EDITORIAL: Aftermath of NATO attack
Tensions are high and tempers are flying. Pakistan has buried its soldiers amidst all the sound and the fury. Now comes time for ultimatums and harsh reminders that Pakistan is a sovereign state and will not take this kind of unfriendly provocation. Saturday morning saw the deaths of some 20 plus soldiers at a check post near the Pak-Afghan border when they came under fire by NATO forces in what Pakistan calls an unprovoked attack. Pakistan wasted no time yesterday to let the US and NATO forces know that it was not going to take this attack lying down. A major NATO supply route through Khyber Agency was closed down immediately after the attack and now the supply route through Balochistan has also been blocked. The Defence Committee of the Cabinet was urgently called to deliberate a timely response — the US has been given 15 days to vacate a key airbase in Balochistan. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has sternly spoken to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and told her that any progress made in the already fragile relations between Pakistan and the US has been negated and that the attack was in complete disregard for human life. The no holds barred dialogue also had the FM tell Ms Clinton that Pakistanis were in a fit of rage over this act by NATO forces. These same sentiments have also been expressed to British Foreign Secretary William Hague. Both Clinton and Hague have done what US and NATO players do best: offer condolences to bring a potentially explosive situation back from the brink.
From what is now becoming evident after more investigation into the incident, a fire-fight was taking place in East Kunar province between NATO forces and militants due to which NATO called in air support. According to the latest reports, Afghan officials say that during this fight, soldiers from the attacked check post started firing at NATO and Afghan forces. These accusations suggest that the incident may not have been so ‘unprovoked’ after all. Whether or not this was the case, one cannot say but of this one can be certain: the incident has brought already fractured Pak-US relations to a screeching halt.
At the heart of the issue lies the fact that the Afghan Taliban can come and go across the border as they please to attack US and NATO targets in Afghanistan only to cross back into their safe havens in Pakistan. Our forces are present on the porous Pak-Afghan border and so chances of clashes will only increase with the presence of such cross-border activity. If NATO does conduct ‘hot pursuit’ operations — although there is no evidence that this particular instance was one of hot pursuit — our casualties will only increase. To avoid such situations it is imperative that we stop providing sanctuary to the militants. If we cannot stop providing safe havens what is to stop the US and NATO forces from conducting hot pursuit and attacks on our sovereignty to fight off the militants?
We may have used our logistics to our advantage by cutting off supply routes and demanding our airbases back and, in the short term, this tactic may just work. However, condolences and promises of investigations aside, who are we kidding? The US and NATO forces have routinely made it a matter of policy to do as they please and then apologise and move on. Contradictions in the US-Pakistan relationship will continue to exist and will increase the chances of confrontation. *
SECOND EDITORIAL: Women, property of men
The murders of newlyweds Uzma and Saif Rehman in Gujrat on November 1 has now been confirmed by police as being treated as a case of ‘honour killing’. The woman, a US national, married her Pakistani husband earlier this year in Glasgow (conceivably against her family’s wishes). A different Pakistani family living in Belgium is on trial for killing a female family member who had refused an arranged marriage and was living with a Belgian. The woman, Sadia Sheikh, was shot dead allegedly by her brother. The sketchy details of the murders notwithstanding, the cases highlight the unabated practice of karo kari, or ‘honour killing’ in Pakistan as well as among people of Pakistani origin abroad.
A deeply misogynist practice, ‘honour killings’ almost invariably refer to the killing of women, usually by male family members, deemed to have brought dishonour to the family. The most common dishonour ‘crimes’ cited are marrying against the wishes of the family, refusal to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking divorce, or alleged adultery.
This practice, together with other dehumanising and objectifying practices rooted in traditionally patriarchal feudal and tribal customs, is entrenched in Pakistani society. Forcing women into marriage (for example to settle disputes), and ‘marrying’ women to the Qur’an (to deprive them of their inheritance and to prevent the passage of their inheritance outside the family), thereby denying them the right also to love, family and children, remain widespread. The fact that it took three years for the National Assembly to pass a bill, just this month, specifically outlawing such practices, reflects the ubiquitous prevalence of such ‘practices’ within the ‘highest’ echelons of society.
On the one hand this betrays our failure as a society to change the deep primordial instincts to treat women as chattel or property, and on the other it demonstrates the state’s abject failure to protect even those rights of half the population that the other half enjoys. Though passage of the said bill is highly commendable, for it focuses on crimes against women peculiar and indigenous to our culture, it is far from enough. Without doubt, a legal framework makes the foundation for change. However, we know all too well that the proof is in the pudding, which is implementation in this case. Given the low rates of reportage or documentation of this nature of crime due to the vast gender power imbalance in the country, specific, tailor made mechanisms and forums must be designed and implemented as a matter of urgency to render the law effective for the protection of the lives, safety, dignity and honour of the women of Pakistan. *