The blood trade

Pakistan army turns failures into PR opportunity. Its deplorable since its dishonest, insulting to martyred soldiers.

Saroop Ijaz December 03, 2011

The 24 soldiers of the Pakistan Army who died in the Nato strike on November 26 were warriors and martyrs and let no one tell you otherwise. I feel the need to state the painfully obvious because terms like ‘martyr’ have lost ordinary sanctity and anchorage in Pakistan, with the word often being used for religious fanatics. The death of the soldiers was mourned all over the country and Nato, and the US and Pakistan governments were condemned. The media almost spoke in a chorus; the usual pattern was that after a token condolence, the entire focus was on why the elected government had failed to protect our sovereignty and should now be sent home.

Hardly a word was said about the role of the army. The primary reason, I suspect is that it would be hurtful to the memory of those who have recently passed away. This is absurd; the soldiers cannot be adequately remembered or mourned, without the realisation of the core reasons for their death. The moistness and hysteric ululations should not be allowed to result in the abandonment of all critical reasoning faculties. The hollow displays of solidarity seriously got out of hand when organisations like the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) and the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) decided to take to the streets to express their support for the slain soldiers. It might be useful to jog our memories a little and remember why our soldiers were there in the first place. They were there precisely because theocratic fascists and ideological brothers of the JuD and JI have launched a frontal assault on our country and society.

One might have to reconsider what was once said by Voltaire of Prussia and has innumerable times lazily been repeated for Pakistan, “Prussia is not a country with an army, but an army with a country”. It now seems Pakistan is an army, period. There is no evidence to suggest that we have any meaningful conception of nationalism or patriotism outside of the image of the army. I say this at the risk of sounding cruel but 24 casualties is not an earth-shattering number in Pakistan. The life of a soldier is admittedly of more value than that of a civilian in almost all societies, and rightly so. Yet, let us not lose all sense of proportion and perspective here. The argument is not that we should not express solidarity with those martyred but that we are inclusive enough to extend the same courtesy to the martyred Baloch and Hazara. The infringement of our territorial sovereignty should never be taken lightly and must be protested and resisted with vigour. However, to pretend that we have just woken up to this is disingenuous. We have chosen to define our self only by negation, by whatever we stand against. The armed forces are the instrument symbolising that resistance to the outside world, breeding more and more isolation with each passing day. It leads one to wonder that if, by some miraculous shift in event, we manage to eliminate all major external threats, how will we define or even know ourselves.

In an ordinary functioning country, the criticism would be directed at the army for its failure to protect the soldiers and fight back, and heads would have rolled. Alas, we know, perhaps too well, that ours is no ordinary country. The appropriate forum of protests should have been outside the GHQ. The actions of Nato are indefensible and this matter should not be allowed to slide. All avenues of recourse, including the UN Security Council, should be availed. The appropriate response to Nato, the US and the world is a complex matter and is better left to the experts. I can only think of Shakespeare’s words in Henry V where King Henry says to the French, Montjoy: “We should not seek a battle as we are, yet as we are, we say we will not shun it.” In any event, to absolve the army for incompetence and/or complicity in the fiasco would be insincere. The death of the soldiers does not give the top leadership a free pass to play on the unthinking frenzy of sympathy and get out scot-free as they did after the OBL raid and PNS Mehran incident. The Pakistan armed forces, ably assisted by the mass media, have an uncanny knack for turning examples of horrendous failures into public relations opportunities. This is deplorable not only because it is dishonest but, in this particular case, because it is insulting to the soldiers who were martyred. It is considered unpatriotic to ask intuitive but tough questions from the army in times of crisis. On every occasion of failure by the armed forces we also quickly relearn that it is actually the civilian government which is in charge of foreign policy.

The mindless, hyper-nationalist jingoism and sophomoric solipsism are defining features of our media, but they outdid themselves this time around. Around about the same time, on the first of Muharram, Shias were killed in a terrorist attack in Karachi, but the message of sheer horror did not get the coverage it mandated. However, one anchorperson on Dunya TV chose to talk about it and, probably in some twisted interest of fairness, invited the leader of a banned criminal sectarian organisation (mind you, also a prime suspect of the murders) to voice his hatred against the Shia and why they are labelled ‘kafirs’. Surely, no one can be this stupid so as to not realise the unbelievable insensitivity at play here. It makes one wonder if there is some secret reservoir of the semi-literate, partially educated from which our television channels pluck out some of these gems.

The brutal and unforgivable killing of our soldiers by Nato is imperialism and nothing else. Protests only should not suffice. However, we will do well to remember that our soldiers in the trenches are dying while fighting valiantly and their blood is being traded to keep a few generals from losing their jobs and luxury vehicles. This is a repulsive bargain. Let us learn to honour the memory of all martyrs, armed forces and civilians, by abandoning false dichotomies and start asking those unpleasant questions.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2011. 


Shaikh Muhammad | 9 years ago | Reply

Great rhetoric missing out on bigger picture!

anonymus | 9 years ago | Reply

Wonderful In July I met Mr Kamran Shafi in Saint Louis USA and spoke with him about your brilliance and he said that he has not read you yet. I hope that he read this. he is also my favorite writer but you are number one. I wish I was in Lahore to hug you and salute you for courage and fine language.

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