Academic journal article Journal of Political Studies

Caught in the Crossfire: Aggression and Violence against Doctors in Pakistan after 9/11

Academic journal article Journal of Political Studies

Caught in the Crossfire: Aggression and Violence against Doctors in Pakistan after 9/11

Article excerpt

Pakistan has been a front-line state in the war on terror since the terrorist attacks in the USA on September 11, 2001. At an official level, Pakistan supported the US invasion of Afghanistan although it had previously been on friendly terms with the Taliban regime. Conservative forces within Pakistan seriously resented the Pakistan government's alliance with "Western forces". Many people, including some sections of the Pakistani security establishment considered that the government had "sold out" its sovereignty and had become a client state of the USA (Fair, 2009). As a result, conservative forces within the country and beyond launched a violent resistance against the "secular and pro-Western agenda" of the Pakistani government.

In order to defeat the Western onslaught, many local militant groups organised themselves and a new outfit with the name of the "Pakistani Taliban" emerged on the scene (Fair, 2009). One strategy adopted by these militant forces was to attack the symbols of state power. They also targeted public places like hospitals, hotels and popular shrines. Terrorists not only killed police or military officials, but also attacked doctors, including the Surgeon General of the Pakistan army, Dr. Baig, who was assassinated by a suicide bomber in 2008 (NYT, 2008). Mostly, these militant outfits had sanctuaries in the northern areas of Pakistan. In order to "flush out" terrorists, the government launched several military operations in tribal areas populated by a majority of Pashtun people. One outcome of such operations was the creation of hatred among the ethnic Pashtun (Ahmad, 2010). In many ways, the war on terror seems to have sharpened the regional, ethnic, and ideological divisions in Pakistani society.

The terrorist and counter terrorist operations produced massive and persistent violence across the country. More than 1500 individuals were killed and countless numbers were injured in 171 events of suicide terrorism in 2009 (HRCP, 2009). Terrorist attacks, especially suicide bombing, call for a special kind of emergency planning and preparedness (Helpern, Tasi, Arnold, Stock & Ersoy, 2003; Shapira & Cole, 2006). Thus far, Pakistan's healthcare system lacks the organisational capacity and technical sophistication to face this challenge. Each new terrorist attack creates chaos in hospital emergency departments.

Socioeconomic conditions and the healthcare system

Decades of military rule and weak government accountability have promoted massive corruption and mismanagement of public resources. An overall deterioration in economic conditions has pushed more and more people below the poverty line. Additionally, high food insecurity (WFP, 2011) has caused malnutrition, damaging the health status of the majority of the poor population and adding to the burden on the already fragile healthcare system. After 9/11, the government of Pakistan received billions of dollars in aid from the USA and its allies. But a huge chunk of this money was spent on security and defence-related endeavours. Healthcare allocations were rarely enhanced, but rather declined. For example, the healthcare budget is 0.5% of gross domestic product today, down from 0.8% in the 1980s (Mustafa, 2011).

The country's deteriorating economic conditions and political instability damaged the healthcare system in many ways. Firstly, government-run hospitals rarely got enough resources to expand and upgrade their operational capacity. As a result, ill-equipped and poorly staffed hospitals failed to meet the healthcare needs of the growing population. Secondly, the overall weak governance and corruption negatively influenced every tier of the healthcare system. One can well imagine the functioning of a hospital in the face of frequent breakdowns of electricity, disrupted gas supplies and a congested transportation system. The inability of the government to control spurious drugs or the effective disposal of hospital waste also undermined the credibility and efficacy of the healthcare system. …

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