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Home > General > Pakistan: Misrepresentation and imperialism | S Akbar Zaidi

Pakistan: Misrepresentation and imperialism | S Akbar Zaidi

18 December 2013

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The News International, November 08, 2013

Can a documentary film on the effects of drone attacks in Waziristan not even mention the Taliban even once and not be a misrepresentation? The documentary, Wounds of Waziristan, focuses on the survivors and victims of drone attacks and brings out the huge human cost caused by so-called collateral damage on the inhabitants of Waziristan who, the documentary shows, have been bombed in the past century by colonial Britain as well.

Yet, there is no mention why these drone attacks take place. At best one only hears the word ‘insurgents’, twice in the documentary, yet there is no explanation as to who this unknown and obscure entity is. One need not at all be apologetic for why these attacks take place, but implicitly denying that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are the cause for the drones since they have found sanctuary in Waziristan does not serve the cause of objectivity.

There is no question that drones have killed hundreds of innocent bystanders in Pakistan’s northern areas, yet still probably far fewer innocent people than have the numerous groups called the ‘Taliban’. That those who undertake drone attacks ought to be prosecuted for war crimes, as many argue, is also not without reason. Yet, while one can make all such proclamations against drone attacks, one must be able to explain why they are targeting Waziristan in the first place. Simple one-sided sympathy for the survivors is insufficient.

One would expect the film to explain somewhere why the poor, defenceless, otherwise jovial, people of Waziristan are being bombed into oblivion by the mighty US empire. There is no explanation at all. Obama and the US are found guilty of such an extreme measure, but why is it that the US is targeting this region? Is the film silent about this because its makers are sympathetic to the Taliban – seeing them as freedom-fighters fighting the great Satan Amrika, in their anti-imperialist crusade?

Located in the heart of empire, in London and New York no less, some Pakistani academics and a handful of privileged, supposedly, leftist students from Pakistan, have taken it upon themselves to malign the politics of some Pakistani academics, feminists and activists, on the allegation that this politics is ‘pro-imperialist’.

This claim made by these cyber activists sitting in comfort in the bosom of the west, rests on their false and limited understanding about the larger politics of drones in Pakistan, about Islam in Pakistan, and perhaps most seriously, a fact which undermines their claim to belonging to a politics of the left, of completely misunderstanding the basis of imperialism in the modern age.

On all three issues – drones, Pakistani Islam and imperialism – these individuals reveal how disconnected they are with Pakistan, literally in terms of location, as well as in terms of understanding. In their writings, the simplicity of their arguments rests on the position one takes regarding drone attacks – are you for them or against them? No nuance here, only black or white. If one does not out rightly condemn drone attacks, one is considered ‘pro-imperialist’ and one’s credentials on being a good anti-imperialist – or progressive engaged with the daily oppression of class, state and imperialistic forces – rests simply on how one answers that question.

The question of imperialism and Pakistan’s place in it has become blurred by the simplistic approaches of seeing the War on Terror as the only manifestation of imperialism, and opposition to drone attacks as ‘anti-imperialistic’, without seeing the social, economic and cultural manifestation of how imperialism is really articulated in any specific context. Regardless of how nuanced one’s position on drones – and there are numerous explanations which many Pakistanis have articulated – simplifying a for-or-against position, is childish.

As some writers have already argued, the question is not simply one of drones, but of war, more broadly defined. To this one can add, not just drones alone, but attempts at oppression and domination, of which war is just one means, need to be resisted.

Moreover, there is another complication in the arguments which those who see drones as imperialistic tools, miss. What if the ownership of directing the drones was granted to the Pakistani state as has been asked for so many times? Would this be a nationalist and acceptable method of warfare for the Pakistani state to undertake? How would this be different then from the army action in Swat to dislodge the Taliban, an action which had wide support amongst the people of the area?

While such issues have numerous consequences, they easily resolve the issue of imperialism, so central to this group of concerned Pakistanis living in the west. Clearly, far greater clarity on what imperialism is ought to inform their discourse.

Nevertheless, the silence regarding the Taliban, in a film on drones in Waziristan, obfuscates any responsible debate about drones, whether imperialist or national.

The writer is a political economist.


The above article from The News is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use