Devastation of military ops, Waziristan (left) and father of 4 dies of sunstroke during displacement, surrounded by his children (right) photo via Ihsan Tipu
In recent weeks the world has watched in horror as Gaza is subjected to a ferocious onslaught of Israeli state terror directed mostly against civilians. The latest operation named Protective Edge against US designated “terrorist” group Hamas is partly financed by the US that continues to supply arms to Israel. As investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald points out in the Intercept,
“the new (Edward) Snowden documents illustrate a crucial fact: Israeli aggression would be impossible without the constant, lavish support and protection of the US government, which is anything but a neutral, peace-brokering party in these attacks. And the relationship between the NSA (National Security Agency) and its partners on the one hand, and the Israeli spying agency on the other, is at the center of that enabling”
Israel appears to be using this American support to put their own version of the Nazis “final solution” policy into practice using collective punishment and ethnic cleansing… Could it get much worse? Yes it could and very likely WILL get much worse. The latest horror to unfold is hearing via Reuters that US, Deputy Secretary of State, Bill Burns and ex British Prime Minister Tony Blair are expected to fly to Cairo for “negotiations” on Gaza which will include delegations representing Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Now let us remind ourselves that Blair (along with George Bush) was tried in his absence as a “war criminal” at a tribunal of the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission, Malaysia, 2011 for his role in the Iraq war. The initiative was modelled on the Nuremberg principles applied to bring the Nazis to justice following World War Two. A petition is currently circulating for the totally unsuitable Blair to be removed as a Middle East peace envoy.
Bus declaring Blair a war criminal tours London
At a time when politicians and human rights activists are very much focused on the situation in Gaza, another part of the world remains largely and deliberately hidden from view… the region of North Waziristan in Pakistan, an area I coined some time ago “the Gaza of Pakistan”. This is where Bill Burns also comes into play.
Before the nightmare of Operation “Protective Edge” began on Gaza, the Pakistan military launched an offensive against militants in North Waziristan six weeks ago named Operation “Zarb -e-Asb” after Prophet Muhammad’s sword (or as I prefer to call the operation “fall on your sword”)! Bill Burns visited Pakistan piling on the pressure to eliminate insurgents as part of the US War of Terror completely failing to address the part US foreign policy has in stoking the flames of insurgency around the world. Shortly after the Burns trip, it was announced that financial aid from the US would be directly linked to the success of military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). To carry out the orders of Washington meant forcibly removing around 1 million tribal people not involved in terrorist activities from their homes and into camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Bill Burns, US, (photo Al Monitor) demands elimination of militants (left) and Musharraf, Pakistan, wanted to kill Pashtuns (right)
Tribal people, predominantly Pashtuns are often treated as second class citizens in Pakistan and still suffer under draconian law left over from British colonial rule which affects their human rights. They are caught between the Pakistan military and insurgents with little security.
Former President Pervez Musharraf (now on trial for treason), rather like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the Palestinians, favoured a policy of elimination receiving “dollars for deaths.” R.S Mohmand quoted Musharraf as saying,”Pashtuns are a bone of contention; I have asked Americans to kill them too in Afghanistan as I would kill them in Pakistan.” Indeed he did kill Pashtuns in Pakistan by secretly supporting the US drone programme which disposed of many innocent civilians, others, he allegedly sold to the US as “terrorists” without trial, some ending up in Guantanamo Bay.
From the start, serious concerns were raised about Operation Zarb -e-Asb. Bombing allegedly began BEFORE civilians could clear the affected areas. Locals repeatedly stated that the main militant leaders of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Haqqani and other groups had advance intelligence meaning they already left for safer territory and alleging that those being targeted were largely non-combatants.
Haji Saleem Khan, a 60 year old taxi driver from Shawal told the Express Tribune that the air attacks aimed at militants were not as surgically accurate as claimed, stating, “they killed women and children in the air strikes, I myself took out dead bodies from under the rubble.” These claims were frequently repeated by others including in Newsweek Pakistan where the alleged deaths of 37 civilians were reported. As Wali Muhammad, a 28 year old shopkeeper put so well, “you can’t cover up the sun with a finger” a Pashto expression meaning the truth will come out.
There does not appear to have been any legal opinion sought or discussed regarding the rights of those displaced and their suffering is viewed by nationalistic Pakistanis (in the comfort of their own homes) as a “necessary sacrifice” for the country. I wonder if the same attitude would have been adopted if residents in cities has been uprooted from their gated communities and forced to leave all their worldly belongings behind.
