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For whom the bell tolls - Pakistan?

The US is now regarded as an enemy, but no man is an island, as Donne said

For whom the bell tolls - Pakistan?
Silent Thinker, Lahore

December 1, 2011

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A famous meditation by John Donne carries major significance for present day Pakistan. I grew up hearing about the bells of war tolling. The year was 1988. The Soviet Union was pulling its troops out of Afghanistan. I was reading in grade three and had to make a sentence out of the word “enemy” in a class test. Without know the actual meaning, I wrote what the only state-run Pakistan television station used to highlight at that time. “Russia is our enemy”. Obviously, that earned a perfect score. Rambo III, the pro-Mujahideen American blockbuster film, was released in the same year. The years prior to high school somewhat further narrowed my approach in thinking next about India as an enemy state, as the syllabus – despite being in a Catholic school – kept reminding us about the two wars between Pakistan and its neighbor in almost every grade. America has now been dubbed our latest enemy. The friendly Mujahideen (holy warriors) of the past are today’s Taliban. The country that supported and funded their takeover of Afghanistan is now reconsidering its role as a US ally in the war on terror.

Osama bin Laden

This transformation and the gossip of war has become louder ever since US forces killed long-hunted al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a garrison town in the Northern Province. It changed the image of the country in the eyes of the international community. My hopes of seeing Pakistan as a progressive country ended on May 2. The resulting chain reaction further cemented my desperation. Both media and political workers started opposing drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal regions more vehemently. Targeted killings reached new heights in Karachi, a Muslim political party tried to ban the Bible in the country and the country’s telecom authority almost banned the words “Jesus Christ” from text messaging. BBC’ World Service was blocked a few days ago by cable operators for broadcasting allegedly anti-Pakistan content. The recent aggression of NATO forces only made it worse. Air strikes killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers over the weekend.

The Church’s role

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace plans to hold a protest rally against the NATO attack this Friday in Karachi. Other Church commissions have been invited to participate and light candles in memory of the deceased ‘sons of the soil.’ Speaking out against the US publicly is a rare phenomenon in the Pakistan Church. The last time I remember the Catholic Church condemning “the unjust and merciless attacks by the imperialist Americans” (as stated in a press release from Faisalabad diocese) followed the January 2009 bombings in war-torn Afghanistan. Some of my favorite and most liberal analysts are now predicting the future of the country on patterns of what happened to nations who opposed the most powerful nation on Earth. The references included the vanished Red Indians and struggling Afghans. We tried to be allies for 10 years but it did not work, they say.

Christmas concerns

Jingle bells also fade amid all this upheaval. An emerging mainstream political party, critical of NATO operations, plans to hold a huge public gathering on December 25 in Karachi, which certainly will have a negative impact on the celebrations of the country’s minority Christian community’s biggest religious festival. Christian feasts, or any other religious gatherings for that matter, always have the potential for becoming targets of terrorist attacks. The Center for Human Rights Education, headed by a Catholic priest, has already sent an open letter to the party criticising the selection of the day. “No man is an island” was a famous line in the Donne work I alluded to above. This sentiment from the 17th century poet still holds true for us. We cannot exist in a vacuum and turn a deaf ear to whatever the world thinks about us. Caught between the mosque and the military throughout its history, Pakistan alone cannot counter an alliance of 28 countries. The baseless rhetoric of war need not be repeated again. There is a thin line between anti-American sentiments and an anti-Christian agenda in the context of Pakistan. Christians are often associated with the West for sharing the same religion and even similar clothing. The Catholic Church acted prudently in deciding to condemn the NATO raid. We have to exist with our Muslim siblings and show our loyalty to the state. But world leaders also need to act sensibly and deal more prudently with allies. Anti-NATO think tanks are also blaming American intervention in the Arab spring uprisings. The fallout has already resulted in growing anti-Christian sentiment in the Middle East. The killing of 27 Coptic Christian protesters in Egypt in October may just be a beginning. Silent Thinker is a pseudonym used by a Catholic commentator in Lahore
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