Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
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Today, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf praised his country’s security forces “engaged in this sacred task in the supreme national interest.” What sacred task, Mr. President?
I’ve just spent six days in the towns and villages of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and I hoped the “sacred task” Musharraf referred to was the slow process of rebuilding  so many destroyed homes and communities shattered by last year’s October earthquake that killed 73,000 people and left over 3.5 million homeless. The army has been the major actor in the immediate relief and ongoing recovery following that tragedy. While imperfect and politically questionable, many people in Kashmir commend the role the army has played. Yes, this must be what Musharraf meant.
Alas, Musharraf’s sacred task  is none other than the Global War on Terror. He vows to crush terrorism at all costs. Last week, he gave the world an appalling illustration of this vow when he bombed a religious school in Bajaur  on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, killing over 80 people, many of them children. The government says it was targeting militants. Locals say civilians died in the attack.
Immediately, there were protests in seven cities throughout Pakistan. In the Tribal Areas, 20,000 people rose up in protest, and called for waves of suicide bombers  to attack Pakistani forces, just as militants in Iraq and Afghanistan are targeting U.S. and British forces. Editorials and articles in local papers assume the attack was US-ordered, if not directly carried out by a U.S. drone. The events were all over the front pages here.
Musharraf’s rejoinder to all of this was that he would not let up on his sacred task.
And today, just as we expected, a suicide bomber attacked  an army training school in northwest Pakistan, killing over 40 soldiers. It made international news. They say no one has claimed responsibility. We know it is retaliation for the Bajaur bombing. We will not be surprised if this deadly eye-for-an-eye continues.
I came to Pakistan to learn about the earthquake relief and reconstruction process. But I have been getting an education on the subtler points of the Global War on Terror, none of them too subtle. Pakistan is a major front in this war, indeed the front after Iraq and Afghanistan. Tension in Pakistan is high. The violence under the surface, bubbling out in places, is severe. A never-before-conceived-of coalition of six conservative religious parties is Musharraf’s major opposition. Pakistan is dangerously divided post-9/11.
And sadly, the profane use of violence is considered sacred on all edges of that divide.