Many of the same Pakistanis that are so critical of actions in Gaza have turned a blind eye to the distress of their own citizens and previous Pakistan government with the usual double standards appear to have had no qualms about conducting business with Israel which has so oppressed the Palestinians. These business dealings may still be going on. According to a British report detailed in Haaretz, the following is revealed,
” in 2011 Israel sought to purchase British components to export radar systems to Pakistan, as well as electronic warfare systems, Head-up Cockpit Displays (HUD), parts for fighter jets and aircraft engines, optic target acquisition systems, components of training aircraft, and military electronic systems. In 2010, Israel applied for permits to export electronic warfare systems and HUDs with components from Britain to Pakistan”
Could any of the afore mentioned systems have been used on the residents of North Waziristan in recent times?
Humans and animals dying on route (left) and waiting for food rations (right) photos via Abdul Rehman Dawar
Regarding IDPs, there was a distinct lack of planning from the Nawaz Sharif government to provide adequate transport for fleeing civilians to travel from North Waziristan to “safe” areas such as Bannu. Men, women and children walked up to 60km in their thousands during a heatwave, covering long distances often taking along their livestock. Humans and animals died on route through sunstroke and exhaustion, unable to access water. Women gave birth by the side of the road. Sick and elderly relatives had to be left behind in their homes too frail to complete the journey. Families in transit lost contact with each other in a sea of bodies.
Some IDPs headed over the border into Afghanistan gathering around Khost where they felt they would receive a warmer welcome (a bone of contention with the Pakistan government) and then proceeded to burn the Pakistani flag in anger at their displacement.
When IDPs got to Bannu, most were afraid to migrate to the army camps and went instead to private homes which put additional pressure on impoverished locals with limited resources. From those that did use government facilities, there were tales of scorpian infested camps built in the wrong places, long waits, difficulties in registering and receiving rations (especially for widows and second wives) lack of medical care and even IDPs allegedly being beaten by local police as they protested at conditions. What has made matters worse is a growing disillusionment at the way this tragedy is being reported with little confidence in the ISPR (Inter Services Public Relation) few believing the figures of militant deaths are accurate. There is equal confusion over who has been captured as it seems there is a reluctance by the military to publish names of insurgents.
Home is now a tent (left) and displaced children with their education interrupted (photos via Abdul Rehman Dawar)
Journalists have raised their own concerns that they have been unable to get into Waziristan to report the operation and some were told to “kill” stories that showed the situation of IDPs in a negative light. One writer highlighted that reporters that knew the area and might ask probing questions were being sidelined on official visits with the military who appear to be favouring those not so familiar with the region.
There are few genuinely on the side of IDPs. Even opposition party leader, Imran Khan Pakistan Tehreek -e-Insaf (PTI) known for his fight against the use of US drones who has often spoken up for tribal people seems to have caved in under pressure stating his support for the military operation. He does however continually bemoan the lack of finance and resources to cater for the needs of IDPs. Khan did turn up to spend Eid with displaced persons but there was little to celebrate for those that have lost family members and their homes.
Bill Burns (steering clear of IDPs) has made time recently to make sure Pakistan remains compliant in doing what the US wants by meeting with Tariq Fatemi, special assistant to the PM on foreign affairs,
“a statement issued by the Pakistan Embassy said Mr Burns appreciated Pakistan’s stabilising role in the region and reiterated the US support for prime minister’s economic development plan with special focus on energy and fighting extremism”
This of course has enabled Pakistan to go back to Burns with a begging bowl for reimbursing funds for the military operation and according to DAWN media “whatever equipment and weapons Pakistan might need for combating the Taliban”. For its part, the US that claims to champion human rights seems happy to turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s practice of “disappearing” people, torture in custody and extra judicial killing, the hallmarks of state terrorism. Though given the human rights record of the US, it would be a case of “the kettle calling the pot black”.
One of the reasons recent “peaces talks” failed was the refusal of the Pakistan government to address state terrorism which the Taliban continually pointed out by highlighting treatment of those detained by authorities and alleged dumped bodies of militants. After waiting 3 weeks for politicians to respond to a letter detailing concerns, Taliban realizing they would get no answers responded by killing 23 Frontier Corps men in their custody, lives that might have been saved if peace talks had been taken seriously and key issues discussed with honesty.
So finally back to Gaza. What schemes will Burns and Blair conjure up together during negotiations? One can only speculate and say a very big prayer for the locals. With those two in possible collaboration, there is little hope for any improvement for better conditions and freedom, it is likely there will be only more tears and pain for the ever suffering Palestinians.
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad . She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.