Where The Wild Things Are!

The Pashtun of Waziristan, Pakistan has today become an avatar for violence, terrorism, rebellion, guerrilla warfare and other things deviant and vile. There is however a long heritage of depicting these people of the tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan as genetically prone to violence and culturally prone to resistance to ‘civilised’ politics. This prejudice informs any and all writing about them, their history and the wars being waged in their backyards. From British colonial ear shenanigans – given the pretty-cute euphemism of ‘The Great Game’ to veil the fact that the White man’s ‘games’ are the brown man’s death sentence, genocide, pillage, massacre, mass murder, refugee crisis etc. to current American imperial wars in the region, the people of this region have been seen as nothing more than ‘barbaric’,and  ‘fundamentalist’ and continue to be spoken about with the worst of Orientalist and colonialist simplicities one can imagine – tribal, unconquerable, rebellious, and lawless. Where the British colonialist left off, their ancestors in the American political and academic establishment and the Pakistani post-colonialist structure have continued.

How [can] one account for … politically expedited collective amnesia –of manufacturing consent and discarding history at the speed of one major military operation every two years? One way of decoding the traumatic terror at the heart of the codification of “9/11″ is in fact to read it as a form of historical amnesia, a collective repression, that corresponds best with the globalised spectacle of its having made the apparently invulnerable evidently vulnerable. … The Armageddon crumbling of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, more than anything else, staged the vulnerability of the principal imperial memento projecting the cause of the globalised capital–its titular totem poles, phallic symbols of its monumental potency. That vulnerability was too memorable to be allowed to be remembered. Fabricating instantaneous enemies and moving targets, one on the trail of the other, thus became the principal modus operandi of the virtual empire. An empire lacking, in fact requiring an absence of, long term memory, and banking heavily on the intensity of short term memories that lasts only for about one to two years–one to two wars per one presidential election

Hamid Dabashi, Native Informers And The Making Of The American Empire Al-Ahram Weekly June 2006

I know of no other country in which, speaking generally, there is less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion than in America. In America, the majority has enclosed thought within a formidable fence. A writer is free inside that area, but woe to the man who goes beyond it.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy In America (As quoted in Dabashi’s Brown Skins / White Masks)

Much of this dehumanization is in evidence in articles written about the Waziris, the current military campaign unfolding there.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 13.35.23

An article on aerial bombardment and policing in Waziristan during the British colonial occupation of what is today the Afghanistan-Pakistani frontier region in the Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine had a rather strange anecdote about the people of Waziristan. It tells the story of a A.J.(Jack) Capel who in the summer of 1924, while mercilessly bombing the villages and homes of the people in Waziristan, was bought down and crashed landed his bomber and was soon captured by the tribesmen there. We are then told that the tribesmen took care of the pilot, provided him “…with a box of tinned food, a bottle of whisky and some beer and some clothes.” and after 3 days released him back to the British along with a Rs. 1,000 note for his ‘inconvenience’. The writer of this article explains this rather generous and civil behaviour by the tribesmen to be the result of a Rs. 9,000 bounty that the RAF offered for the return of its pilots. That is, he attributes this remarkably humane gesture of the tribesmen to their utilitarian, capitalist calculation of profit.

And yet, just a few lines down the writer tells us that the British had so much regard for the civility and sense of justice of the tribesmen that they gave their pilots something called a ‘goli chit’ – a safe-conduct letter from the RAF to anyone tribesmen who captured a British pilot. That is, the senior commanders of the British Airforce, the same ones organising and orchestrating a brutal, murderous air war against small-arms bearing Waziris, believed that the people they were killing would be kind enough, civilised enough, and humane enough to return their downed pilots on the basis of a letter from the high command. And this was however the same High Command that could issue a directive to the RAF that:

Hesitation or delay in dealing with uncivilised enemies are invariably interpreted as signs of weakness. In warfare against savage tribes who do not conform to codes of civilised warfare[,] aerial bombardment is not necessarily limited in its methods or objectives by rules agreed upon in international law.

