Khyber IDPs just abandoned

Frontier Post
As the military operation is on in the Khyber Agency, thousands of civilians fleeing their homes in fighting zones for safety find themselves left just out in the cold, completely abandoned by an insensitive political administration, showing itself bereft of even a streak of human compassion. Not that the IDPs are experiencing this administrative callousness for the first time. They had had to undergo this ordeal whenever some security operation of sorts was launched in the agency even in the past, as indeed are going through their cousins of Bajaur, Waziristan and the tribal region’s other parts, who now for months on end have been wandering forsaken and unattended, nursing the grouse of being just ignored by their political administrations as much as by the federal government’s hierarchs. Still, one thought it would be different this time round. As the military has launched into a systematic clenched-fisted campaign substantially different from its previous actions to flush out militants from the agency and as its political administration dittoed the official intent of continuing the drive until the last militant was finished off, the civil power was legitimately expected to humanely cater for the imminent civilian exodus from war theatres. But in place is no arrangements whatsoever for the IDPs’ succour. No relief camp has been set up. No organised effort is in evidence for shifting of the displaced to safer places. They have just been left on their own to fend for themselves. And the unfortunate people with their crying infants, hungry children and woebegone women trudging on the rocky terrain are just wandering about for refuge, with some lucky ones crowding up in their relations’, friends’ and acquaintances’ homes, with a few fortunate wealthy ones landing into exorbitantly hired accommodations and the whole lot of the rest just staying under the open sky with their weeping hungry children. And so indifferent is the political administration and its bosses in Peshawar and Islamabad that it has forgotten even to wake up and sensitise the country’s citizenry to the dire distress of its compatriot IDPs of the Khyber Agency. And yet we are still being regaled with the hierarchy’s tiresome talk of combining up political initiatives and the military muscle to snuff out the monstrosities of militancy and terrorism from our land. For its excessive and populist use, winning of hearts and minds has become a trite cliché in this country, though. Yet, it is a decisive make-and-break reality that in effect determines a counter-insurgency campaign’ ultimate success or failure. So does it occur to any of top bureaucrats and their political overlords what a sullen and angry displaced populace means to an anti-militancy operation? Hadn’t they heard what Bajaur’s internally displaced had cried out in complaint when various official quarters were all out working for Malakand IDPs’ wellbeing? With that grouse, some have returned to their homes in Bajaur, while others still staying behind in their places of refuge are living with it. Isn’t it? And doesn’t it occur to any of the hierarchs in the tribal region, Peshawar or Islamabad that FATA is not just a far more sensitive area than Malakand geopolitically and strategically, but it also is in the lap of a militancy, much of it foreign-fuelled, which is far chronic and far entrenched? Doesn’t that underscore imperative need of a far greater effort to keep its residents on the right side of the state and its administration? And is there no one in official quarters to realise this inexorable necessity’s importance in view of a firestorm visibly building up in neighbouring Afghanistan, where the Obama administration had strode in on fancy notions, half-baked ideas and wishful thinking and where it is finding the going tougher than had it visualised? Barring a miracle, the Americans are in for viciously insurmountable turbulent times there. And when the firestorm breaks out in all its fury, they are sure to divert flames to our side. Imagine what predicament in that eventuality we would be in if we have a disgruntled and incensed populace of ours to contend with in the tribal region? Hence the civilian hierarchy from top to bottom must wake up from its stupor and start caring for the internally displaced of the Khyber Agency as also of other agencies, if not for humanitarian ground, for the national security interests at least. The Frontier governor in particular must activate himself energetically as FATA is actually his principal responsibility. He must energise his sloth-ridden political administration to set it on looking after the displaced. And the military must insist on it, no lesser for its own campaign’s success.

Never mind the Taliban – Pakistan's youth put their faith in rock'n'roll
Wannabe rock stars have it tough in Pakistan. Last month a new band, Poor Rich Boy (and the toothless winos), took to the stage of a cramped Islamabad cafe for their breakthrough gig. On the first night, one person turned up.

"It was the night of the world cricket finals. Bad timing," said the group's guitarist, Zain Ahsan, ruefully. The second gig was better – 30 people came along – but brought its own dark worries.

"I asked the owner, 'What if a bomb goes off?'" said Ahsan. "She said, 'Don't worry, I'll be with you.'"

Even in a summer of Taliban violence young Pakistanis are rocking on. An underground music scene is quietly thriving in the country's major cities, nourished by the internet and the passion of mostly amateur bands.

In Lahore a pair of unemployed rockers have tapped into that enthusiasm with a new school for rock'n'roll.

"We weren't getting a lot of gigs, and we needed to survive," said co-founder Hamza Jafri. "So we thought we'd try this."

The Guitar School, as it is known, has been surprisingly successful. Around 40 students have signed up, ranging from surly teenagers in drainpipe jeans to more practised musicians such as Ahsan looking to hone their skills. Classes take place in a small room lined with egg boxes; the school's teaching style is reflected in its motto: "Play it like you feel it."

Many come from wealthy families that might once have stigmatised music, Jafri said. "People associated it with the red light district and sexual entertainment." But a popular new television show featuring live performances, Coke Studio, has given rock music a new patina of respectability.

On a recent afternoon a woman brought in two reluctant-looking teenage daughters for lessons. "It will do them good to learn," she said.

But making it to the next stage is difficult and sometimes dangerous. For the past six months virtually all public performances in Lahore have stopped since extremists attacks on a performing arts festival and the Sri Lankan cricket team. The Pakistani music industry itself is disorganised and hamstrung by massive piracy.

But the country's internal chaos is also feeding creativity. Pakistanis have a rich musical tradition, mostly rooted in Sufism, but modern musicians have generally skirted political issues. But the new single from co-VEN, which Jafri fronts, is a sharp parody of Pakistan's controversial alliance with the US.

"There's a lot of foreign pressure on our government to attack people in the tribal areas," he said. "We are taking dictation from you guys."

Others have a playful take on the turmoil. The Islamabad band Bumbu Sauce – the name comes from a Pot Noodles packet – recently brought out Jiggernaut, a single that mixes references to kung fu, talking dogs and the Taliban. Guitarist Shehryar Mufti is not worried the insurgents might take the joke badly.

"Their beef is with the government, not the people," he said. "I think rock music is low on their list of priorities."

Pakistani rock gained traction with the arrival of satellite television in the 1990s. Today the musicians, many self-taught, publicise themselves through networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace, and Pakistan's growing number of FM radio stations. And despite the security concerns, a fresh concert scene is emerging.

On a sultry Saturday night hundreds of young people, mostly dressed in jeans and T-shirts, crowded into a new outdoor auditorium on the edge of Islamabad called the Rock Musicarium. "People are thirsting for music, they want to get out," said the venue's founder, Zeejah Fazli.

When it opens properly in November, the venue will have a recording studio and capacity for 600 people, said Fazli, who estimates there are 20 rock bands in Islamabad alone. But, he admitted, the project depends on a six-month lull in attacks on the capital continuing.

For some well-to-do Pakistanis, rock music represents the cultural tensions of their life, which is divided between western influences and the conservative direction their society is taking. "On one side kids feel like they are in England; on the other this strict Islamic thing is going on. It's not good for people's sanity," said Jafri.

About five years ago Junaid Jamshed, the country's most famous pop star, renounced music and returned to religion. Now he appears on religious chat shows sporting a long, curly beard.

But most aspiring rock stars say they can live with the difference. In the soundproof room at the Lahore guitar school, 17-year-old Danish Khwaja strummed his guitar, long hair flopping over his forehead.

"It's kinda cool doing stuff you love," he said.