EDITORIAL: Taking the blood out of killing

Taking the blood out of killing

“If America wants to see itself clean of terrorists we also want that our villages and towns should not be bombed.”

This was the modest request issued by Nawaz Sharif after Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher went to Pakistan this week to secure the new government’s commitment on fighting terrorism. Negroponte and the rest of his State Department contingent might have received a slightly warmer response if they had not barged in on Pakistan’s celebrations at the restoration of democracy.

The New York Times reported:

The timing of the American visit was harshly criticized by the news media for creating the appearance that the United States was trying to dictate policy to a government that was not even hours old. The two American diplomats met Mr. Sharif as President Musharraf was administering the oath of office to Mr. Gillani.

“I don’t think it is a good idea for them to be here on this particular day,” said Zaffar Abbas, the editor of the respected English language newspaper Dawn, in Islamabad. “Here are the Americans, right here in Islamabad, meeting with senior politicians in the new government, trying to dictate terms.”

And the article continued:

An independent analyst on the Pakistani military, Shuja Nawaz, who lives in Washington, said he had been told by Pakistani officials that they discouraged the American diplomats from coming this week.

But the Pakistanis had been informed that Mr. Negroponte was on a trip that included other already arranged stops and Tuesday was the only possible day for him. Mr. Nawaz called the visit “ham-handed,” and said it could be interpreted as Washington wanting to continue to act as the “political godfather behind Musharraf.”

Ironically, it was the Pakistanis who needed to give the Americans a little instruction on the meaning of democracy: “We told them that since 9/11 until now the decisions were made by an individual and therefore these did not reflect the aspiration of the people. The situation has been changed now because an independent parliament has come into being and all the decisions will be made by it.”

That was how Sharif explained to Negroponte and Boucher that the US government needs to get used to dealing with a government instead of a dictator. Unfortunately, this administration like so many others before it still finds dictators easier to work with as a matter of convenience. It’s the boneheaded mafia approach to international relations: make a deal with “the man” and then let his and your minions take care of the details.

The false premise upon which Negroponte and Boucher’s unannounced visit was based was that Pakistan is not as serious as the United States when it comes to dealing with terrorism. But they would do well to consider the following remarks from an editorial in today’s edition of Pakistan’s leading English-language daily, The News:

What Washington still does not seem to have grasped is that almost everyone in Pakistan, including its political leaders, is at least as keen as they are to see an end to terror. It is, after all, Pakistani men, women and children who die when bombs explode; it is their blood that stains roadsides; their screams that fill hospital emergency rooms. The US-directed policies of the past seven years have led only to an expansion in militancy, to more violence and to more hatred. It is indeed a mystery why, in the face of these facts, Washington considers Musharraf to have been a success in battling terror. The White House and its team must now restrain themselves in further meddling in Pakistan’s affairs. Its new leaders must be allowed to devise their own strategies without attempts at long-distance dictation or remote-controlled operations. Such dictation has brought disaster in the past and is likely to do so in future as well. The people of Pakistan and their elected representatives must now be left alone to chalk out a brighter future for everyone in the country.

Unfortunately for the people of Pakistan, when it comes to confronting terrorism in the tribal areas, Democrats and Republicans are largely in agreement that the US needs to pursue a “tough” approach. Very few Americans are willing to question the idea that if an opportunity arises, then “high value targets” should be “taken out.”

But consider for a moment this frequently used phrase: take out.

Whenever a command is issued that someone or some people should be “taken out,” the words connote executive power, wielded by unbloodied hands. All the way down from the command to the deed, taking out requires a sense of detachment and a comfortable distance from the fatal event. Absent that distance, the nature of the act becomes inescapable.

When Brutus stabbed Julius Caesar, he didn’t take him out. Brutus and his fellow assassins killed Caesar. They had blood on their hands. Brutus says, “let no man abide this deed, but we the doers.” He knew what he had done and he accepted full responsibility.

When we talk about taking out terrorists, we prefer not to know what has been done and we try to disperse responsibility. We imagine that if a greater good (“defeating terrorism”) is being served, then the loss of innocent life, though regrettable will also most likely be unavoidable. What we can and do avoid considering is the carnage. We mask it with a casual phrase.

The message from the new government of Pakistan to America is quite simple: our people are worth as much as yours. Should that not be seen as an indisputable truism?

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  1. Very well put. The cavalier attitude with which the US makes its “surgical” strikes on possible terrorists is abhorrent. It ignores all concepts of sovereignty that we would expect from every other country on the planet.

  2. Otto Schiff says

    I am an old (87) refugee of Nazi Germany.
    I participated in world war 2, which I thought had to be fought to get rid of German and Japanese imperialism.
    Since that time The United States seems to be trying to push around many countries, in Latin America, Europe and Asia.
    Pakistan is a case in point. Let us solve our own problems and let others solve theirs.
    Otto Schiff