The colossal blunder committed in the Khyber agency, where at least 72 civilians were killed in attacks over villages by Pakistan Air Force jet fighters, underscores the horrible nature of war.
Local people put the death toll as higher than the stated figure while officials in the area have apologised to the families of the dead. But, quite understandably, the tribesmen are furious and ask what purpose these words can serve, now that so many have been killed and others lie in hospital beds in Peshawar.
The compensation given by the local administration after the attacks can hardly be expected to calm the pain of families who have lost their loved ones forever. In some ways giving cash handouts to families of victims could be construed by heirs of the deceased as further adding insult to injury.
Indeed, the military, which had denied the incident immediately after it took place, has offered no formal words of commiseration over the needless loss inflicted. The tragedy should make us think. It is becoming obvious that what we need more than anything else in our northern areas is a return to peace.
People have lived with fear for far too long; in many regions it walks constantly by their sides. The destruction seen in the blighted village of Seravela, struck multiple times by bombs as aircraft rained fire from the skies, will only add to this sense of terror.
Ironically enough, the village was one where people in many cases backed the security forces. Outrages such as the one we have seen are certain to prompt a re-think and the worst part is that they provide a fertile ground for the militants and the Taliban to recruit more people to their misguided ‘cause’.
When this happens, people – and this is true just not for those living in Fata but the rest of the country as well see the military as agents of outside powers bent on destroying Islam. That this is far from the truth and the fact that the only way to deal with the Taliban for now is to take them head on and eliminate them from the country is lost on people, since for them what is immediately felt is the death and destruction caused by the bombings.
From the very start of the ‘war on terror’ in our northern areas, warnings have poured in from both local and international human rights organisations to take better care to safeguard civilians. These assertions have gone largely unheeded. Even now we do not indeed know what the total toll of the civilian dead is.
In Swat, survivors speak of loved ones killed before their eyes, of houses brought to the ground even as occupants tried to flee. It seems certain many stories have yet to be told. People remain too scared to speak out. For now the suffering continues and the trauma we have lived with for so long deepens. It is time to find a way to end the bloodshed.
The killing of citizens by the armed forces of their own country can never be justified. We must ask why more effort was not made to evacuate people trapped in the war zone. This would have given away little as far as military strategy goes. It may have saved a great many lives. As things stand now, opinion against the war is building.
Tribesmen in the Khyber and the neighbouring Orakzai Agency are more convinced than ever that it must end. Indeed its continuation will only strengthen opinion against the state action and thereby strengthen the militants. The evidence of this is already coming in from the Khyber Agency.
Solutions need to be found. More than anything else our country needs peace. People everywhere need the guarantee of security and safety that they have been denied for too long.It is only when this is restored that there can be any hope of a return to normalcy and an end to the violence that has already destroyed so much in our country.