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Security in Pakistan: Let's Try Generosity

Posted by Sarah van Gelder at Jun 08, 2009 12:00 AM |
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Two million refugees have fled the violence in the Swat region of Pakistan, the largest movement of people since the genocide in Rwanda.

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This follows attacks by the Pakistan military--reportedly at the urging of the U.S.--aimed at routing out the Taliban. Reporters are prohibited from entering the area, so there are no independent reports of the number of casualties, but refugees report seeing thousands of bodies left on the road as they fled. Is there a better way to keep the Taliban out? Kathy Kelly, of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, thinks there is. Kelly is traveling and blogging in the region. She offers some insight into reasons the Taliban was so successful at making inroads in the region:
"In villages where people don’t have enough resources to feed their children, the Taliban would initially move in with plans to build schools and offer two meals a day, plus clean clothes, to the children. Later, they would exercise increasingly fierce control over villages. But their initial forays into villages were marked by offers to reduce the gaps between “haves and have-nots.”
An insurgent effort like that of the Taliban requires the cooperation of civilian populations. Yet bombardments by the Pakistan military and drone attacks by the U.S. military traumatize and alienate those same populations. Might we have more success if we help these impoverished populations rather than supporting continued attacks on them? In particular the way the refugees are treated right now could lay the groundwork for peace or for continued insurgency. Kelly reports on the extraordinary generosity of ordinary Pakistanis towards the refugees. And this generosity sparks an idea: the U.S. could respond to the humanitarian crisis represented by the massive flood of refugees by putting on hold the construction of the new U.S. embassy. Instead of spending $800 million on one of the most expensive diplomatic compounds in the world, we could use the funds to assure that all of these refugee families get the food, shelter, and medical care they need, and that they get help rebuilding shattered lives. Kelly writes:
"The maxim that guides this idea is simple: to counter terror, build justice. Build justice predicated on the belief that each person has basic human rights, and that we have a collective responsibility to share resources so that those rights are met. This means eliminating the unjust and unfair gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots.' It means weaving new relationships that don’t rely on guns and bombs for security."
The most powerful country the world has ever known was massively disrupted by a few fanatics with box cutters. Security is not found in a bigger military or more massive weapons systems, and certainly not in a world with expanding nuclear capacities. It's found in a world where every child is safe and can look forward to a secure future. You can follow Kelly's reports from the region here. Photo is of children from the Swat Valley by Razia Ahmed, from the Voices for Creative Nonviolence website.
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