The Syrian refugee crisis is the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
It's all over the place. Just google the words “worst refugee crisis.” Don't even put “Syria” or “WWII” in the search bar. What follows is a string of mainstream media articles labeling the current Syrian refugee crisis as the worst since the big deuce. It has become conventional wisdom.
But is the flood of humanity currently vacating Syria really the worst refugee crisis of the last 70 years?
The United Nations High Commission on Refugees estimates that about 4,000,000 Syrian refugees have now left their homeland. Millions more are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), people who have abandoned their homes but remain in Syria.
This is a formidable number, marking the Syrian exodus as certainly one of the worst refugee crises since World War II. And it may yet get worse. But is it actually the worst?
Pakistan’s predicament continues to draw comment from all over the world; in the Western (and Westoxicated Eastern) Left, the narrative remains straightforward(to such a degree that one is tempted to share an essay by Trotsky that Tariq Ali may have missed): US imperialism is to blame. In this story, US imperialism “used” poor helpless clueless Pakistan for its own evil ends, then “abandoned” them (it’s very bad when the imperialists go into a third world country, it’s also very bad when they leave) and they have now returned to finish off the job. I have written in the past about my disagreements with this Eurocentric and softly racist narrative and have little to add to it. In any case, no one in authority in either the imperialist powers or Pakistan is paying too much attention to the Guardian or the further reaches of the Left. But even among those who matter (for better and for worse), there seems to be no agreement about what is going on and what comes next. Everyone has their theories, ranging from “lets attack Pakistan” to “let’s throw more money at them” and everything in between. I don’t know what comes next either, but I have been thinking for a few days about an outcome that many in the Pakistani pro-military webring think is around the corner: What if we win?
The fact that the US/NATO are in trouble in Afghanistan is no longer news. The fact that Pakistan is about to “win” may not be as obvious to many outsiders (or even to many Pakistanis). but “strategic victory” in Afghanistan is now taken for granted by the Paknationalists. And one should take them seriously, since their theories are not only a product of GHQ, they are also the basis GHQ’s own decision making. The circle goes like this: psyops operators create the theory in the morning. It’s taken up by the paknationalist media through the day and is on GEO TV by nightfall. The generals hear it on the evening news and excitedly call up their friends: did you see what everyone is saying!
What does it mean for Pakistan to “win” in Afghanistan?
We have been here before, but it is being said that the unhappy marriage between the Pentagon and GHQ has deteriorated further and once again, those watching this soap opera are wondering if this union can last? Writing in Al-Arabiya, GHQ’s own Brigadier Shaukat Qadir says that the US appears to be “gunning for Pakistan’s top generals”, who are said to be bravely resisting this latest perfidious American plot against General Kiyani. And why is the US trying to undermine the good General? Because at a meeting with President Obama he made clear “ that this soft-spoken, laid-back, easy-going general, far from being overawed by the privilege of meeting President Obama, would still give back better than he got.”
This interesting article (I highly recommend reading it twice to get the full flavor) can be read in a number of ways, all of which are worrisome. One is to assume that Brigadier sahib means exactly what he is saying. That there is some core Pakistani interest that General Kiyani bravely insisted on defending, and for that sin, he is now being systematically undermined. Note that Pakistan’s elected government did not decide what this core interest is supposed to be, nor was it consulted before General Kiyani decided to defend this core interest against US imperialism. In fact, Brigadier sahib hints that the elected regime may include “powerful individuals who have no loyalty to this country and its people”. No, this core interest, for which Kiyani sahib is supposedly willing to risk a clash with the United States (and by extension, NATO, Japan, etc) is defined by GHQ, as it has been for decades.
“Strategic depth”, it seems, is alive and well and we can live with bombings, insurgencies, electricity shortages and all sorts of economic and social crises, but we cannot live without strategic depth. For the sake of this strategic depth, we kept the Taliban alive and made sure the new American-installed regime in Afghanistan would not stabilize. And when the Americans leave (something that everyone in GHQ seems convinced is happening very soon), we will restart a civil war in Afghanistan, with “our side” led by the Haqqanis and Mullah Omar.
