It was 7:10 in the morning when I returned to my room from a nice and warm shower. I noticed that I had just received a missed call. It must be the driver, I thought. But then I thought he said yesterday that he would pick me up at 7:40. I was going to have a minor procedure at a clinic in another town. The clinic provided pick and drop service.
I called back right way. “Hello, Muhammad! I am here,” an ultra-masculine voice in a seemingly thick Arabic accent on the other end spoke.
“Hi, Thank you, but I thought you were going to pick me up at 7:40. But it is ok. Please give me five minutes to put some clothes on. I will be there shortly.” I spoke at once without giving him a chance to say something back.
“Ok, no problem. Take your time,” he sounded a bit frustrated, or maybe it was how I felt because it is in my nature to be overly apologetic even when I don’t have to be. Anyways, I put on clothes and my overcoat and went out.
“Good morning,” I smiled as I got in the car. He did not look at me and I don’t remember what he said in response. I apologized once again but told him that we had agreed on 7:40 last night. “It was not me who called you last night but someone else from the clinic,” he said.
“Oh! Ok. I did not know that. I am sorry for the misunderstanding.” At that moment, I also realized why this man sounded different on the phone from the one the night before.
As the car moved, I settled in my seat in the back. The apologetic self in me again felt it might be disrespectful to sit in the back because, in Pakistan, where I am from, it is culturally rude to sit in the back of the car when a stranger drives. Normally, only government dignitaries with exception of course, who treat their drivers as servants tend to sit in the back.
Then I thought it is ok. In this culture, people don’t care. A little while later, I asked him where he was from. I regretted the question right away because I don’t like it when a stranger asks me the same rather soon in a conversation.
He said he is from Turkey and had come to the States some twenty years ago. When I heard “Turkey,” I wanted to talk to him more because there is something about Turkey that fascinates me.
I don’t know exactly what it is but I am enthralled when I meet Turks. I had Turkish classmates in Government College University Lahore, Pakistan, twelve years ago. I had come from a small city in Balochistan to Punjab’s metropolis Lahore. Meeting them there and talking to them in English was my first experience with foreigners.
These guys seemed wealthy as one could tell from their clothes and lifestyle in Lahore. I could hardly afford a meal in the cafeteria while they used to eat wings at KFC and other fancy places. They said they were Muslims and yet they had girlfriends back in Turkey. This did not make sense to me but I was enthused.
For someone like me who had grown up in a traditional household in a small village, all this was fascinating. Having a girlfriend, talking about her openly and showing her pictures to friends was just mind-boggling. I could not believe how something like this was possible in a Muslim country.
But, when Zeynep, my 6o-year old driver said, he was from Turkey, I had a different thing in mind about his country to share with him and possibly know his views. Twelve years later, my fascination about Turkey was not about how can a Muslim man in an Islamic country have a girlfriend, but about something serious —the oppression of Kurds.
I have been reading a book Blood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence by Aliza Marcus on the Kurdish struggle in Turkey and wanted to know his thoughts on the whole situation of Kurds and the Turkish government.
The book details the history of Kurdish nationalism and oppression against it by the Turkish governments for decades. Successive Turkish governments imposed Turkish nationalism on Kurds. They changed the names of Kurdish villages, banned Kurdish language in TV channels and incarcerated Kurdish activists among committing other extreme forms of injustices.
The history of the struggle is long and I don’t have time to give the details here, but long story short Turkey’s policy of oppression forced some Kurdish groups to pick up guns against the State. The Kurdish Workers’ Party or the PKK under Abdullah Ocalan declared war on the Turkish State in the 1980s.
In the ensuing violence, at least 40,000 people died on both sides. The PKK insurgents killed thousands of soldiers and many pro-government Kurdish.
So I asked Zeynep what he thought about Kurds. His response was rather shocking. He said he wants to kill them and he did kill them when he was in the military.
He said Kurds are worse than animals. They killed young soldiers who had nothing to do with the State’s policy. These soldiers were just doing their job. They were innocent. He claimed.
We went on and on for at least two hours, as he dropped me back at my apartment. I said to him I understand that the killing of innocent soldiers is wrong and tragic but I asked what did you expect form Kurds when the Turkish government had been oppressing them for decades.
As I challenged him with tough questions, he softened his position and yet oscillated back to his nationalist and cultural belief at the same time. He was angry although his anger had slightly waned.
As he was driving and in moments of silence, I thought about Zeynep’s beliefs. I wondered what it is that prevents members of a majority group from seeing the pain and suffering of the marginalized and suppressed from minority groups.
One problem that post-colonial theorists such as Gayatri Spivak say is that the privileged groups read their subjectivity into the lives of the oppressed groups. It is the privileged groups who construct meanings or knowledges around identity, security and rights in society.
The oppressed are silenced and ignored in a systematic manner. In Pakistan, for instance, most people from the Punjabi ethnic group, although the poor among them are the victims of the system themselves, have similar attitudes to the suffering of the Baloch and Pashtuns. According to them, Pakistan is one and the same for all Pakistanis.
They believe the problem is not with the system but rather with those who point fingers at it. Their privilege, even if is just a privilege of living in safety and dignity, hinders them from seeing the pain of those who don’t have the same rights. That is because the social and political world is constructed by those in power in such a manner that dismisses the alternative conceptions of justice by the powerless and the voiceless.
I ended my conversation with Zeynep on a pleasant note. I don’t know how much I changed his views on the issue but I have been thinking about this for weeks. Today I found some time to write a few lines about it. I will share more thoughts on this topic some other day.
PS: Zeynep is a fictional name for privacy purpose.
The skeptic says,
“PTM is an anti-Pakistan movement engineered by the “enemy” and that Manzoor Pashteen is the agent of RAW and NDS.”
