Khalifas from the hills

Feisal’s column

People who oppose the ongoing operation in Swat normally make two types of arguments.

The first argument is practical, that military force should only be utilised as a last resort and that this is not the time.

The second argument is philosophical. As one news anchor put it to me, how can we oppose the imposition of sharia law in Swat when Jinnah founded Pakistan in the name of Islam?

The essence of the first argument is that using the army to crush militants is the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. So while it may be effective, military action also comes with a massive cost. Innocent people get killed, families get displaced and entire towns get destroyed.

The answer to this argument is provided, however, by the military action itself. Operation Rah-e-Rast has been underway for almost four weeks. Sixty soldiers have died in the fighting while, according to ISPR, more than 1,100 militants have been killed. And yet, the operation is far from over. As I write these words, soldiers of the Pakistan Army are going door to door in Mingora, trying to blast out the militants who have been using 20,000 Swatis as human shields. And as for the financial cost, who knows?

The ongoing military operation is therefore self-evidently not excessive. Had that been the case, the operation would already have been over.

Opponents of military action can respond in one of three ways. The first is to argue that the army is incompetent. The second is to argue that the entire operation is a sham, the product of a giant conspiracy between Mossad, the CIA and RAW to break up the country and steal Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. And the third is to say that the army was sent in too soon.

I hold no brief for the Army and I know very little about its competence. But to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you fight with the army you have, not with the army you want. Since we have no other army, accusing the army of incompetence is neither here nor there. Logically, the only other alternative would have been to invite American forces over from Afghanistan to invade Swat for us. In the absence of any support for that option, we have no option but to stick with General Kayani and his men.

So far as the grand conspiracies are concerned, I have no doubt that the CIA, Mossad and RAW would all breathe easier at night if we did not have nuclear weapons. But the fact that they do not want us to have nuclear weapons does not mean that they want to break up Pakistan. An exploded Pakistan would be exponentially more problematic for the international community than Pakistan in its current state.

If anything, the heads of CIA, Mossad and RAW are all praying to their respective deities to keep Pakistan solvent and stable because that is the only way our weapons will stay in sane hands as opposed to being in the hands of those who think that a nuclear exchange is a good idea because all the Muslims who die in the resulting holocaust will go straight to Paradise.

The final contention is that we should have waited longer. My question is: why? Is it not serious enough when a group of armed men rejects our Constitution, attacks our army and kills our citizens? And if that is not the issue, what would extra time have bought us? If anything, extra time would have given greater opportunity to the militants to entrench their positions.

I come now to the question of morality: how do I justify making war on those who are supposedly seeking only to fulfil Pakistan’s destiny?

Simply put, Pakistan’s destiny was not — and is not — to serve as the handmaiden for morons. Mohammad Ali Jinnah was not just a lawyer but one of the finest lawyers produced in the entire history of British India. His vision for Pakistan was not one in which self-proclaimed khalifas descended from the hills to unilaterally impose a vision of Islam in which the worship of God was reduced to beards of stipulated lengths and blowing up women’s schools.

At the same time, I freely concede that it is the prerogative of a sovereign nation to decide how it wants to govern itself. And if the majority of the people in this country decide through some democratic process that they actually want to be governed by Sufi Muhammad and his ilk, so be it. But they have not done so. Instead, whenever they have been given the option, the people of this country have resoundingly rejected religious parties. Pakistanis have drafted three constitutions for themselves: not one of them has set up a theocratic state.

So, Mr Anchorman, here is my answer: these people deserve to have war waged on them because they reject our Constitution, because they reject the values which Pakistan was founded upon, and because they are trying to stuff a different legal system down the throats of unwilling citizens.

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