There is no shortage of just causes in the world, filled as it is with rising inequity, conflict and brutality. Yet, some causes seem more equal than others. The current one is the Israeli invasion of Gaza. India is bristling with outrage; it has supported a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution condemning Israeli action.
India has voiced deep concern “at the steep escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine, particularly heavy airstrikes in Gaza and disproportionate use of force on ground, resulting in tragic loss of civilian lives, especially women and children and heavy damage to property”.
Parliament has been rocked by Indian legislators’ who vented their spleen against Israel in a three-hour debate on the issue. The loudest protests continue in Jammu and Kashmir where daily anti-Israeli protests have led to mob violence and the unfortunate death of a young man in police firing. Condemning Israel is deemed just, ignoring the fact that Israeli military action was prompted by the incessant rocket attacks on Israeli civilian areas by the militant outfit Hamas. Since Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza nine years ago, an estimated 11,000 rockets have been launched by Hamas from Gaza where terrorists have constructed a network of tunnels and use civilian buildings including schools to target Israel. Since the beginning of the current Israeli military operations, over a thousand rockets have been fired at Israel of which 754 are claimed to have hit targets while the rest have been downed by Israel’s anti-missile system.
Israeli casualties in this period include three civilians and 43 soldiers dead. In contrast, more than a thousand Palestinians (70 per cent of them civilians) have been killed in the same period. The dramatic difference in casualty rates is primarily because of better Israeli defences and the fact that Hamas operates out of civilian areas with impunity. Yet, not a word is said against Hamas. We do not exhibit similar tolerance against terrorists in Pakistan when attacked; only make empty threats of cross-border retaliation.
The support of just causes today does not necessarily spring from notions of justice or an aversion to atrocity. More often than not causes are selected for their political and geopolitical import. That is why the ongoing military operation, not very dissimilar to the one launched by the Israelis, in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area has prompted no international outrage. The Indian elite and intelligentsia, led as they are by external opinion, appears to be oblivious of the developments in neighbouring Pakistan where one million people have been displaced by military action and hundreds including women and children killed.
Let alone voice concern at the level of the United Nations, India has not even issued a whimper of protest. Yet, what is going on in North Waziristan is no less a human tragedy and violation of rights than the conflict in Gaza.
The Pakistan Army’s operation — codenamed Zarb-e-Azb launched on June 15 this year —against terrorists ensconced in the North Waziristan tribal agency bordering Afghanistan has displaced over a million men, women and children, devastated entire towns and villages and led to the death of at least 500 persons. The aim of the Pakistan military was the same as that of the Israeli Defence Forces —to oust terrorists. The Israelis used combat aircraft, so did the Pakistanis, who also used artillery to bomb civilian areas suspected of harbouring terrorists. Hundreds of thousands of tribespeople were told by the Pakistan Army to vacate their houses and leave the agency. Three neighbouring Pakistani provinces refused them entry, forcing them to trek hundreds of miles with their possessions, women and children to safe places in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, other tribal agencies and in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Several Pakistani writers have censured their government for its complete lack of concern at the fate of the displaced tribesmen. Rahimullah Yusufzai, a well-known Pakistani journalist commented: “If one cares to listen, almost every displaced family from North Waziristan would start telling its story of suffering… It seemed the people of North Waziristan were being collectively punished for being unable to confront and evict the local and foreign militants who had taken up residence in their villages and were planning and executing terrorist attacks all over the country.”
Former Pakistani diplomat Ayaz Wazir, writing in the News lamented: “We have all seen on TV, a number of times, scenes of hungry and thirsty internally displaced persons (IDPs) being baton charged and tear gassed when they broke distribution queues… it is with a heavy heart that I quote from the British newspaper the Guardian of June 26, 2014: “soldiers have fired live rounds to deter furious crowds of IDPs who complain that there is no shelter, not enough to eat and that they have been barred from moving to other areas of Pakistan…” I can only hang my head in shame and pray to the Almighty for forgiveness and mercy lest He punishes us for treating helpless people in such a brutal manner.
The Western powers that have been urging the Pakistan Army to carry out anti-insurgency operations in North Waziristan have not uttered a word on the resultant humanitarian crisis. North Waziristan is not the only place on the globe where innocent Muslims are being slaughtered. This lists some of the major conflict areas:
Gaza: About 1,000 total deaths.
Syria: Over 19,000 estimated killed since January 2014 (more than 70 per cent of them civilian)
Central African Republic: 1,000 civilians, mostly Muslims, are being killed each month. Over one million Muslims have fled their homes.
Iraq: Over 7,600 civilians have been killed since the beginning of the year, at a rate approaching nearly 1,000 per month.
Afghanistan: Nearly 5,000 killed during the first six months of 2014.
The Pakistan Army has and continues to fire hundreds of rockets into Afghanistan’s Kunar province; the Taliban operating out of bases in Pakistan carries on killing and maiming thousands, last week they pulled out 18 Shias and shot them in cold blood. But there is no requiem for the geopolitically unimportant.