious threats to the highlands of the NWFP, FATA etc; thousands of young people who have been very effectively convinced that the world is against them, only to find that they must now accommodate. If I can’t make the mental shift away from dividing people into acquaintances, whom I speak to, and the general public whom I ignore and who ignore me, how can they break down the mental division between ‘us’ and ‘the enemy’?

Mehsud may have his political reasons for his order — who knows, he may even be genuinely trying to end the conflict — but somehow I do not think that that order will extinguish violence. A group of very sure young men have become a group of very confused young men. I can’t work out which is worse.

Not that I’m criticising the order itself, of course. But some work by the government to pick up the pieces is necessary, and in all probability this will be forgotten among the high-level meetings, pompous negotiations and camera-flash grins if all goes according to plan.

As I stood in the rain and bluff half an hour ago, and almost laughed in appreciation when I shivered — something I don’t seriously expect to do again until November — I caught a small ‘feeling’ for this country that I am trying so unsuccessfully to understand. Rain is sacred and great; sun is bad and enforces a slow, relaxed attitude to all tasks. If militants in South Waziristan are seriously to end their violence, they must get something of a ‘feeling’ for the enemies they previously considered faceless and without minds.

And, of course, this is where education comes in — rehabilitation, if you want, but also getting to children before they become soldiers. When it is said that good teaching opens the mind, this is what that means for Pakistan.

The writer is a Daily Times staff member

Courtesy: Daily Times

 Posted by at 7:24 am

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