Diary from Peshawar, Pakistan.
We reproduce below recent emails sent by a member of the World Socialist Movement living in Peshawar, near the Afghan border
Well, Pakistan as you might be aware is breathing heavily as the pressure is mounting on it by the US. The religious parties are furious over the government support for the Americans. They are bringing people out on the streets and protesting against the government and USA. Things could get worse if the attack on Afghanistan actually takes place. The place where I live is indeed very sensitive. There is a religious movement going on for the past six years in the frontier region here. They are armed, rebellious and can defy the government any time. They are pro-Taliban and are sending fresh recruits across the border into Afghanistan to fight the holy war. The imminent attack is sure to trigger off a far worse situation than can ever be imagined. People would rally around the religious parties as they have the street power and are bold enough to defy any ban by the government. Already life is too tough for the poor and destitute here and inside Afghanistan. Watching BBC and CNN it seems war is already here.
They are whipping the drums of war just for nothing. The impact of this on the lives of the common people is worse. Thousands of refugees are crossing the border for safety and entering Pakistan for food and shelter. What is going to be their fate is anybody’s guess. We are living at only three hours drive distance from the border. There is a hectic activity on border between Pakistan and Afghanistan in the frontier region to which I belong. Emotions are very high and even illiterate people are keen to know what is happening on that side. As we all know, Afghanistan is in a virtual grip of drought and fighting for the many years. People are already suffering in refugee camps set up in Peshawar. More are coming. There is going to be a huge catastrophe in terms loss to humans lives of the innocent and hapless who have nothing to defend themselves.
Well, this is how things are moving, not in the right direction which it never was.
Blair arrived and said what he had been saying all along since the attacks. The generals on this side obviously looked tense and confused. Yesterday’s dictators are today’s democrats. Blair praised Musharaf’s so-called roadmap to democracy and in turn promised large and hefty economic largesse. Obviously the government is happy as it has been bailed out of the economic stranglehold that has dogged it for three years. The government economic managers (mismanagers) hired from the IMF and World Bank (the finance and foreign ministers were former employees of the WB) are now lining up in Washington to thank their boss and to beg for more. Back at home people the majority whom the general terms minority are infuriated over the government “unstinted support” in the fight for terrorism. The armed religious are waiting for the strikes to happen and then there would be nobody to stop them from carrying out their agenda. Presently they are a bit silent and cautious.
So the strikes have begun, and so have the demonstrations in every nook and corner of Pakistan. The area where I live is considered to be very sensitive as there are many religious groups operating here. The schools were closed today for an indefinite period. There were more than ten demonstrations today here by students and parties protesting and chanting slogans against US. Across the country protestors have damaged vehicles and put a cinema on fire in Quetta alone. They were tear-gassed. Later in the day shops too were closed down as mark of solidarity with the Afghan brethren. The situation is very volatile and open to violence any time. Now we are living in the midst of war albeit fought at a distance from us. The government will soon come under severe attack by the religious and non-religious alike, as the strikes have paralyzed business here. The president in his press conference here said today the strikes would be short and targeted while the Americans say it would be sustained and relentless. One thing seems clear the Americans will take it too far no matter what happens to Pakistan and Afghanistan in the process.
The drive to war
A member from Ireland who was in the USA on 11 September records the atmosphere there
I wasn’t alive during the summer of 1914 but I think I may have got a sense of what it felt like as a result of my recent holiday in the United States. We were staying with a relation in Los Angeles when we were awoken by him on the morning of Tuesday the 11 September to the continuous coverage on all the TV and radio channels of the terrorist bombing in New York or “Attack on America” as the news anchormen quickly deemed it. It was shocking to see the footage of those planes crashing into the World Trade Center and to imagine the gruesome deaths that so many on the planes and in the buildings must have suffered.
What was particularly upsetting was the sight of people forced to jump off the building to their deaths rather than tolerate the fireball. For me though as a socialist, what was most dispiriting, that in addition to the knowledge of so many innocent dead, was the whole way that the media and the establishment in general so quickly took control of how the incident should be interpreted. It was a powerful example of the socialist critique of what’s called liberal or parliamentary democracy; although we elect our leaders by periodical mass voting the context in which they operate and their agenda somehow seem to be set by others beyond our control.
Even before President Bush made his first announcement “today we saw an attack on freedom”, and only a number of hours after the suicide bombings, grief for the victims and hope for the survivors was already being pushed aside by talk of retribution and revenge. Almost instantaneously an endless series of retired State Department and Pentagon officials from the Reagan and Bush (Senior) era, together with innumerable academics, (styling themselves as “terrorism experts”) were paraded across the screens offering their two-pence worth on who was behind it and what form the military response should take. It was evident that a large number of these were aching for a war with Iraq/Iran/Libya etc. and any other ‘rogue state’ that could be tied into the conspiracy.
