PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus

From Baghdad to Islamabad by peaceprobe
May 29, 2009, 10:14 pm
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, War and Poverty | Tags: ,

This morning I travelled to Rawalpindi, the partner city to Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, just to the North.  Near the city center we noted Liaquat National Bagh, the park where Benazir Bhutto the then leading candidate for Prime Minister was gunned down in Dec. 2007.  At the moment that I passed the Park with its history of blood, a massive explosion was occurring in Lahore several hours further south.  Lahore is the city of Punjabi arts, sometimes called the Garden of the Moghuls, the one time rulers of India.

Twenty-six people were reported killed in the May 28 Lahore blast that destroyed a police station and  a prominent office of the ISI Inter Services Intelligence,  Pakistan’s intelligence arm.  I didn’t
come to Pakistan to see  car bombs and frightened people.  I have seen enough of that in Baghdad.  The comparison is inescapable.

The signals remind all of us that it is worth a special effort to do the right thing if we can figure out what that right thing is.  Bombings like this send a charge of fear  through anyone in Pakistan.  The questions of who carried out these bombing, why, and how the perpetrators were recruited will linger despite the immediate official appraisal that this is the result of the attack to retake the Swat Valley during the recent weeks by Pakistani forces.

I am still very much in a listening mode here. Usually the forces of violence and reprisals are much more complicated than immediate evidence  might indicate.  Now with more than three million internally displaced people from the Swat operation and other fighting, there is a press for emergency relief.  Many seek refuge with relatives. Others occupy unused buildings.  An impressive public response has been mounted.  Yesterday a student  we have learned to know told us of the work of his extended family to provide emergency help to more than 500 families. Other groups who collect food and other essentials are springing up. We have been approached to help.

My mind has trouble staying only  in Islamabad.  I keep thinking of  Baghdad where two million grew to five million displaced people and more.  Many had to seek refuge outside the country in Syria and Jordan.  Many have still not returned.  In much of human history refugees were created by natural disasters.  In the advanced modern world refugees are created by war, sometimes called terror.

A group from the Swat Valley came to visit our team.  They were as full of questions as I am.  Why did police, and officials fail to resist when the Taliban first arrived.  Why did police protection melt? When the Taliban preached fairer policies for land,  people listened.  Why wasn’t something done?  Why were assassinations permitted.  Now millions of cattle are dead.  The crops due for harvest shortly will be wasted.  Property may be destroyed and the fabric of this once prosperous valley is in danger. Even if temporary security is restored the cycle will continue next year and the next, a local leader told us.

We came here to learn about the effects of the drones.  Wherever we go people can speak about them, probably more than citizens of the nations that produce them.  Now as the war approaches the population centres of Pakistan, the feeling of urgency for defence against the violence is mounting.  What was once outrage over drones is turning to an attitude that says, use anything to push back the violence.  Pakistan requested that drones be part of the military assistance package from the US.

This week is the twelfth anniversary of the development of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. There is a lot of popular pride here about this accomplishment.  People believe it has made Pakistan more secure. This date is not publicly celebrated or remembered like Hiroshima but many believe it has saved the nation.

The noble character of the people I meet here is not captured in the violent stories of this report. There are better angels and I am listening to their words too.


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