“We are just props for validating and furthering their policy! We say no to them and they punch us hard and prove their point with another explosion! Can't you see that?”
“No, jan–I cannot–You have made this a habit–of blaming America for everything!”
“No I have not made it a habit! Isn’t it curious that every time they make a policy statement—quoting D’Touqueville to us—-every time they want to force Pakistan to take a position in their war and Pakistan resists—some sort of a violent event takes place in Pakistan to prove their point? Isn’t that just a little suspect? They are going to increase their troops here—they are going to expand the war into Pakistan—they are going to occupy us—just wait and see!” Zarmeenay had argued, in an urgent tone, her eyes wide and serious as she had packed to leave for Baluchistan. “ We have to stop them Mama.—we have to push back! Amir, Amreekah, Mama! Amir Amreekah!”
“I don’t know Zarmeenay.” Rukhsana had argued with her daughter, “Maybe it’s time we stopped blaming everybody else for all the criminals that have been created right here in Pakistan in the name of religion.’
“Mama! Please—there no such thing as Al Qaeda! There’s no such thing as the Taliban! This is all the same old, same old, overt-covert good old CIA—now breaking up Pakistan—we will have Pushunistan, Baluchistan—Serakiistan—Kashmir, Baluchistan, Karachistan, Sindhistan—just wait. They will do worse to us than what they did to Yugoslavia and the breaking apart of the Soviet Union—just wait—……They will murder all of us!”
“Don’t you agree with me Mama, that they killed Benazir Bhutto? They already knew who was her murderer the moment she died? They had decided who to accuse of her murder the day she was murdered? So Benazir is dead, and Baitullah Mesud is dead—But they can’t find Osama Bin Laden in all these ten years of looking for him with all the sophisticated technology that they have?”
“Really! I’m so worried about you darling! Zarmeenay, you are beginning to go too far! I’m scared for you! You talk like this everywhere in public and I’m afraid for you! ” Rukhsana had said to Zarmeenay just before she had left the house.
“Don’t be afraid, Mama. Don’t be afraid! That’s been our main problem we’ve been afraid for too long. It’s too late to be afraid now, we have to take action. We have to save ourselves, our country! You’ll see Mama! I’m right! It’s time to listen to your heart Mama, I’m listening to mine. We have to fight for Pakistan!”
And Zarmeenay had disappeared. Just like that vanished. Now she was dead.
The first time I saw an unmanned drone aircraft was in Karachi when I sat directly under one trying to compose myself into a pose of cool collectedness despite the heat. That day in June 1998 I had gone to get my photograph taken professionally for the promotion of my first novel Mass Transit. As I seem to recall—there were several of them hanging from the ceiling all over the photographer’s house. These oversized toy gliders–above my head—rocked gently in the artificial breeze created by the air conditioning unit. I asked if assembling toy gliders were his hobby—. I was told they were neither. In fact they were remote control flying cameras. “They take pictures for the military” My picture taker told me. “Pictures over the Arabian sea—Pictures in Tharparkar near the border with Rajasthan—he grinned and continued peering at me through the lens of his camera. “Those pictures are taken with a very special type of a lens. Taking photographs of people like you, now that’s the hobby”. “Say no more” said I.
The sun seared the air to sweltering outside—but air conditioning inside, kept the photographer’s studio mildly cool. He was a civil aviation engineer. He did photo essays and fashion layouts for news magazines in the country as he had said as a hobby. While I arranged myself on the chair, brushed my hair and applied some lipstick, he adjusted the lighting and the backdrop. The power went out just as we were getting started. No matter—it would only be gone for half hour at the most. The room was getting hot. The pure cotton shift that I had on was beginning to cling—beads of sweat were beginning to trickle down my arms. So while we waited he pulled up the blinds on the windows and opened the shutters to let in air and the hot light from outside and asked me if I’d like something cool to drink or tea. I opted for a coke with ice. Ice would be so good. He left the room. The sea breeze caused the drones above my head to sway, various parts, probably the wings made a creaking sound. I looked up nervously—hoping that the strings holding them up were strong enough. When he returned with the drinks I fished out one of the ice cubes from my glass and rubbed it up and down my arm.