The Waziris cannot act as a human. He can only be bought. Paid. Like a cheap whore without morals, he is responsive only to Pavlovian inducements. And yet, if one reads this article one is left wondering who is the real barbarian here, and who the civilized? Who is the aggressor here, and who the defender? Who has fighting a war of reactionary resistance, and who a war of colonial aggression and occupation? Who belongs in these lands, and who is a foreign presence there to take? Nothing in this article, as in the one that follows, allows you to think of these questions because it never challenges the right of the real aggressors to be there, to take, to control, to ‘jar loose’ and yet it constantly denigrates, and undermines the right of the local to resist, defend, and protect themselves. They cannot even act civilized, as the colonial voices tell us, and as the writer simply echoes, unless you pay them.

In articles such as this, all history, all humanity, all common-sense is turned upside down. Man becomes beast. and beast becomes man. Massive war machines become ‘governments’ and small bands of men fighting for family, land, dignity and life become savages, barbaric, and worse….jihadis.

Uncivilised. Savage. Barbaric. Lawless. Guerilla. Irritant. Rebel. Militant. Terrorist. Jihadi

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 13.36.10

The above are some of the words used in this piece that appeared in The New York Times titled ‘A Long History of Rebellion in the Mountains of Pakistan’. The title alone ‘evicted’ and ‘ethnically cleansed’ a people who have lived in these lands for centuries, and who have a right by history, heritage, lineage and memory to claim it as their own, by referring to them as ‘rebels’ i.e someone who is in resistance to a ‘legitimate’ or established government which neither the British, the Americans, the Soviets and one can argue, the post-colonial Pakistanis have ever been.

But the article goes much further. It completely distorts and re-writes history to place the onus on the Waziris as the cause of the crisis in the region, the fulcrum of the violence, and the raison d’etre for ‘forcing’ the colonialists and imperialists to bomb and kill them. These distortions are done in the service of an ideology of innocence that American media creates for its readers – an ideology that erases the American fingerprints over war, violence, mayhem and the creation of the very demons it later tells its citizens it has to fight. The ideology is not new – the British colonialists also wanted to manufacture the same white-wash of their crimes and venal machinations. Hence, the writers make frequent use of a tired, cookie-cutter phrases to fill the essay. For example:

The Pashtun tribes of Waziristan have never been truly conquered…

The writer never explains why the tribes need to be ‘conquered’ in the first place. Why is ‘conquest’ – a word that implies occupation, control and erasure, such an unexamined act when it comes to these people? Are they not worth anything else – perhaps political collaboration, democratic participation, civilised discourse and other acts that would imply that they are equally worthy of rights, humanity, intelligence and engagement.

…and courting them as allies has almost always ended up backfiring on whoever has tried — ask the British, Pakistanis, Afghans and, for that matter, the Americans.

Why has it backfired? Could it not be that the colonialists, the imperialists and the post-colonialists double-crossed them, lied to them, exploited them and their lands, and cheated them? The history of the British in India is a litany of lies, false promises, double-dealings, cynical calculations, vile trickery, brutal militancy, overt racism and absolute disdain and disregard for the people of the region. Anyone doubting this should simply remember what colonialism was and how it actually operated. A fine examples of British mendacity and immorality is captured in Partha Chatterjee’s magnificent work The Black Hole of Empire.


Back to our article. We are told that:

British forces fought … the tribesmen [who] were never completely jarred loose…

Jarred loose from where? And to where? Can you ‘jar loose’ – as if they were a piece of gum, a people from their lands? Can you simply arrive, bomb, kill, invade and assume that a person will not resist and defend themselves? Since when did their resistance to the humiliation, and evisceration of occupation become nothing more than their refusal to be ‘jarred loose’? Why should they be ‘jarred loose’ at all – these are their homes, their lands, their lineage, their ancestral burying grounds, their children’s playgrounds, their memories, their poems, their histories, their entire sense of themselves and their community. Why would they ever allow you to evict them as if they were illegitimate occupier or merely squatters?

