Coronavirus Diary (24): Peace Trains

A lot of the news about India’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been demoralizing, and justifiably so, but I haven’t seen much coverage in the American press of one of India’s more ingenious success stories. Apparently, the Indian government has decided to re-purpose railway cars as medical facilities. This particular idea seems to be the successor to an earlier one, described in a recent paper in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization. Continue reading

Newsflash: Pakistani Taliban Kill Lots of Innocent Children (Sardonic Edition)

Here are my three favorite commentaries on the Pakistani Taliban’s recent attack on a school in Peshawar:

KABUL: The Afghan Taliban have condemned a raid on a school in Peshawar that left 141 dead in the country’s bloodiest ever terror attack, saying killing innocent children was against Islam.

Survivors said militants gunned down children as young as 12 during the eight-hour onslaught in Peshawar, which the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said was revenge for the ongoing North Waziristan operation.

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has always condemned the killing of children and innocent people at every juncture,” the Afghan Taliban, which often target civilians, said in a statement released late Tuesday.

“The intentional killing of innocent people, women and children goes against the principles of Islam and every Islamic government and movement must adhere to this fundamental essence.”

“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the official name of the Taliban) expresses its condolences over the incident and mourns with the families of killed children.”

The Afghan Taliban are a jihadist group loosely affiliated to the Pakistan Taliban, with both pledging allegiance to Mullah Omar.

That’s from “Afghan Taliban Condemn Peshawar School Attack,” in Karachi’s Dawn.

Here’s another great one, for those who know a bit about Pakistani politics. It’s from Imran Khan, leader of Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Insaf political party.

“I have never seen an atrocity like this in my entire life…I cannot even comprehend how someone could kill children like this,” he said.

“If someone killed my children like this, I would seek to avenge it as well,” Imran said.

Yes, terrorist attacks are really unprecedented for the Pakistani Taliban. I mean, who ever heard of the Pakistani Taliban killing innocent people? In Pakistan, no less? Has Imran sahib informed the Royal Society?

Then there’s this gem:

Obama terrorizes and murders innocent Pakistani citizens.

That’s supposed to be a commentary on drone warfare against the Pakistani Taliban. I’ve italicized the word of interest. Here is what I find interesting about it.

Suppose that the U.S. packed up its drones tomorrow and left South Asia for good. What does the author think should happen next? Broadly speaking, there are only two options. Either the Pakistani military fights the Taliban or not.

(1) Suppose they fight the Taliban. Suppose they choose to do so by means of the least destructive method available to them– drones. (Actually, drones are not quite ‘available’ to Pakistan right now, but imagine that they were.) Suppose that these drones kill “innocent Pakistani civilians” as a side-effect of the attempt to fight the Taliban. Would Nawaz Sharif then be as guilty of “murder” as Obama has been alleged to be? Or do you have to be an American drone operator to satisfy that description?

(2) Suppose that the Pakistani military chooses not to fight the Taliban, on the grounds that doing so would lead to the deaths of “innocent Pakistani civilians” (as it surely would). Suppose that the Taliban then murder Pakistanis civilians with impunity for the next seven or eight years, as they’ve done for the last eight. In fact, imagine that the Taliban ratchet up their killings on the grounds that it’s easier to kill people when the army that’s supposed to be protecting them refuses to do so. Would the author be willing to accept those consequences as an implication of his fastidious strictures on drone warfare?

While I’m on this subject, let me ask one last set of questions. The Taliban are non-state actors–a kind of terrorist NGO. They are, in other words, de facto anarchists. According to anarchist theory, “the state” lacks legitimacy. So imagine we decide to  get rid of it.

Now imagine, further, that “we” are Pakistanis. (Yes, I realize that my thought-experiment is starting to strain credulity at this point.) Let’s imagine, then, that “we” Pakistanis abolish the Pakistani state tomorrow. I assume that the Taliban would not be deterred from further depredations by this act.

So here is my question, intended for anarcho-capitalists: In what sense would Pakistanis be better off without a state than with one in facing the Taliban? And how should they do it? Whatever the method, it must meet two specifications: (1) it must not involve the assistance of a state, and (2) it must not lead to the deaths of any innocent third-parties. In this season of miracles, that surely can’t be too much to ask.

Postscript, December 18, 2014: More coverage of Peshawar. A poignant passage from a story from this morning’s New York Times, “Horror Paralyzes Pakistan After Methodical Slaughter“:

Some mourners expressed frustration at the apparent impotence of their own security forces. “What is this army for?” shouted one man at the city’s main Lady Reading hospital, where he had come to collect the body of his grandson.

“Where are their atom bombs and airplanes now?” he said. “They were of no use if they cannot protect us from death in our daily lives.”

Better questions could scarcely be asked, and truer words could scarcely be uttered. But we’re talking about armed forces that have begun every war they’ve fought, and lost every war they’ve begun: they’re guilty of genocide (East Pakistan, 1971) and willing to start nuclear war with India over uninhabitable chunks of ice (Siachen Glacier), but incapable of grasping the fact that their deals with the devil have surrendered the entire northwest of the country to totalitarian psychopaths bent on mass murder in the name of God. Pakistanis should never forget that the partition of the subcontinent was intended to give the Muslims of the subcontinent a safe haven from religious persecution by Hindus. Somehow, it never occurred to them that “they” might persecute “themselves.” Call it another grim chapter in the annals of that supposedly impossible phenomenon–“reverse discrimination.”

Meanwhile, from the same article:

Back at the deserted Army Public School, snipers perched on the rooftops, watching for a potential follow-up attack. In the nearby tribal belt, the Pakistani Army mounted fresh airstrikes.

