(First Published On Personal Blog 24/11/2012)
Labour peer, Lord Gilbert dropped a bombshell on the House of Lords on Friday when he suggested nuking the border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan, known as AfPak. The highly controversial comments came during a debate on multi-lateral nuclear disarmament and were reported on Asian Image website and in the Nation. This is apparently his solution to dealing with militancy in the region http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/national/24-Nov-2012/drop-neutron-bomb-on-afpak-region-uk-mp
Lord Gilbert left the Lords stunned as he stated that the borders could be made safe after dropping ERRB warheads commonly known as neutron bombs in the respective areas. He stated,
“Your Lordships may say that this is impractical, but nobody lives up in the mountains on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan except for a few goats and a handful of people herding them. If you told them that some ERRB warheads were going to be dropped there and that it would be a very unpleasant place to go, they would not go there. You would greatly reduce your problem of protecting those borders from infiltration from one side or another and would create a “cordon sanitaire”.
One person who might well take umbrage with these comments is a friend of mine Kurshid Zaman, (not a goat or a herder) but Resident Engineer at the National Engineering Service Pakistan who works very hard to maintain the roads in the region. My stomach turns with the utter callousness of Lord Gilbert’s words, a man prepared to obliterate the lives of those working on the latest building project in an area already subjected to repeated US drone strikes.
I am sharing the following conversation between Kurshid and his colleagues showing pride in their work carried out in Waziristan. in an effort to get across that hard working civilians reside in AfPak. In front of me is a photograph of a new construction on the border, a gateway described as “a wonderful example of modern Islamic architecture”. It is a design pleasing to the eye and greeted with words of congratulations and happy banter from friends and fellow workers.
I examine a very impressive image of a structure with two round towers like castle turrets, flying both the Pakistan and Afghan flag. There are two covered archways between the towers where traffic will flow in either direction crossing this border region. Kurshid, (a man considered to be the best at his work) states,
“Shukar Alhamdulillah, my suggestions are approved and are transformed into Dynamic architectural Monument by NESPAK architects and designers, to be constructed at Pak Afghan Border at Ghulam Khan on Bannu-Miranshah-Ghulam Khan highway…Pray for our success, may Allah bring peace, harmony and best relationship among our Pakistan and neighbour Afghanistan, ameen”.
Muhammad Jamshed Iqbal writes, “I can’t wait to see it on the ground” to which Kurshid replies,
“Muhammad Jamshed Iqbal Sb, thank you, it’s your dream come true, inshallah the work’ll be started soon as the design and construction drawings are also approved I’ll receive them on coming ROD inshallah… This also represents and reflects the tribal culture besides two way relations with Afghanistan having the same culture and architecture. The architect did his job well and all the praise goes to him, the designer has to design the structural components whereas I have to ensure the construction in accordance with the design provided if… my life permits to perform the job in this high life risk area, I request all my friends to pray for our success in the best construction of this gate of peace and harmony between two brother countries.”
Kurshid finishes the conversation with his colleagues with the words, “thank-you a lot for taking interest, your appreciation and good wishes put new spirits into me to work and do more for my Waziristan and Pakistan, the land of pure and pride. May Allah keep you happy ameen.”
I feel tearful taking in the sentiments, knowing how my friends love this region, their home, how pleased they are with their achievements having to deal both with internal conflict, (often working with support from the Pakistan military) and a difficult and isolated terrain.
I asked Kurshid what he makes of Lord Gilbert’s comments, “it’ll not eliminate militancy but for sure will ignite the militancy at a very large scale, militancy is due to presence of foreign troops in the area. Thank you a lot, dear sister for taking interest in this war torn region.”
Lord Gilbert did however come under heavy criticism for his proposals for a “cordon sanitaire” with Cabinet spokesperson Lord Wallace of Saltaire stating that the government did not share Lord Gilbert’s “rumbustious” views on this sensitive issue. Labour former defence secretary Lord Browne of Ladyton also went on the attack accusing Gilbert of being at his “most challenging and contrarian”.
I am somewhat perturbed that this outburst from Gilbert received hardly any coverage in the British Press apart from a small piece in the Morning Starhttp://shop.morningstaronline.co.uk/node/129 In fact it was a lawyer friend Yasmeen Ali in Pakistan that alerted me to the debate.
She had the following to say:-
“I am in deep grief and a state of shock. A UK MP has made a detailed comment that a neutron bomb should be dropped on the borders of Afghanistan-Pakistan. Anyone with sensibilities will appreciate that such Hate Speech can only lead to more hate. Should it be allowed to slide? Can the world afford more hate? Should not the UK Government be made to haul up the MP and issue an apology of the statement? ”http://pakpotpourri2.wordpress.com/2012/11/24/uk-lord-for-using-neutron-bomb-on-pak-afghan-border/
My own feelings are of anger and dismay at the rhetoric used by Gilbert and I will be taking up the matter with my own MP having already forwarded the article to Tom Watson MP who heads up the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones. I hope to travel under Kurshid’s structure one day and take up his offer of being my driver. It appears that if Lord Gilbert has his way however, the buzzing of drones will not be the only concern for Kurshid and friends as they maintain the roadways of Waziristan.
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”.