And then the complete transformation of history begins. The writer completely loses the plot with this thread:

In the decades after, Pashtun fighters waged a new jihad that spanned governments: first against the declining British Empire, then against the Pakistani government founded in the partition of 1947

The ‘J’ word. Suddenly, there is a unproblematized line drawn from a people’s resistance to colonial occupation and brutality, to their refusal to be vassals in a mendacious, insecure, elitist post-colonial bureaucracy that retained and maintained the institutional legacies of colonial rule along with it’s the associated arrogance, racism, bigotry and economic exploitation. The criminalization – which is what the label jihad / jihadi does today, of a legitimate struggle for political and economic equality with sitting rulers, colonisers and politicians is simply denigrated and discredited by labelling it as jihad.
What you see, in both articles, is a cleansing of the violence of colonialism and imperialism, and a demonization of those who have been forced to resist it. It is an upside-down history, where the victims of great power wars are written about as the causes of the wars, and the reasons for why they have to be killed. The Air & Space piece plays lovely tricks with language:
The North-West Frontier was a rough, fortress province on the edge of the British Empire, in what is now Pakistan. Since the mid-19th century, the Wazirs, Mahsuds, and other mountain tribes who lived in the area had harassed the British by stealing cattle, looting, and kidnapping and ransoming British citizens. Stirred up by Britain’s two invasions of Afghanistan in the 1800s, tribesmen in the insular, autonomous district of Waziristan challenged British forces in the North-West Frontier, even after the 1919 armistice ending the third British-Afghan War.
The tribes – a people who are from the area, are written as if they were merely traveling bandits. They harass, steal, loot, kidnap and ransom . The British however – the very people who are illegal colonial occupiers, thousands of miles away from their Parliamentary democracy, and military oppressors in the land are citizens. It continues:
The tribal combatants had no aircraft to counter British bombers, of course, but just as the Taliban today manage to pilfer 7.62-mm ammunition intended for Afghan government forces, tribesmen in the interwar years captured .303 rifles and cartridges.
Centuries of history – colonial and post-colonial, imperial and military occupation, are erased to create a completely indefensible, irrational, and ahistorical direct line between the Waziri struggles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries against the British, and the Afghan/Pashtun struggle in the early 21st century against the Americans. It is as if, in a classic Orientalist move, these people have no real history, agency, politics, memory, complexity or as if there are no actors, individuals, writers, intellectuals, politicians, activists, and others who may have actually had the ability to create specific, unique and complex narratives and acts in the community. Nothing has happened in the 150 years that separate these two ends of the Orientalists imagination that is worthy of interest of attention. The tribals remain a colonial, exotic museum piece – unchanging, programmed, robotic, working through instinct and inflections perfected by genetics, and that is all that we need to know. The old language of the colonial oppressors – a language designed to dehumanize these people and prepare them for murder, continues to be used even today.
The two articles echo each other in uncanny ways, but most particularly in how they 1) are deeply Eurocentric in their historical perspective, 2) make use of the most inflammatory, criminalizing and fear-mongering words whenever they refer to the Waziris, 3) couch the violence, brutality, inhumanity, immorality, calculated, callous and murderous projects of colonialism, imperialism (American, Soviet, Pakistani), and post-colonial politics in the sweetest, softest and most calm-inducing language.

The victims of the political maneuvering and shenanigans of global power – maneuvering that see no humans, stop at no morals, and never book back at the bodies and blood that drains into the graves it leaves behind, are transformed into the aggressors, victimisers, killers, guerillas, and jihadis – the latter being the most hideous accusation the West has been able to concoct against its enemies. where commies once haunted our gated-community bedrooms, today the ghost called jihadi conveniently helps the great White man erase history, politics and involvement, and imagine a mindless, thoughtless, politics-less monster with a genetic and religio-cultural need to murder and kill.

The innocence of the West is an ideology that writers at the New York Times and at the Smithsonian keep at the center of their pieces. It is an innocence so sacred that it requires not only an abolishment of history, but a careful construction of reality that always shows the White man as simply ‘reacting’ to the madness of others, and never actually doing any of the things s/he really does: colonise, invade, kill, occupy, enslave, torture, murder, extract, steal, lie, cheat, brutalize, connive and so on and so forth.

