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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Counterculture Watch: Sign of the Times

As I browsed the internet during recent downtime, I stumbled upon a sardonic and yet saddening story in the New York Times entitled “Pakistanis Pour Into Afghanistan”, written by John F. Burns in the September 30, 2008 issue, which prompted further investigation into this topic. According to the article there has been a massive influx of Pakistanis and expatriate Afghans crossing the border between Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal area northeast of Islamabad and the Afghan border that was estimated to include some 20,000 people.

The Pakistani government is cracking down against Bajaur militants as a part of the campaign to counter the presence of Islamic extremists in its country. The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Nadir Farhad, has estimated that 70% of those fleeing are Pakistanis, while the rest are believed to be Afghan expatriates. It’s a sad point in the US global War on Terror when civilians have to flee into a troubled country like Afghanistan to find sanctuary. Then again, it’s not a surprise, since Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) was never a peaceful place to begin with, especially when its problems are compounded by the suspicious internal policies of the two recent and reluctant national governments: the former Musharraf regime and current Khan-Gillani government have never been decisive in their efforts to root out the Islamic militants in the FATA.

Political solidarity and military fortitude have never been demonstrated to efficient or beneficial effect in Pakistan’s modern history. This isn’t to say that the past and current sacrifices of the Pakistanis were or are in vain. Pakistan’s military has reported that the most recent operation into the Bajaur tribal area, aimed at destroying the local militants, left 600 enemy combatants dead after a hard struggle against strong resistance from the Islamic militants of this district – whom received aid from the Afghan side of the border during the battles. But the matter of the fact is that the FATA have never been fully reined in by any standing modern Pakistani government. If any evidence is required, please note the relative ease that Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their tribal allies enjoyed with their guerilla strikes into Afghanistan against US and Afghani troops and civilians. Meanwhile, some 200 refugee families are without accommodations or supplies during their stay in Afghanistan.

What struck me as incredibly mind-boggling was the story behind this specific “recent reverse flow” (the name used to describe the phenomenon) and the history of migration between the borders of the two troubled nations. The most recent cause is obvious based on the headlines of all recent major news networks. The US military raids and mounting pressure from the US government appears to be the cause of the recent actions of the Pakistani military in the tribal areas, including the Bajaur tribal area. The ongoing Pakistani crackdown is undoubtedly a response by the Pakistanis to the recent US incursions into their sovereign lands. In undertaking this dangerous operation, the Pakistani government is sending a message to the US: we are the rightful government of the tribal areas and will resolve the Islamic extremist problem under our terms. Some reports indicate that the Pakistanis have fired “warning shots” at the US helicopters as a sign of Pakistani disapproval of US incursion into their lands. The American media and government have been critical and derisive of the Pakistanis’ lackluster record on fulfilling their promise to make a concerted and constructive move to stabilize the FATA for their own benefit and thereby assisting their political ally, the United States. As for the refugees, the UNHCR has announced that they will be able supply the refugees with food and other necessary supplies. This seems like an insurmountable and empty promise made to keep whatever face the UN still has left after the many years of poor performance in areas of conflict across the world. It’s little consolation to find that the rest of the refugees have been able to find lodging with family and friends.

This was not the first time or first war in which the Pakistanis and Afghanis have had to flee across the border. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, an estimated five million Afghans fled as refugees to adjoining countries, mostly to Pakistan. After the US invasion in the wake of 9/11, tens of thousands fled again to Pakistan to escape the conflict between the US and the Taliban. Some have returned to the new Afghanistan under the recently minted Hamid Karzai government, a key US Ally in the region. The stability of this region has been in doubt since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in 2003 and has witnessed the revival of the Taliban and al Qaeda, whose networks had been severely damaged during the initial fight with US forces in 2001-2 conflict.

The only sound conclusion to be drawn is that the refugees are the ones who have held the losing ticket in this raw ordeal aimed at attaining “stability” in this war-torn region of the Middle East. Security is imperiled by the US military, Pakistani military, or craven Islamic militants, each vying for their individual aims in a region that many call “home”. The unlucky refugees have endured threats from all direction and have only the impotent UN to call upon for relief supplies, which may or may not be enough to aid them, assuming these supplies are ever delivered at all. I believe that it’s up to the remaining superpower, the US, to change the lives of these downtrodden people by place its affairs in Iraq in order to allow a more formidable military force – along with civilian government assistance and additional resources – to flow into this zone of need.

I can be reached at [email protected] if anyone cares to discuss this topic.

About the Contributor
Dillon Zhou served as opinions editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2010-2011