Shahab Usto: When the saviours are savaged

Tragic events like the killing of Dr Dale will cause more embarrassment to the state that remains eternally war- and natural disaster-prone.

“This event has totally devastated us in all forms, but more so it has damaged the hope of those who were likely to benefit from our presence in those areas where no one dares to go,” Rafiullah Qureshi, an official of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), wrote from Abuja, Nigeria. He was mourning the gruesome death of his colleague, Dr Khalil Rasjed Dale, the ICRC official who was kidnapped four months before his body was dumped in Quetta recently.

Dr Dale, a 60-year-old British national of Yemeni background, had been working as a Health Programme Manager in Quetta, running a rehabilitation centre for the disabled. A dedicated employee of the ICRC and a true professional, he had worked for many years in places where angels feared to tread — Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq. During his year-long stay in Balochistan, he did nothing undesirable. His only crime was he was a foreigner, a useful ‘bargaining chip’, a source of ransom money.

The method of killing was telling. The autopsy report noted, “He was slaughtered with a sharp knife.” Even then perhaps, the luridness of the crime was not repellent enough because the killers are reportedly going to release a video of the enactment of the killing, just in case the world might ignore their threat in future; after all, some foreigners are still being held as hostages by the Taliban, the alleged killers of Dr Dale.

True, the death of the good doctor may not change the macabre security environment for aid workers in Pakistan. The rehabilitation centre in Quetta that has remained closed since Dr Dale’s abduction four months before his assassination may also be opened by the ICRC, true to its glorious traditions of helping the distressed and displaced, notwithstanding hostile conditions. Even then, Dr Dale’s death would surely cast a shadow on the aid, trade, economy and image of Pakistan, in addition to causing pain and anguish among his colleagues and beneficiaries.

Image is very important for a country’s overall bearing in the world. A financially strapped Pakistan would find it more difficult to get international aid agencies to help it meet its varied, never ending contingencies, requiring technical and financial assistance. And sometimes, a single event can cast a lasting slur on a country, if not a historical stigma. There are some unfortunate events that put countries to eternal shame. The infamous Dreyfus affair in France, the My Lai massacre by US soldiers in Vietnam, Sabra and Shatila Camps’ massacre of Palestinian refugees by the Israeli-sponsored Christian Falangists, the massacre of Chinese students at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and the ‘state-sponsored’ pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat, India, are some cases in point.

Indeed, a few refusniks — scientists, writers, politicians — who came to symbolise the opposition in the USSR, gave a powerful handle of propaganda to the US-led capitalist world to beat down the socialist bloc, belittling its huge contributions towards creating a more balanced, humane and freer world. China is also coming under flak for its poor human rights record, despite its huge efforts to uplift millions of Chinese from abject poverty. The latest edition of The Economist carried on its front page a picture of Chen, a blind Chinese political dissident, by way of highlighting the Chinese regime’s oppressiveness.

Unfortunately, Pakistan’s track record of human rights has also been dismal. The poor, the religious minorities, and impoverished women and children have often received a raw deal both at the hands of state and non-state actors. Therefore, much of the international community is not ready to appreciate the huge sacrifices made by Pakistan as a frontline state in the war on terror. Indeed, the image of it being close to a section of anti-US and anti-India non-state actors is isolating it globally and regionally.

Tragic events like the killing of Dr Dale will cause more embarrassment to the state that remains eternally war- and natural disaster-prone. Lest it be forgotten, it was the country’s bad image — inefficiency, corruption, sponsoring of terrorism — that last year came in the way of the UN getting any substantial aid from the international community to help the flood victims in Sindh and elsewhere. President Zardari’s expectation of receiving ‘billions of dollars’ from the so-called Friends of Pakistan also failed on the same altar: bad image.

Moreover, international politics being a hydra-headed monster could unleash its own demons. The abduction and killing of an aid worker in Quetta, which allegedly hosts the ‘Quetta Shura’, the Taliban’s seat of governance, could be hawked in the west as Pakistan’s complicity with, or inability to deal with the terrorists. Either way, the hardliners would find more space in the ongoing discourse in the US on how to get Pakistan to fall in line. Not only Pakistan’s sovereignty but also the international legal order is at stake if the US-led NATO goes unilateral in fighting terrorism within and outside Pakistan. Secretary Clinton’s choice of forum, India, and the use of loaded language against Pakistan are the final straws in the regional wind.

To co-opt India (and frighten Pakistan), the US is ignoring India’s repression of the Kashmiris, Maoists and a host of other ethnic, religious and social classes. Yet India not only ignores the US demands to stop trading with Iran and open its retail markets to the US companies but also displays its independence by treating simultaneously both Secretary Clinton and a big Iranian trade delegation, true to Nehruvian bilateralism (a diplomatic contraption to milk both communists and capitalists). Why? It is because India has successfully vended its global image bred on the advert, ‘Incredible India’, making it quintessential to global trade. All the powerful actors — the EU, the US, Russia, China and Iran — are harkening after India. But alas, all the wheels of development — good image, capital investment, global trade, donors’ trust and tourist attraction — are turning away from us. Why? It is because we cannot save even the saviours from being savaged, what to talk of capitalists, financiers and tourists.


The writer is a lawyer and academic. He can be reached at [email protected]  

Culled from the Daily Times


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