Emptied of its poetry
By Shaheen Sardar Ali
‘Da Malakand da sar tootee wai, pa ohr sati wai Kho Tohmati na wai Mayana’
(Were that I could become a carefree parrot perched on the peak of the Malakand mountains … that angry flames would burn me…not this stigmatised betrayer of my people).
THIS impassioned cry of remorse exhorting release from the burden of having betrayed one’s people expressed in the tapa above, is one of the most haunting expressions of regret and guilt in Pushto poetry.
Part of a rich oral narrative, the poem records the battle of Malakand where local tribes fought to protect the homeland against the British colonisers. Sadly, as we all know, it is never in our power to turn back the clock of history. Confessions of betrayal, guilt, treachery, negligence and remorse often come too late and more often, never. The heart-wrenching plea of the betrayer, echoing in the wild olive groves of the Malakand mountains, may perhaps be a solitary one. Tales of betrayal spurred by greed for money, power and social status changing into deep regret, are few and far between.
Self-reflection, soul-searching and learning from our mistakes is not a common trait, least of all among those who have tasted the sumptuous and disgustingly lavish interiors of the corridors of power. Had that been an instinct, our history books would contain chapters on lessons learnt from the secession of East Pakistan, repetitive insurgency in Balochistan, successive military interventions to rule the country and causes leading thereto.
In these times of economic, political and ideological turmoil, our elected representatives would not have voted to enhance their emoluments when internally displaced people from Swat and Fata were dying of hunger, cold, and ill health, and shivering for their lives in tattered tents.
Had we learnt our lessons in honesty and sincerity, I would not be asking the question: when was the last time, if ever, that the president, PM, CM, governor et al visited this strife-torn valley to send a signal of solidarity to the people and the much-trumpeted ‘writ of government’? (One wonders why all the suicide bombings and rocket attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan failed to keep Messrs Blair and Bush from visiting their troops. Yet, our leaders, firm believers that life is in the hands of Allah and only He can give and take it away, shy away from visiting Swat and Fata, a part of their own country.)
I am particularly reminded of this tapa as I sit here trying to make sense of the tragedy, destruction and misery that has become Swat resulting from direct and indirect betrayal by those in positions of power and authority. Failing one’s people comes in a myriad shades and denominations. It includes what we ought to have done, could have done and would have done to address the situation but did not do. Sitting on the fence while people and country fall apart is just as culpable as actively contributing to the chaos and turmoil wrought on innocent people. Using Swat and Fata as examples for our foreign masters that if the dollars fail to come thick and fast a religious militant regime will gobble the country, is just as criminal, if not worse.
Why else do we waste precious time in endless meetings to discuss strategies while homes are destroyed, women, men and children killed, maimed and disabled for life. If our own homes were under fire, our own children killed, God forbid, or in danger of being taken away from us, would we sit in sarkari safe houses and engage in sagely analysis and hair-splitting about hidden foreign hands, monthly salaries of militants and the likely budget of their terrorist operations etc, but not do anything about it?
I am afraid I am not entirely convinced that our enemy is solely the so-called religious militant operating in the name of Islam. Multiple actors, state and non-state, are at play, taking advantage of a fearful, harassed, and insecure population that looks around and finds no presence of the state of Pakistan or any of its institutions of governance.
But now, our bleeding wounds and weeping eyes have washed the wool off our trusting gaze. We Swatis realise that we were chosen for destruction, not by any other but our very own, a laboratory for testing a bomb called ‘strategic depth à la religious bigotry’. The blatant lies fed by half-hearted minions declaring that ‘the government will not allow anyone to challenge its writ’; or the ridiculous statement ‘all girls’ schools in Swat will soon open’ add insult to injury. The deep anguish of betrayal by one’s own; abandonment by those towards whom thousands of tearful eyes looked for protection, is written large on the broken hearts and traumatised souls of the forsaken Swati, young and old, rich and poor, dead, dying or alive.
We ask: why would anyone want to blow up schools in Swat or anywhere else and who would be heartless and soulless enough to plunder the place and sell, brick by brick, the remains of those destroyed buildings? Who could be so brutal and savage as to chop off human heads and display them at crossroads, hanging from poles and in the streets?
Who would terrorise men, women and children forcing them to flee their homes and hearths, leaving them exposed and vulnerable to the biting cold winter? Who would be so callous as to ignore these travesties and pretend they are either not happening or present it simply as a grand and gory conspiracy against the democratically elected government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and its elitist rulers? Who would ruthlessly brush aside the genocide of the Pakhtun nation by arguing that there were other more important calls on their time and attention … such as ‘buying’ and ‘selling’ people’s representatives, transferring civil servants to display control over governmental institutions not to mention juvenile acts of attempted government toppling?
In a coalition government of the ANP/PPP, who is it that chooses to spare leaders of one coalition partner while mercilessly killing leaders of the other. Why is it that those who decide to remain in Swat and brave the wrath of the destroyers, do not receive wholehearted army and government support to defend themselves and their homeland?
Perhaps we Swatis have to acquire the skill of raising our voices above the screaming sirens of ambulances carrying dead and dying people towards Saidu Hospital as well as the deafening sound of strafing, shelling and low-flying helicopters, in order to be heard in the corridors of power. Peshawar and Islamabad are simply too far away and our voices too feeble with fear, hunger and hurt pride and dignity. I wonder if many years later, will anyone ever muster the courage, dignity and honesty to recall their roles of commission and omission, wrench their trembling hands in agony and repeat, Da Malakand da sar tootee wai…… (Dawn)
The writer is a professor of law, University of Warwick, UK.