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Ostrich Nation: The Pakistan report card

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Fasi Zaka

The ostrich is an awkward bird. It has a massive body, powerful legs to run away when it feels danger and a small brain for its size. When it feels fear, it sticks its head in the sand hoping threats will magically go away. Maybe the ostrich is related to the Pakistani government somehow?

We have ostriches in mosques and chowks. When Lal Masjid was emerging as a problem the government did nothing, it let it escalate to the point that a violent showdown was inevitable. The same is true of Swat and its khooni chowk. Pakistan may not be a failed country, but it definitely is always in a belated state. The real threat to this country is the inability of the government to establish law and order beyond the remit of individual isolated cases. If the challenge to the writ of the government is organized, it cocoons itself until there is no choice but to act.

Be it Musharraf or Zardari, Swat is as much a victim of the Taliban as it is of apathy. The problem was clear years ago but the stomach to fight was wanting. Fear of action was so prevalent that the assembly happily passed resolutions into the hands of the Taliban, and that too under threat. No voices calling for sanity were there to be heard, on that day the shame was on the parliamentarians who let it be known whose interest they truly had in their hearts.

The soldiers and civilians dying today could have lived their natural lives if only we had chosen to act, and avoided romanticizing the Taliban. They became the vultures who created carrion to feed on it, they poisoned the waters of our religion and culture to breed.

The Imran Khans and Ansar Abbasis of this world say they wanted to make peace with the Taliban. They say this while their children have the benefit of the best of what Pakistan has to offer for their children here and abroad. When they say they want to make peace, what they are really saying is that they want the people of Swat to make peace with their lot in life of beheadings, fear, a lack of education and being robbed of their dignity. For a while it seemed that the only party in the country who had gotten it right was the MQM in raising the alarm over the creeping Talibanization from the fixed trouble spots in the country. Unfortunately when the time came to put their money where their mouth was, they too demonstrated a sharp lack of vision by demanding an unconstitutional ban on movement of the refugees, inflaming ethnic tensions. Since we are speaking of avian species anyway, the MQM ought to know that birds nurture and protect their young, and in some cases even raise them even if the eggs are of a different species of bird.

At least now, when it is clear beyond any reasonable doubt that the Taliban cannot be negotiated with, the media commentators need to be responsible and no longer push their erroneous Islamic revivalism on the backs of terrorists. The unfortunate young army men are in an unenviable position where they are fighting a war they didn’t sign up for.

Despite the major issue of the refugees that we seem woefully unprepared for, there is one part of the dialogue that has not been aggressively pursued. Like the US with Afghanistan and Iraq, we cannot cut and run. Whenever this army operation is over, life will not normalize. In fact if anything, it shall remain traumatized. The army may have to prepare to stay for a while in these areas in a civil-military dictatorship to ensure the complete flushing out of the Taliban and to resume all essential services. Otherwise this will be just a longer-run short-term solution if the operation is cut completely.

I mentioned the famous characteristic of the ostrich in the beginning of this article about putting its head in the sand when it feels threatened. Actually that’s just a myth. The ostrich does put its head in the sand, but only to check on the eggs buried in it, before it runs to drive predators behind it to protect its young. This selflessness is where the government and the ostrich differ.

The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic. Email: fasizaka@

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