Losing faith in humanity

The Taliban have hinted at attacking foreign aid workers who are helping the flood victims in Pakistan, citing their presence as “unacceptable”. Hundreds of foreigners arrived in the country following the worst ever floods to hit Pakistan in living memory. In the wake of their arrival, US officials have warned of attacks by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) after receiving some intelligence reports. According to US officials, the TTP “plans to conduct attacks against foreigners participating in the ongoing flood relief operations in Pakistan” and they “also may be making plans to attack federal and provincial ministers in Islamabad”. It was heartening to know that despite these warnings, the UN has decided to continue its humanitarian work. “We would find it inhumane for someone to target us and our work, effectively harming the millions of people whose lives we strive to save,” said UN spokesman Maurizio Giuliano.

The point to ponder is why the militants are so unhappy about the presence of foreign relief workers. It is because of the contention for the relief space between the Pakistan government, the anti-Taliban forces, the foreign aid regime on the one hand, and our illustrious terrorists on the other. It is a battle for winning the hearts and minds of the flood affectees. In any insurgency and counter-insurgency, the political effort is as important as military might. Thus, winning the people of the areas hit by the insurgency is central to both sides – the insurgents and those fighting them. Arguably, such wars are seldom won on the battlefield, which is why the militants are hankering to help the flood victims in order to win them over to their side. Where disaster has provided a chance to the terrorists to show off their so-called ‘charitable’ side, it has also led to efforts being made to combat their ‘relief efforts’. It is also quite clear that the Taliban are not willing to give up their space to anyone else, especially foreigners. But it would be highly unfortunate and downright barbaric if the foreigner aid workers were attacked by the Taliban because they are here to help millions of Pakistani flood victims. The government must give full protection to these aid workers. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has assured that “in case there is a concrete threat, the government has complete capacity to ward it off”. By threatening the aid workers, the Taliban have once again proved how much ‘sympathy’ they really have for the hapless flood victims. They only want to use them as cannon fodder by recruiting them, and have no real desire to help them. We have seen such campaigns in the past, but this time all their efforts to this effect should be thwarted.

On another note, reports about systematic discrimination in aid distribution are utterly disgraceful. There were reports earlier of Ahmedis not being given shelter during the floods and now reports of discrimination against Hindus and Christians are also emerging. According to a Vatican missionary body, Christian refugees are “purposely not identified and registered”. This is in clear violation of all humanitarian norms as well as our constitution. We saw Hindu families helping out flood victims in Sindh irrespective of religion, caste or creed, but when our state discriminates against its own citizens on the basis of religion, it shows how low as a nation we have stooped to. Humanity is conspicuous by its absence. If we want to progress as a nation, we need to close the doors on our prejudices. For far too long we have let religious bigots call the shots; now is the time to stand up to them and say no to religious exclusivism.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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