“The military is the muscle that protects the ruling elite from the wrath of the people,” says Pakistani political analyst Dr. Mubashir Hassan. “Right now, people are out on the street; blocking roads, attacking railway stations, etc. If you read the papers, it seems as though a general uprising has started all over Pakistan.”
Dr. Hassan says that sporadic outbursts of anger in Pakistan won’t coalesce into a people’s revolution anytime soon. The demonstrators are too disorganized. But, the sheer volume of daily protests shows that many sectors of Pakistani society have pressing needs and priorities that do not include enlistment as foot soldiers in a proxy force for the United States’ War on Terror.
Dr. Hassan, a co-founder of the People’s Party of Pakistan, is a respected scholar and statesman. Last year, when we met with him, he had just returned from a visit, in the U.S., with Professors Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, his contemporaries in seeking to build just and fair social structures. Last month, in Lahore, he spoke with us about U.S. interference in the region and changing dynamics in Pakistan.
May 17, 2010, Islamabad — Through the Soviet invasion and occupation, the Afghan civil war and now the United States war and occupation, a young man named Zainullah, around 25 years of age, has seen war his whole life. But you’d never know it by his engaging smile and his relaxed countenance. Zainullah currently lives at a paraplegic center in Hayatabad, Pakistan, a suburb of Peshawar, the capital city of the North-West Frontier Province. He is originally from the Helmand province of Afghanistan, which has been one of the most intense battlegrounds during the “war on terror” launched by the United States in 2001.
Zainullah was paralyzed about nine months ago after being struck with shrapnel from a U.S. cruise missile. On the day of the attack, Zainullah was getting ready to start his prayers. He heard a bomb blast, and before he had a chance to realize that he was the target, Zainullah was laying prostrate on the ground with a piece of metal lodged in his spinal cord. Two men from his village carried him to the nearest clinic. There he was given an injection and then taken to the International Commission of the Red Cross (ICRC) facility in Helmand. Now paralyzed from the waist down, Zainullah spent one month at the ICRC , and then decided to seek more extensive rehabilitation treatment in Pakistan.
In May of 2009, under tremendous pressure from the United States, the Pakistani military began a large-scale military operation in the Swat District of Pakistan to confront militants in the region. The UNHCR said the operation led to one of the largest and fastest displacements it had ever seen. Within ten days, more than two million people fled their homes.
Now, a year later, our small delegation visited the Swat District. After a breathtaking ride through the Hindu Kush mountains, traveling in a pick-up truck from Shah Mansour in the Swabi district, we arrived in Swat’s capital, Saidu Sharif.
Saidu Sharif is a small town, ringed by mountains. The Swat River, a few hundred yards in width, runs through it. It’s easy to imagine a former time when tourists would flock to visit this scenic treasure. While we were there, the town seemed tranquil. Stores were open and the streets were bustling. Merchants, children, shoppers, bicyclists, goats, cars, donkey carts, rickshaws, and tractors jostled for space in the narrow roadways. But, we also saw dozens of uniformed men, carrying weapons, suggesting that tensions still prevail in Swat.
A favorite professor of mine once told me that the more you learn about history, the more you realize how little you really know, and how much you still have to learn. Last night, I was both moved and angered to further learn about the ongoing destruction and blockade of the Gaza strip. The award winning Palestinian journalist, Mohammed Omer, showed photographs and told us many moving stories about his life and experiences in Gaza. These stories included the demolition of Mohammed’s home and loss of his brother and neighbors.
Many of the tragic experiences Mohammed shared occurred before the election of the Hamas government, the siege of Gaza and last year’s Israeli offensive, Operation Cast Lead. Mohammed described a major shift in Israeli military policy after Israeli settlements in Gaza were closed, in 2005. Following the “disengagement,” Israeli air strikes increased and carried out house demolitions. Prior to 2005, Israel had primarily used bulldozers. Before, the military would not have wanted to risk affecting Israeli settlers and their children, perhaps frightening the Israeli settlers’ children who would hear the sonic booms or, worse yet, catching Israeli settlers and their children in the cross-fire.
He also described how expert the children in Gaza are in identifying the different bullets and shells being used to destroy their neighborhoods and families. Many of these munitions are manufactured in America and given to the Israeli military.
On entering the Dane County Jail, the first holding cell that Brian Terrell and I were placed in had only one other person. We previously saw this man outside the cell during our initial booking. He was a man with dark black skin and a full beard. I thought I heard one of the officers say he was from Gambia. When we entered the cell, the man was in mid-ritual in what appeared to be a Muslim’s midday prayer. A young white guard, who had the accent of a Midwesterner, looked disdainfully at the man and then somewhat positively at Brian and me. The guard said, “Just ignore that,” as if the man was insulting or threatening us by his peaceful act of prayer. To which I replied, “It’s fine with me.”
This experience was contrasted by the next encounter I had with another officer who made digital copies of my fingerprints and pictures. As this middle-aged man placed my hand on the machine, I made a remark that I was surprised that he did not already have my information handy. (This was the third time I was fingerprinted and pictured for this same charge.) He said, “Oh yeah? You arrested a lot? What are you in for?” I told him that I was arrested with a group who engaged in civil disobedience at Ft. McCoy. Getting the sense that this man may have previously been in the armed services, I explained that we were not against the men and women in the military personally, but that our goals were to enter the base to talk to the rank and file soldiers about ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to make certain the soldiers were aware of their right to refuse illegal and immoral orders.