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Old Tuesday, October 06, 2009
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Lightbulb NWFP takes the brunt

NWFP takes the brunt

“WE all must know why we are in Afghanistan,” US special envoy Richard Holbrooke recently enunciated in one of his many statements on the fast-changing state of the war on terror. But few are prepared to heed the clarion call as the clamour for the end of the mission in Afghanistan by the US and its allies is getting louder and louder.

So-called Afghanistan experts are out in large numbers with damning chronicles from the archives. The intention is none other than to force public opinion to scare western governments into abandoning Afghanistan and handing it over to resurgent mercenaries.

Leaving the job unfinished in this fashion would virtually amount to signing the death warrants of thousands of Afghans and others now employed and tasked to rebuild the war- and ignorance-battered country. That this disastrous aspect of the matter is being considered at length is quite well known. What, however, appears to weigh little in this argument that is heating up is the utter exclusion of the NWFP from the equation.

Situated along the porous Durand Line, the Frontier is the unfortunate victim of its own geography. It has suffered incalculable loss of life and property as well as sustained damage to its image, since the devastating events of December 1979 that prompted the mass exodus of the Afghans and their eventual settlement across the province. A predominant majority of the 3.7 million refugees took shelter in the Frontier, dealing a severe blow to its infrastructure, forests, agriculture and sowing the permanent seeds of unrest in its soil.

The most unwanted of those refugees were the seven leaders — and their stooges — who had formed an alliance of sorts and would roam about the length of the province in a pompous manner that was the bane of the local populace. Some of the streets and neighbourhoods in Peshawar still bear the eerie stigma of accommodating the palatial residences of those leaders sporting overflowing, pretentious beards.

While widows and orphans suffered in the unmitigated wretchedness of the camps, those leaders, some of them still holding high profiles, frolicked in dollar-induced riches from the CIA’s coffers and indulged themselves in polygamous games with abandon.

Surprisingly, while the white and green flags fluttering on the makeshift graves in the camps kept multiplying, lending a hideous look to the setting, the leaders never came to any harm. With wooden coffins standing prominently against their outer walls, death appeared to be the only commodity available in plenty in the camps.

The camps, particularly at Katcha Garhi on the outskirts of Peshawar and at Jalozai in Nowshera, recently came into focus again as hundreds of thousands of refugees from the conflict zones of the Frontier pitched their tents on the parched, grassless soil at the two sites.

Living in the Frontier, one is forced to believe in some measure of magic realism. It looks as if the camps continue to be the living quarters of those who succumbed to the Soviet war and the shenanigans of discredited Afghan leaders, their spirits refusing to vacate. This June when the Jalozai camp was full, a villager passing by the site turned his gaze on the milling crowds and remarked in exhaustion, “Oh God, is this place destined to be the permanent retreat of refugees?”

The expression of such intense emotions matters little to our homebred Afghan experts who can be observed spearheading the ‘pullout of Afghanistan’ campaign. The local media also seems to be taking a great interest in the campaign by picking up the juiciest bits from the statements of the now visibly demoralised US generals.

The latest proof of this was seen when a leaked report referred to the alarm raised by the commander of US and Nato forces, Stanley McChrystal, calling for reinforcements as he saw defeat staring the troops in the face. The sense of defeatism contained in McChrystal’s report sent shudders down the spines of those in the Frontier who have seen the worst face of the enemy battling the US-led forces.

The US might be an ignoble villain responsible for all the world’s woes but it is doing one thing right: keeping the Afghans from fleeing their country like they did during the Soviet occupation and subsequent Taliban rule. Those referring to present-day Afghanistan as an occupied country intentionally neglect this most crucial aspect of the ongoing hostilities and the great sufferings of the Pakhtuns.

Pulling out at this stage would amount to handing over Afghanistan to the Taliban, which would undoubtedly force another wave of migration of Afghans and their consequent settlement in the Frontier. This could be the worst imaginable nightmare for the Frontier as the province — teetering and crumbling — is seen grappling with the most decisive moments of its volatile history.

The Taliban, referred to by default as Pakhtun nationalists by their supporters, were created by the US for the fulfilment of its nefarious wishes. The US must now dismantle the structure it blundered into making on the soil of the Frontier even if takes it 100 years. This is the debt that the US must pay to the Pakhtun nation in general and the people of the Frontier in particular. The Taliban wish to deny the Pakhtuns the profits of progress. This must never be allowed. Otherwise the repercussions would be disastrous for the whole world.
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