But, the skeptic relies only on accusations. They don’t provide evidence in support of these allegations. According to the skeptic, PTM is anti-Pakistan just because it is criticizing the army and its spy agencies for human rights violations against Pashtuns.
Their this argument is the most outlandish.
The skeptic does not substantiate their claim as to why is PTM a foreign-funded conspiracy. They don’t say exactly how RAW and NDS support it? The blames are based on conjectures.
Then, the skeptic asks,
“Where was Manzoor when the Taliban controlled South Waziristan? Where was he when the APS school children were murdered?”
PTM’s leadership and supporters have given befitting responses to these and countless other funny questions.
Manzoor was a young boy when violence by the Taliban wrought havoc in his home.
When the time came, it was violence both by Taliban and Pakistan army that forced Manzoor to initiate a civil rights movement, first by the name of Mehsud Tahafuz Movement, which turned into the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement at the beginning of last year.
PTM’s narrative is based on facts which defy the possibility of alternative facts that the skeptic falsely claims to possess.
After Naqeebullah Mehsud’s killing in a fake police encounter, PTM exposed the epidemic of extrajudicial killing of 440-plus innocent people just by one police officer, Rao Anwer in Karachi. There could be more which we don’t know of yet.
Reuters says that at least 1,200 (although PTM fears the number to be much higher) people have gone missing and there are 5,000 victims of landmines in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). A few weeks ago, the young Pashtun activist Alamzeb Mehsud went missing for highlighting the plight of the missing persons and their families and the landmine victims.
6 million people from FATA have been displaced due to 10 military operations in the last decade. Schools, bazaars and homes in FATA have been destroyed during military operations.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, from 2005-2016, 82 percent of casualties from terrorist violence took place in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. This is close to 42,000 deaths in a decade in the predominantly Pashtun populated regions.
PTM has brought a plethora of stories of misery and pain from a place that until last year was shrouded in mystery. The Pakistani Media had no access to it for a decade. The only reporting on operations and the situation there came straight from Pakistan army, which claimed to have had cleaned the area from terrorists.
But the story that Pashteen has told the world has refuted the army’s claim of successful counter-terrorism operations. As journalist Umer Ali rightly said, the state is afraid of PTM because “as a movement against state terrorism, it has essentially rendered Pakistani state’s logic behind the war on terror ineffective. How can you justify a war when the people it is supposed to protect accuse you of committing similar atrocities?”
The skeptic in the State, rather than talking to PTM, has repudiated its claims. It has used force, intimidation and violence to silence its workers. The movement’s leaders and supporters are routinely harassed, disappeared, put behind bars and even killed. Last week, the State police allegedly killed a PTM leader Arman Luni in northern Balochistan.
The use of force in response to questions by peaceful protestors means there are no answers with the State. If there were answers, it may not have used violence to deal with PTM protestors. But in this very extremely jingoistic and violent approach of the State lies the victory of PTM’s narrative.
International human rights organizations and the world know that PTM is in the right whereas the State has lost its moral ground because of crackdown on civilized dissent by arbitrary use of force and violence. PTM’s resistance in the future must remain non-violent, and it should keep challenging the State in the war on narratives.
A Native American proverb says, “Those who tell the stories rule the world.”
Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, had a name for popular beliefs of the time that were used to frighten children: “bogey” or its plural “bogies.” A bogey, also known as a bogeyman, was a mythical creature used by adults to scare children into behaving. The bogeyman had no well-defined physical appearance and people had varied notions about it. However, it was commonly depicted to be a monster, which Socrates also called “the monsters under the bed.”
If Socrates were alive today, about two and half millennia later, he would describe the popular beliefs of many countries bogeymen. One would not be surprised if he named Pakistan a country of world-ranking bogeymen, perhaps below its friend Saudi Arabia which has the chutzpah to murder its citizens globally. However, Socrates would be surprised to see the mythical creature having come to life. He would also be surprised by the fact that the bogeymen don’t only frighten children but also adults into “behaving.”
Another shocking fact for Socrates would be that some of today’s bogeymen are no longer without an appearance. In a country like Pakistan, they are mostly men in Khaki uniform, and their protégés in plain clothes, armed to the teeth against the most vulnerable and the unarmed. Unlike the Greek bogeymen, these men don’t just frighten but actually punish and kill. They use the bogies (in the sense of popular beliefs) of forced religion and forced national identity to terrify and control dissenters. They use naked force and violence to enforce these beliefs.
Their ego is so absolute and monstrosity so utterly horrible that nothing changes them. Absolutely nothing softens them: the blood of the deceased, the tears of the bereaved mothers and children and the angst and plight of millions of innocents. In the land of these bogeymen, nothing but their monstrosity reigns supreme. What is also different about them is that they feed on the blood of the innocents. They feed on chaos.
They go bonkers when people ask questions because the bogeymen claim, which is hard to believe, that it is their job to maintain peace and order. But neither peace nor order is maintained. Chaos continues unabated because in chaos lies their power, respect and validation. Terminating this chaos, albeit temporarily, is a tool they use to win the public trust. It renders their presence necessary and at any cost. The deaths of hundreds and thousands don’t matter to the bogeymen if they can help to ensure the “unity” and “security,” whatever that means, of the country.
Under their law, torturing, disappearing and extra-judicially murdering anyone is in the country’s “best interest.” They have the monopoly over defining that interest. Anyone who dares to challenge them is terrified first, and if they persist, then tortured and killed. It is a fascist reign of terror, named “democracy.” Here only the bogeymen and their protégés rule. Here the dark forces of power, fear and pain dominate the atmosphere. Here the common, oppressed men and women breathe in fear and pain and then breathe them out. But who knows how long will this terror and chaos of the bogeymen last. History shows it does not for very long. We shall see.