This ideology – the innocence of the American / the West is manifested in the fact that journalists, writers, pundits, intellectuals and others never have to explain why American / the West even has the right to colonise, control, own, enslave, or even to have the right to bomb with impunity, invade with righteousness, or intervene as it sees fit. This fact is never put under question and we can see this in these two articles that yet again never acknowledge that it is the European / American who are in fact the invaders, colonisers, imperialists with their guns, gun boats, drones, helicopter gunships, and proxy armies and thus an and unwanted presence in these lands. They never countenance to see the people crushed under the colossus that is empire as victims of its political, military and economic calculations.

The brave and courageous struggle of the Waziris against centuries of Western brutality, mendacity, venality, violence, and dismissal is casually dismissed in these articles as a quaint rebelliousness, guerilla warfare or mindless jihad. The Waziris can’t have a complex relationship to their surroundings, their culture, their history, their memory. They cannot have a pride in their heritage, and most of all, they cannot have the intelligence for political participation, engagement and cultural aspirations.

From Pakistani orientalist apologists for Western wars (Hoodbhoy, Rashid), to pseudo diplomats-turned-armchair-histories (like Akbar Ahmed), to these journalists, what we see is a full-court press that erases the possibility of our considering the crime that is actually been taking place in the tribal regions for nearly two centuries and see how an entire region has been used as nothing more than fodder in the deviant and vile imaginations of colonial and imperial power – an imagination that has no humanist capacity for empathy, but merely a brutes capacity for rapacious consumption, murder and pillage. These voices have been the grease to the American war machine. Journalists have, and continue to, play a crucial role as facilitator of mass murder. By twisting or erasing history, by positing the victims of our massive war machine and our Weapons of Mass Destruction, as the aggressor and the killers – a tactic the Israeli’s perfected against the hapless Palestinians, journalists provide the ideological and intellectual super-structure upon which the dogs of war can be continually and consistently unleashed.

Hamid Dabashi in his work Brown Skin / White Masks called such interlocutors – the comprador intellectuals, who lay the ground work for the mass slaughter of ‘the other’ the carpetbaggers of empire.

…the figure of the native informers…marks a particular moment in the making and breaking of the virtual empire they serve and under whose shadow humanity at large lives perilously. This empire thrives on the stories it tells itself about liberty and democracy, or about ‘the end of history’ or ‘the clash of civilisations’. These stories need exotic seasonings, and the native informers provide them. They are the byproduct of an international intellectual free trade, in which intellectual carpetbaggers offer their services to the highest bidder, for the lowest risk.

Throughout their history, the people of the frontier zones of Pakistan and Afghanistan have been used, lied to, cheated, manipulated, betrayed, murdered, killed, abused, mocked, enslaved, tortured, humiliated, marginalised and exploited. That the Waziris and the Pashtuns in general have repeated resisted this campaign of murderous erasure is a testament to their remarkable cultural strength and their unbowed courage. These New York Times journalists, like other modern-day colonial and imperial apologists, have learned nothing and nor do they see anything.

Today once again the Waziri, like their larger Pashtun, brothers, are being murdered and killed with impunity. Posited as a bunch of terrorists, jihadis and, as far as a pretend-democratic state of Pakistan is concerned, non-citizens they can be dispensed with to serve larger political, economic and propaganda interests. Reliable sources tell me that the Pakistani military is conducting a fake campaign in the region, and bombing empty homes, and staging theatrical ‘encounters’. It is a tactic it has learned well from its American pay-masters – the same ones that have helped manufacture fake ‘terror’ plots in the USA, or create the ghost of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan (before it magically transformed itself into a real one!).

The need for war as the one, last means of legitimacy for a mindless, corrupt and venal Pakistani government, is obvious. The need for war for a militarised, lobotomised and cowardly USA political culture, is also obvious. Much of these two facts go unexamined and uncommented upon by the American and the Pakistani media. The need for a new bogeyman is hence also obvious: the tribal, the lawless, the militant, the Waziri. They today has become the most important people in the world, their broken bones, their spilled blood, their destroyed homes, their murdered children helping maintain and foist some of the most powerful people and political institutions in the world. The need for a media to create the narratives that will grease these injustices, explain these immoral killings, and absolve the real criminals, is more paramount than ever.

Comments are disabled for this post