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Tuesday, 20 January 2009

To Swat – with love [Why doesn't Pakistan Army save the people of Swat from the Taliban?]

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Basil Nabi Malik

'The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy'-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am not sure what bothers me more: the government's inability to protect its citizens in Swat and the tribal areas, or its lack of urgency in addressing these issues once and for all. The defence budget of Pakistan is about 4.5 per cent of the GDP of the country. We have the fifth largest army in the world, and foreign governments are pumping in money and equipment so we can fight. Yet Swat has fallen. Does the government even care or will it simply talk about the supremacy of the constitution day in and day out? And even if it is the supremacy of the constitution that the government seeks to establish, then let it look no further than Swat to see how much of this goal it has achieved, and in fact how little it is actually doing to achieve it.

Article 9 of the said document gives every person residing in Pakistan the right to life and liberty. Beheadings with drills, labeling as a prostitute and then killing, and suicide bombings is what is happening to the Pakistani citizens of Swat, and no one is arrested or punished. Educational institutions are not only blown up, but women are barred from gaining an education.

Article 14 states that the dignity of man and the privacy of the home shall be inviolable. Pir Samiullah, a local leader opposing the Taliban, was exhumed from his grave and strung on a pole for everyone to see his dead body, and no one was booked for it. Citizens are shot dead and thrown in a square in a market renamed "khooni" chowk by the people. The home of anyone who supports the government is raided and blown up. No one is arrested.

Article 15 states that "every citizen shall have the right to remain in, and, subject to any reasonable restriction imposed by law in the public interest, enter and move freely throughout Pakistan and to reside and settle in any part thereof". One third of the population of Swat has reportedly shifted due to threats from the Taliban or orders by the latter to leave the area.

Article 17 talks about freedom of association. Let us look no further than the target killings of any person associated with the ANP, police force, administration or government to see the enforcement of this Article of the Constitution.

Article 18 states that "every citizen shall have the right to enter upon any lawful profession or occupation, and to conduct any lawful trade or business", yet barbers are forced not to cut or trim beards, businesses are coerced into shutting down their CD and movie shops, and women are not allowed to work even if they are widows having no alternate means to support their family.

Article 19 says that every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. Women aren't allowed to go to school or venture out on the streets alone, men with alternate views on how to live one's life are expelled from the district or killed, and people who support secular political parties are enemies of Islam and Allah.

Article 21 states that "no person shall be compelled to pay any special tax the proceeds of which are to be spent on the propagation or maintenance of any religion other than his own". The Taliban collects its own taxes and has its own administration. I don't know whether any non-Muslims remain in Swat, but if there are, we all know where any money taken from them will go.

Article 26 says that there shall be non-discrimination in respect of access to public places irrespective of race, religion, caste, sex, residence or birth. Unfortunately, with women being barricaded inside their homes, this article no longer seems to apply to them.

The last one is an article which I shall state with a heavy heart. Article 25 states that all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law. In simple language, it represents access to justice. The irony speaks for itself, and even more glaringly when you note that all these ghastly actions are being undertaken by the Taliban under the ever vigilant guard of the Pakistan army.

In conclusion, there are around 20 Articles in the Constitution which prescribe rights to the people. Nine of them stand redundant in this very article. If someone from the government or the Army is so gracious as to read this, consider this a plea on behalf of the people of Swat. Save them.

The writer is a student at Columbia University. Email: bnm2102@ columbia.edu

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