PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus


Terror by peaceprobe
June 11, 2009, 8:28 am
Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan

I began planning this trip to Pakistan six months ago. Now I wish I had found a way to come before the new wave of violence swept over the entire country and I was unable to travel to Peshawar, the center of the Northwest. Although  only the news of major bombings reach the vast lowland Punjabi plains or the international world, there are incidents every day including roadside bombings, a tactic developed and refined in Iraq. Reports of beheadings, beatings and other inquisition like moments of horror encroach upon people here day here.

Two days ago we debated travel to Peshawar. I felt the signals of caution and did not press to go to that troubled city that day.  The car in which I may have travelled to Peshawar passed an exploded roadside bomb just as the victims who were still alive were pulled from the debris and carried by emergency vehicles to Peshawar hospitals.  The matter of road safety is one of several problems. Getting about Peshawar without attracting negative attention to the people I might visit is a serious concern. These trips combine judgements of ethics and safety for myself and others.

The power of bombs and bullets in the social forces of terror are complemented by agents of information and fear.  After we visit people, they may in turn be visited by the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI). This has happened several times. In one case the driver who shuttled my colleagues from place to place had his car impounded. Another family we talked with was visited and called for questioning five times. Still another person who helped facilitate several contacts was approached for a comprehensive schedule of our time.  “Yes, that is the way it is here, for us. Why do they treat you and us like the enemy? Why don`t they collect real intelligence on the real enemy?”� said a Pakistani friend who has many experiences with ISI visitors and prison.

 Yesterday we deliberated again about a journey to Peshawar.  At 10:30 yesterday evening the five star hotel in Peshawar, the Pearl Continental, was bombed with a 500 pound truck bomb. Seventeen were killed. I would not have been staying at the five star Hotel but today Peshawar’s streets are hushed in silence.

Like their brothers and sisters in Afghanistan and the border area living under cobra helicopter attacks, drone missiles and ground attacks from big armies, people in Pakistan ask, “Who would do such a thing as this?”  By the time the stories of death reach the cities further from the Northwest , often transmitted by word of mouth, they are embellished with every conceivable explanation of conspiracy and betrayal which includes Indian, CIA, Israeli, Chinese or  some other foreign power’s intention and manipulation of Pakistan.

Terror is real for people here living under the most modern of warfare – hellfire missiles shot from a safe place high in the sky by way of  unmanned drones and directed from computer panels thousands of miles away.   Missiles from drones are answered by Taliban from truck, car and roadside explosive devices. Taliban are not always considered an enemy, especially in remote villages.   But after  attacks, whether foreign designed missile attacks from the air or locally designed car bombs from the ground,  local people bury the dead, mourn, and internalize the trauma from wherever the violence comes. 

Tactical experts on both sides, Taliban and advanced militaries, believe that their weapons advance a just cause. Neither will willingly submit to international standards of a just war that puts limits on them.  Both seek revenge, the US for 9/11, the Taliban for being violated by foreigners. Who is the worst terrorist?  Is either one a terrorist?  It is a debate question that could mask pre rational cultural ways deeply internalized whether in the US or among the Taliban.

A few days ago, we met a distinguished Pakistani leader whose lifetime spans the life of the nation all the way back to before the pre partition struggle with the British which ended in 1947. We briefly introduced ourselves as nonviolent workers.  There was no immediate response. Only silence for what seemed like an age. And then he spoke, “You can not help it. You must do what you are doing.”� His words pointed towards our common calling.  That sacred moment of blessing could not be interrupted with any words.  We sat in silence and we contemplated our commitments to live a life of overcoming violence.

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