Inglorious Return of a War Hero
As Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier held captive by the Taliban for five years in Afghanistan, returned to his home turf on Friday, he received mixed responses. Amid timid cheers for the warrior’s homecoming were the dismissive jeers thrown at a ‘traitor’, as Bergdahl has been often described since it was declared by US president Barack Obama that the soldier would be brought back. Of course, the circumstances of his return are something that has sent the conservative war lobby reeling, and made some of the hardboiled Republicans grumpy. Extremely unsettled they are because Bergdahl returns not exactly as a ‘war hero’, at least in the image constructed painstakingly by the ideological state apparatus of the military industrial complex that is Hollywood, but as an ‘exchanged captive.’
Bergdahl was swapped by the American government in lieu of five detainees (suspected Taliban militants) hitherto held at the infamous Guantanamo Bay. Naturally, in the Republican eyes, the price paid for the life of one US soldier is too much and too threatening to the cause of war. Especially in the wake of what Bergdahl had done during his stint at a NATO soldier stationed in Afghanistan in 2009-10.
In Virginia Woolf’s classic novel Mrs Dalloway, Septimus Warren Smith is a character who returns as a war veteran. Having seen his friend die in the First World War, Smith is scarred and suffers from post-war trauma. Eventually, he jumps to his death and lands on protruding iron rods of a bannister below his window. It is an exemplary tale of how war manufactures heroes and veterans to serve itself, and especially the arms lobby. War and the military is an industry that commands trillions of dollars globally, eats up chunks of national GDPs, even where health and education are failing and poverty cripples life.
If Bergdahl is guilty of deserting his battalion, his troop, breaching the martial law, he’s not alone in this. Private Bradley Manning, the British-American soldier languishing in solitary confinement for four years now is also a similar tale of disenchantment with the enterprise of war, especially the US-style avatar couched in the bunkum of ‘humanitarian intervention.’ Bergdahl’s disillusion mirrors those of Manning’s and Edward Snowden’s before him, and the instances puncture not only the ideal of the war hero, the patriot, the hypernationalist, the ideal male, the technosavvy zealot, but also rupture the foundations of a trillion-dollar global industry.
If the soldiers start deserting their stations, what would happen to the might of the biggest military power in the world? And how would it sustain the global nexus of arms dealing, the hefty kickbacks, the engineering of coups and installing of puppet dictators in resource-rich West Asian and other countries?
Bergdahl has been dubbed a renegade by the likes of Fox News, which has unleashed relentless hate campaign against the returnee and his beard-growing father, Robert Bergdahl. Bergdahl senior had received emails from his son, which were personal accounts detailing the illegitimacy of the war in Afghanistan. The emails were scathing and more critical than some of the staunchest of anti-war intellectuals could attempt to describe: the war in pathetic, gory, inglorious details. They were letter bombs that could tear the fabric of the bubble that is the war on terror theory. No wonder they pushed Bob Bergdahl to learn Pashto, in order to communicate with his son’s captors and empathise with their cause. Bob communicated with the hardened Taliban militants in their own language, trying to look like one of them, trying to dissolve the national animosity with pleas of a father’s sorrow. That worked.
President Obama had promised the very first time he was picked as America’s commander-in-chief that he would close Guantanamo Bay, that he would reassess how prisoners of war are treated there. He still hasn’t delivered; it’s not exactly that he has gone back on his promise. It’s simply too mired a problem created by American military itself.
However, Obama stuck to his guts and decided that a ‘reintegration mission’, in other words freeing of detainees in exchange of captive US soldiers, could be just the start of such a massive dismantling. Oh, he has also ordered drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan to offset the controversy.
But Bowe Bergdahl was freed. On 31 May, he was handed over to American military in an unknown region in Afghanistan, and even though the Taliban circulated a video showing Bowe in a truck/jeep, he was allowed his ‘freedom.’ Pentagon issued a statement saying care and support for Bergdahl would be its primary concern.
