Out of the Dark Ages

Pakistan may be a poor nation in a variety of respects but in terms of casual barbarism among some elements it has a richness and diversity that mark it out as a regional leader. Alleged robbers are immolated by a baying mob. Members of 'peace jirgas' are murdered by the dozen and where the writ of the Taliban runs there is the increasingly regular spectacle of public murder. (We will not aggrandise these acts by using the word 'execution' as it implies a due process of law.) The writ of the Taliban appears to run widely in these troubled times and such control that the government has across vast swathes of the Northwest Frontier and the Tribal Areas is diminishing by the day. Pakistan is slowly but surely getting smaller, being eaten away by the acid of advancing Talibanisation. So as these words are written, news has come in that the much-awaited operation against the Taliban who seemed to have encircled Peshawar and were indeed making forays into its various neighbourhoods, going about telling shopkeepers not to sell immoral products (video and audio CDs to boot), has finally begun. A foreign news wire report also quoted Baitullah Mehsud announcing the suspension of peace talks with the government, an expected development really given Saturday's developments.

As for the grisly drama seen in Bajaur on Friday, reports suggest that as many as 5,000 people may have gathered about 10 kilometres to the west of Khar to watch the public murder of two Afghan nationals who had been found guilty of spying for the Americans. They were found guilty by a local jirga working as a Sharia court and we must assume that it is unlikely that either man had the benefit of representation by a defence lawyer. It is said they confessed their 'crime' but we do not know by what means their confession was extracted, though we may assume that violence played a part in their admission of guilt. Once the men had been murdered to the obvious satisfaction of the onlookers their severed heads were paraded for all to see, prompting an enthusiastic outbreak of aerial firing which left a couple more dead and several seriously wounded.

There is unlikely to be any written record publicly available by which we may evaluate the actions of the court; but there is however a record of the outcome of its proceedings as those doing the murdering were sufficiently engaged with the twenty-first century to be able to record the butchery with a digital camera. The images thus captured will doubtless find their way into the media outlets approved and run by those who created them. Still pictures of the killings were published by every Pakistani newspaper and many foreign newspapers were carrying both story and imagery in their online editions by the morning of 28th June -- though with less explicit pictures than those in the Pakistani press. This will of course serve to consolidate the view in other minds that this is a nation of barbarians -- a view that is increasingly difficult to gainsay.

It is said that America is the only nation on earth to have gone from barbarism to decadence without passing through civilisation along the way. Pakistan has rearranged the order of things by moving from the civilisation we enjoyed millennia ago to a historically brief period of decadence and now, as we move through the Dark Ages, a steady gallop in the direction of barbarism - with civilisation a half-remembered dream. This is also precisely why the military operation launched against the carriers of this dreaded scourge, of this obscurantism who perpetrate gruesome deeds as seen in Bajaur, needs to succeed because -- and one doesn't want to sound too alarmist here but the facts speak for themselves -- the survival of our very way of life is at stake.

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