Everyone and his dog is predicting an operation against the Pakistani Taliban by the Pakistan army. The word is that the TTP (or factions of the TTP, confusion about that being a standard part of Pakistani discourse and probably of the situation on the ground) has crossed all limits, attacking even in Punjab and killing soldiers, not just bloody civilians.
The army has responded with shelling and air attacks and if this pattern continues, then the unstable equilibrium of the last 12 years may not be easily restored. If that does happen, then Pakistan could be in for a rather brutal fight. The fighters are not equally matched; on one side is a nuclear armed semi-modern state, on the other a few thousand deranged fanatics and their distant backers (whether in Saudi Arabia, India or Langley hardly matters, though I do think there are more in Saudia than in the latter). It would seem an easy bet that the state will eventually triumph. But even insurgencies that do not succeed can go on for a long time. Besides, given the ideological support the Taliban enjoy in Pakistan, they are unlikely to be easily swatted away. They are also experts at blowing stuff up and seem to have a lot of explosives. On the other side, the state and its fighting arms are not exactly famous for their world-beating efficiency or the surgical precision of their actions.
So irrespective of the outcome, the interim period is likely to be blood-soaked, violent, painfully long and frequently shocking. While Pakistani liberals are much more robust in the face of violence than their Western counterparts (having seen a good deal of it in the last 12 years), they may not be fully ready for the mayhem or the moral dilemmas to come. Therefore, I have penned a quick survival guide for you and us, the liberals and ruling-elite leftists of Pakistan. I hope it helps (and while some remarks are frivolous and even facetious, the overall intent is serious).
- Recognize that very few liberals possess skill sets that are in any way practically useful in a civil war. As such, waste no time in trying to figure out “what is my role in this war”. You have no role. Relax. That’s actually a good thing. Own it.
- Having recognized #1, you will immediately see that there is little to be gained by hyperventilating about anything. Whether it is Taliban atrocities or state oppression, you can (if you are smart) put some distance between yourselves and the responsibility for either crime. Enemies (aka PTI, Jamat e Islami, Tariq Ali, Pankaj Mishra, Arundhati Roy, and so on) will no doubt try to make you feel guilty about the whole thing and loudly proclaim that you must take responsibility for the mess and you are liberal fascists and whatnot. Ignore them. I know its degrading to realize that you are irrelevant, but hey, take advantage of that. Own it.
- Avoid aggressive and premature cheer-leading of army offensives. Even the US, with its extremely accurate drone technology and its efforts to reduce civilian casualties, cannot do so entirely. Third world army offensives being what they are, a LOT of innocent people are going to “pay the ultimate price”. That is very sad. It REALLY REALLY is. I am not kidding about this one. It really is sad. Very sad. Try not to appear to be delighting in it. Pakhtoons are human beings too. FATA Pakhtoons are human beings too. They have suffered tremendously for the various grand strategic delusions of our geniuses. Don’t be heartless and start cheering when they are bombed and shelled. Military action is probably unavoidable if Pakistan (aka Punjab and Sindh) is unwilling to just leave the area to Afghanistan and reverse the great Sikh conquests of the 19th century. But you have to walk a fine line here. Support military action but ask at every forum that it be as precise as possible; be ready to condemn the most flagrant abuses and avoid cheering any action too early lest the next day’s news reveal the reality to be uglier than initially presented. But when the army seems to carry out a truly well-targeted operation against terrorists, be ready to express support. Following these simple rules will save you from much embarrassment.
- At the same time, avoid the temptation to join PTI or start campaigns against the army. First of all, your campaigns (like all previous campaigns of yours/ours) are going to have no discernible impact on affairs, so don’t go overboard. Secondly, the army is fighting (however crudely) for the existing (highly imperfect) state versus the anarchic Syria level crap that the Taliban will bring to E-7 if they break through. Swallow hard. Take a deep breath. Go easy.
- If you must (and if everyone you know is a Tariq Ali or Arundhati Roy fan, you may have little choice) stand up and create a huge storm in the phase V living room teacup about the corrupt Pakistani elite, slaves of America, oppressors of the Taliban, upper class nitwits, etc. then do so strategically. Be very visible within your own group and on social media, but completely invisible on the ground. Otherwise, people are known to vanish off the face of the earth and then turn up in Manghopir with a few extra holes in their body. Stick to you safe zone.
- At the same time, don’t panic and sell everything to your Memon friend at half price. The state is likely to win. Every wise Jamatia in Pakistan has one foot in Malaysia if not in the US, so there is no reason why liberals should not take precautions and make sure their green card is current and cousin Jimmy in New York is not terminally upset at you for some silly thing or the other. But premature evacuation may leave you with egg on your face (or worse). Stay calm. Take reasonable precautions. Avoid panic. If the shit hits the fan, run for your life, but don’t up and run every time Uncle Rashid says the sky is falling. Uncle Rashid has been saying that for 65 years and his commercial plots continue to go up in value. Hold tight and pray to Allah. All will be well.