The papers were just as bad and the coverage even in supposedly liberal papers such as the New York and Los Angeles Times was equally strident. They carried stories on the role that the “Special Forces” would undertake which read like the worst excesses of tabloid jingoism that we’ve come to expect from the Murdoch Sun. It wasn’t just the media who were uncritical in their judgements. The Friday after the bombings had been designated as an official “Day of Mourning” for the country. The President and a number of ex-Presidents plus the leaders of Congress all gathered in the National Cathedral in Washington for “prayer”. Representatives of the Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim faiths (in that order!) duly said their piece to be followed immediately by the President on the podium. Bush’s warlike comments on the actions that the US would undertake were clearly at variance with the supposedly religious ethos of the service though unsurprisingly provoked no adverse comments from the clerics present. Indeed the whole affair ended with a stirring rendition of Battle Hymn of the Republic by a Marine choir.
The effect of this on public opinion was quickly apparent. The ‘Stars and Stripes’ flew everywhere. Reputable billboards in Shopping Malls carried the slogan “God Bless America” while their more uncouth cousins (located close to offices of the National Rifle Association or similar organisations) promised all sorts of unprintable vengeance to Osama bin Laden. On the radio talk shows people wanted the borders closed, immigration halted, “racial profiling of people of Middle Eastern appearance” and a multitude of other measures. For some even this wasn’t enough; “it was time this country got serious” and the mass expulsion or detention of Arab-Americans was the only solution. This provoked a response and “helpful” listeners rang in and urged Arab-Americans to place the US flag prominently on their houses to demonstrate to their neighbours where their true loyalties lay.
Of course Wall Street wasn’t going to take the attack lying down; radio and newspaper advertisements, sponsored by the major banks and investment houses, soon appeared urging Americans to buy shares as it was their patriotic duty to push the Dow Jones index up. In a vague way it was suggested that the World Trade Center was singled out because as a symbol of capitalism it captured America’s true spirit. Hollywood too (where correctly sensing the public mood and identifying with it is a key requirement for success) went to war and a “galaxy” of A-list celebrities hosted a “Tribute to Heroes” television special. Raising money for the victims of the atrocity is an entirely praiseworthy event of course; the irony that some of the big names involved such as Sylvester Stallone had made films in the 1980s extolling the Mujaheddin as freedom fighters will register with some of us.
Very importantly though it must be pointed out though that not all American workers were taken in by this frenzy; within days after the event I passed small groups of anti-war protestors in different towns who were pointing out the fallacy of equating justice with revenge. It took some courage to do so in that heated environment. Their small stand highlighted the complete absence in the mainstream media of any attempt to ask the question of why this attack took place and what the suicide bombers intended to achieve by their act. The role of the US in the Middle East in terms of its support for Israel in its conflict with the Palestinian Authority and its propping up of autocratic, reactionary states in the Gulf was not referred to. While the Taliban regime in Kabul owe their origin and rise to power to a complex series of events in Afghanistan’s recent history, the not-so-covert actions of the CIA in supplying the Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation with a plentiful supply of weaponry cannot be glossed over. George Bush now has a 90 percent popularity rating in the polls and may find himself in the trap that unless forthcoming US deeds match his rhetoric then his credibility and re-election hopes will be damaged. It may be that many more people across South Asia will join the 5,000-plus fatalities in New York and Washington as victims of 11 September.
Indictment of capitalism
The following letter from a member was published in The Belfast Telegraph on 28 September
George Bush has made it clear that if we do not support his plans to use absolute state terrorism to defeat the more “laissez faire” variety of terrorism, we will be marked down as an enemy. This is, we are assured, in the interests of the Bush definition of freedom.
Meanwhile, America’s astronomical “defence” budget must be going through the roof. Enormous bribes to old enemies and new friends are the order of the day and what are obviously staggering amounts of dollars are being laid out in the massive movement of men and equipment to terrify the enemy and, presumably-unless the Pentagon is absurdly wanton with its military resources-take the lives of a great many human beings. As in all wars, most of the latter will be completely innocent people, or, to use that brutal term taken from the lexicon of the US military establishment, mere “collateral damage”.
While the killing hasn’t yet started, the starving people of Afghanistan whose lives have been blighted by the brutality of the Russian imperialists and cynical usage by the agents of the West, are already being terrified. The UN, obviously bound hand and foot by the purchasing power of the West, has embargoed food aid to these starving people, caught between the religious madmen of the Taliban and the threat of the allegedly sane leaders of what they insist are the Western democracies.
Conversely, while the miserably poor of Afghanistan are being starved and terrified, the US President and the mayor of New York are appealing to Americans-obviously excluding the millions of poor in that country-to go out and spend to help American capitalism.
Could there be a more profound indictment of the system of international capitalism?