Were they merely “fresh airstrikes” or were they mass murder? Would they have been mass murder if carried out by drones more precise than the airstrikes? I renew the question.

I find it interesting that in the English language press, at any rate, a lot of Pakistani commentary has taken the form of anguished questions. This column by Sameer Khosa in Lahore’s Nation consists of almost nothing but questions until this passage at the end:

Let us finally put an end to the criminally dishonest nature of our conversation on the Taliban, and on the national security challenge as a whole. Because now, we have seen its cost and it is unbearable.

Carry these children in your heart always. Let their innocence be the antidote to the lies that are peddled to us. Let their curiosity about the world remind us to ask anyone who has a one-sentence-long solution to this problem how they propose it will end. Let us fight in their name. Let their gravestones say: tell us now that this is not our war. Tell us now that this is not personal.

The problem is, this is what Pakistanis always say after a Taliban atrocity, only to forget it until next year’s atrocity. I’m not criticizing Khosa; I’m criticizing his audience. What he’s saying is undeniably true. So is what these people are saying. And these two.  The problem is that it’s been true for years. Remember what happened in Peshawar last year? It was Malala before that, and the massacre of the Shias of Derra Adam Khel before that, and the Geo TV station before that, and the Bajaur market before that, and the attack on the shrine of Data Ganj Baksh before that, and the one on the Ahmadi mosques in Lahore before that, and the assassination of Benazir before that. How many “before thats” does a rational person need before he figures out “we have a problem, and we have to solve it”? (Here’s a list of TTP attacks.) Unfortunately, what Khurram Hussain is saying is true, too.

Anyway, I can’t help continuing the semi-sardonic theme of the original post. So, a few quotations in that vein:

Khursheed Shah says terrorism is national issue

Speaking to media representatives after attending the MPC, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah said there is a complete consensus among political parties of the country on the terrorism issue.

He expressed his resolve to stand shoulder to shoulder with the armed forces in their ongoing fight against terror. Shah also urged the media to play a proactive role in eradicating terrorists from the country.

The PPP leader said that even Israeli state does not carry out such atrocities on Palestinians like the terrorist did to young kids yesterday at the school in Peshawar.

That’s from Dawn, “No distinction now between good and bad Taliban: Nawaz.” I mean, if they’re worse than Israelis, then we really have to fight them. Incidentally, the U.S. just normalized relations with Cuba. Any chance of Pakistan doing the same with Israel sometime soon?

I certainly wouldn’t go quite as far as Sherry Rahman does here, but I see her point, and it’s a nice counter-narrative to those handwaving claims one hears about the virginal innocence of the Taliban’s clean-handed apologists and sympathizers:

PESHAWAR: Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Sherry Rehman said Wednesday that if anyone engaged in the apologist narrative when it comes to terrorism and terrorist attacks, they would be considered as terrorists and allies of the terrorists.

Time has come for a decision and anyone who presents justification for acts of terrorism will be regarded as a traitor.

“Whoever is a friend of the terrorists is a traitor,” Rehman said addressing media representatives in Peshawar.

Rehman urged that the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will not remain the victims and instead become those who will lead the war against terrorists.

Of course, taken literally, Rahman’s policy would require locking up large chunks of Pakistan’s judiciary. But I don’t think Rahman quite means what she’s saying–at least not as stated. It’s still the heat of the moment.

I leave you, finally, with a Word Press Editor’s Pick for 2014, written in October by Mehreen Kasana, a Pakistani graduate student at a school in Brooklyn.

On my way to class, I take the Q train to Manhattan and sit down next to an old white man who recoils a noticeable bit. I assume it’s because I smell odd to him, which doesn’t make sense because I took a shower in the morning. Maybe I’m sitting too liberally the way men do on public transit with their legs a mile apart, I think to myself. That also doesn’t apply since I have my legs crossed. After a few seconds of inspecting any potential offence caused, I realize that it has nothing to do with an imaginary odor or physical space but with the keffiyeh around my neck that my friend gifted me (the Palestinian scarf – an apparently controversial piece of cloth). It is an increasingly cold October in NYC. Sam Harris may not have told you but we Muslims need our homeostasis at a healthy level. While our bodies regulate our internal fanatic temperatures to remain stable, sometimes it gets a little too chilly so we pull out those diabolical scarves and wrap them around our diabolical necks and diabolically say, “Holy shit. It is cold today, Abdullah.” To which Abdullah replies, “Wallah. My ass is freezing.”

Reading her, you’d think that the act of wearing a keffiyeh in Brooklyn or Manhattan was a wildly rare and transgressive occurrence. It isn’t. But let me add one more “maybe” to the list: maybe this is the kind of thing that happens occasionally, that the author could very well be imagining, that doesn’t matter much even if it happened, and that is best ignored rather than inflated into the occasion of a self-pitying drama of grievance stretching back to Hiroshima, the Raj, and the Atlantic slave trade.

See if you have the discipline to make it through the whole thing. Kasana doesn’t want to apologize for Muslim atrocities. That’s fine. I don’t think she should, and have said as much in the past. But try as hard as you can to make coherent sense of her claim that there is no distinction to be made between good and bad Muslims. And feel free to enlist the help of the Mahmood Mamdani article she links to in her post to do so. Yes, I realize that she’s rejecting the “binary opposition” of Good and Bad Muslim within a specific narrative. But at the end of the day, what does she think is left of the ordinary distinction between good and bad Muslims? Should we throw it out? I don’t know a single Muslim who thinks so. Try to make sense of what just happened in Peshawar while ignoring the distinction, and reflect on the results. Hard to do. So why should any non-Muslim apologize for making use of it? No apology, so to speak.