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Pakistan’s Dirty Laundry

My following article, “Pakistan’s dirty laundry” was published in Online Opinion – Australia’s leading journal for social and political debate. It also made an appearance at a lovely little place called Window Dresser’s Arms, Pig & Whistle

The ongoing war with the Taliban has nothing to do with freedom and democracy: it is a distraction. Look beyond the curtain and you will find a lot of dirty laundry.

The war for civilisation, the war on terror, the war for oil, natural resources, control, freedom, whatever you want to call it, it is here and it has made itself quite comfortable in the minds, media and lounge rooms of the world.

Pakistan is now public enemy number one and the US are making no attempts at hiding the fact that they want to bring this nuclear armed Islamic Republic to its knees. The war with the belligerent Taliban has become a joke, a proxy, and a distraction. And of course, as always, it is the innocent civilians caught, quite literally, in the crossfire who suffer most.

Thanks to US pressure, and the basic ultimatum of “either you fix the problem, or we’ll do it for you – Iraq style,” more than two million people are now refugees, baking in the oppressive summer heat in makeshift camps. With no proper amenities, little to no medical services and living in appalling conditions, it won’t take long before serious disease and sickness sets in. Not such happy campers.

So what exactly is this indigenous Pakistani Taliban that we are so obsessed about? The reality is they are nothing more than an excuse, used by both East and West to justify more violence. Sure they have committed some heinous and barbaric crimes, but at this point in “the war” they are now seen as means to an end. Nothing more than pawns in a larger chess match for control.

“We are not fanatics! We want what everyone wants. We want to be able to live our lives in peace!” said Omar, a local Pathan businessman, as we sit in his office in the heart of Peshawar.

“The Americans continuously terrorise us with their constant drone attacks in the tribal agencies, the Taliban don’t make it any easier for us to live in peace and the media portray us all as terrorists! We are not terrorists!” he said with frustrated passion.

Another man then spoke up, telling me in broken English that most of what the West see are the actions of common criminals: “most of these men are not even Taliban,” he said, “they are criminals and miscreants who are bought by external agencies like the CIA and India’s RAW agents to further destabilise Pakistan”.

Later that evening Omar kindly offered to take me into the centre of the Swat Valley, a Taliban stronghold. I assured him that my fair Aussie complexion and somewhat pathetic excuse for a beard was no match for the trained eyes of Taliban spies.

“I like my head firmly attached to my body” I said jokingly. He laughed, “You will be perfectly safe when you’re with me. You don’t have to worry about security, this is our insurance plan” he said, handing me his Kalashnikov. “I drive into some very remote parts of the tribal belt and sometimes into Afghanistan as part of my job, so I need this (weapon) for my protection,” he explained.

Later we heard a huge explosion as we sat drinking sweet buffalo milk tea – a music shop had been blown up, it was just up the road from his office – the media reported it the next day as an act of terrorism and, of course, the Taliban were responsible. But Omar believed it was nothing more than the jealousy of a competitor who wanted to generate more business for himself. Who needs an expensive media campaign when all you need to do is blow up the competition and blame it on the Taliban?

So the Taliban have become scapegoats. One such incident came as no surprise as only a few days ago a friend told me about a mulvi (religious leader) from his village, who had been discovered as a Hindu agent working for India. The man had been posing as a religious leader; he taught Islamic scripture and led the prayers in the local mosque; but it wasn’t until the inquisitive minds of the local children began to probe that his elaborate ruse became undone.

They saw him dancing and listening to pop music in the mosque. On telling their parents they were quickly scolded and called liars, but as time passed and the so called mulvi began asking for food enough for 20-plus men each night, the villagers became suspicious.

When asked who the food was for he would reply “guests” but no one was seen entering or leaving the mosque, until one morning the villagers found a group of Taliban fighters’ asleep inside. So again, it begs the question: who are the indigenous Taliban if some of them are not even Pakistani? These faux Taliban fighters’ are an excuse; they are the perfect playing field for the political motives of external agencies bent on further destabilising an already unstable country.

(Cultural note to self: When posing as a religious leader in a village in Pakistan do not be so stupid as to have a Bollywood dance-off in the mosque!)

So why destabilise this third world country? What does it have that the rest of the world so desperately craves? It sure isn’t its open sewers and copious piles of garbage. You don’t think it has something to do with Pakistan being the geographic doorway to Asia and the Middle East do you? Unlike Iraq, Pakistan has nukes. Unlike Afghanistan it has Osama bin Laden. And of course, it has an oil and gas route that the US wants for its Trans-Afghan pipeline. Did I mention the nukes? Lucky Pakistan.

If left to its own devices Pakistan has the potential to become a very powerful and prosperous country. Agriculture would blossom in its extremely fertile soil; it has its own oil reserves, nuclear capabilities, strategic trade routes, and natural resources galore. But who are we kidding? The first world lives on the back of the third world. They carry us. Perish the thought of living in a world without sweatshops and soccer balls, fake Reeboks, child labour and bootleg DVDs. Without the third world we would have no first world.

To make matters worse, there are also whispers for the need to break Pakistan up into smaller nation states. If you take away the sovereignty of a country and it makes it a lot easier to control.

A good friend of mine recently had a gun held to his head and was robbed of all his personal possessions in Lahore, one of Pakistan’s major cities. A senior government official later told me that “when the crime rate dramatically increases in certain areas, it is usually a sign that the Taliban are on the move … They send out gangs of thieves to steal what they can as a means of funding their operations.”

Just like my friend in Lahore, Pakistan also regularly falls victim to the rule of the gun. But you have to ask yourself; what is the difference between a military dictatorship which oppresses its citizens and rapes the country via greed, power and fear, to that of another militant force that comes under the guise of religion? Both regimes share fundamentally flawed objectives. Pakistan cannot afford either if it wants to survive.

The sad reality now is that democracy has become a beggar in Pakistan: it lives, starving, in the minds of many while greed and corruption remain fat and opulent. The fanatical religious factions and corrupt politicians, who routinely bend to the will of external influence, are dividing the country and tearing shreds off any hope of Pakistan moving forwards.

Keep an entire country occupied with an internal threat and you’re well on your way to imposing pseudo democracy. Or maybe with President Zardari’s track record he has better credentials as a dictator. Either way, fear is a great medium for control.

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