Even as Fox News carried on spewing diatribe against the traitor, the deserter, who left his brothers in the middle of a combat and walked away, and the search resulted in deaths of some of the fellow soldiers (a study has rubbished that claim). Fox News needs fuel to run the war hero industry: if not a veteran then a villain would do just as well to keep oiling its rusty wheels.
With mutiny brewing in the highest echelons of American society, in the very heart of his military fortress, the war enterprise is seeing a shock wave running through its very core. It’s the same Fox News that calls Affordable Care Act a humungous waste, but doesn’t see the trillions of dollars going down the drain in fighting useless wars in foreign shores. Exporting unrest has become America’s chief calling. And Bergdahl’s ‘smoking gun’ email might melt the heart of President Obama and the general American public, but the war hero industry (including the likes of ace filmmakers like Kathryn Biglowe, whose The Hurt Locker, a stupendous success, was an equally misguided approach to validate war porn) is not convinced. It’s irritated at best and angry at worst, waiting in ambush to try Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in a military court and sentencing him to unnameable years of rigorous imprisonment.
Meanwhile, Bob Bergdahl gets a taste of what racism means when he counters Republican sneers that brand him a Muslim, a Taliban sympathiser, also a traitor. It is obvious that the father-son duo has a long battle ahead, one that is no better than facing the bullets in a war zone.
Karachi split wide open
As Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport suffered one of the worst terrorist attacks in recent history, the eerie similarity to Mumbai 26/11 was not missed. Exactly ten militants had wreaked havoc in Mumbai roughly six years back, when the casualty had been much higher. But last Sunday night’s five-hour-long gun battle between Pakistan’s armed forces and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants has left Karachi broken, bruised and extremely unsure of the efficacy of the national security apparatus which has been touted as the country’s lifeline for decades now.
In a grotesque twist of irony, the militants who had stormed the airport wore the same uniform as the officers of Airport Security Force (ASF). Pakistan’s commercial capital Karachi could after all fathom why the India-baiting Taliban would target people in its own soil. There have been peace overtures between the two prime ministers after all. Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi have exchanged letters, shook hands. Not a good sign for the gun-toting marauders, who had ammunitions of Uzbek origin, a clear indication of the circuit of illegal arms dealing mutating itself. This is a direct threat to Sharif, and Karachi, which holds 18 million people and is a key conduit of economic revival for the present Pakistan Muslim League government.
The latest offensive is a severe blow of Pak civilian regime’s attempt to broker peace between rogue sections of its surreptitious military and those operating in terrorist strongholds in North Waziristan. There is also a report of a split within the TTP, and the attacks involving aircraft could be a resort to destabilize current operations underway to wrench control of the region.
Evidently, the TTP is aiming big and shifting its modus operandi from carrying out bomb blasts in smaller towns along Shia/Sunni axes to targeting commercial, heavily-populated, westernised regions to send out a message. The idea is to cripple the economy and hot nerve-centres of major cities, that would gravely affect the entire nation as well as the neighbourhood.
Moreover, Taliban is also opting for more telegenic strikes in the vein of al Qaida, with television reportage an integral part of it broadcasting terror. Evidently, Pakistan espionage agency Inter-Services Intelligence is unable to keep a count on the many heads that are raising themselves and detaching themselves from the main body of the hydra which is the country’s military junta.
According to analyst Raza Rumi, peace talks within and outside Pakistan would be fruitless if a more engaged strategy is not brought about.
Over 50,000 civilians and more than 4,000 security personnel have been killed in Pakistan by TTP and its factions in the preceding years. The civilian regime and the army cannot simply bank on negotiations if the root causes of the problems are not addressed. Jihad as an ideology cannot be sustained alongside hopes of peace, since it’s destroying generation after generation of young and impressionable Pakistanis, who are taking to guns to stave off hunger.
There’s a pedagogy of violence is ingrained in the very fibre of Pakistani nationalism, which is reactionary and theocratic, when it could easily be pacifist and syncretic.
The splintered dais of Pakistani society stands at crossroads. It seriously needs to help itself out of the mess that it created in order to fight a proxy war with India over the status of Kashmir among other issues. But Pak Taliban is its own comeuppance. Karachi, however, is too beautiful and bustling a city to pay such an exacting price.