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My canceled trip to Pakistan’s Fairy Meadow is the least of it

On June 24, 2013, the Pakistan Association of Tour Operators hold a demonstration to condemn the killing of foreign tourists by Islamic militants. Their country’s already embattled tourism industry is struggling to deal with cancellations after a vicious attack on a group of climbers. (Anjum Naveed/Associated Press)

LAHORE, Pakistan – It was just a days ago that my dad and I were excitedly planning our family vacation to Fairy Meadow. The lush green meadows are just a little over a mile’s hike away from the base camp in the western end of the Himalayan range where the majestic Nanga Parbat, ninth highest mountain in the world, has attracted mountaineers from across the world. Its exceedingly difficult climb earned it the nickname “Killer Mountain.”

For the longest time, I have longed to lose myself in the exotic meadow where fairies are said to live. But I won’t be going now, of course, after the recent attack in which terrorists stormed into a hotel at the base camp and murdered 10 people, nine of them foreign tourists.

The Taliban — Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP — has, as usual, taken responsibility for the attack that killed Ukranian, Chinese and American visitors to my country. The area has been sealed, and the army is on a manhunt to find those responsible. While the attack has proven once again how unsafe Pakistan is for foreign nationals, for us, the Pakistanis, it is just another tragedy.

Just last week, militants first attacked a women’s university in Quetta and then stormed into the hospital where the injured were taken. Twenty-five people, including four nurses and the deputy commissioner, lost their lives in that brutal assault. On May 21, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a mosque during Friday prayers, killing at least 15 people and injuring dozens more in Peshawar. These horrific attacks by the Taliban always send ripples of fear and shock across the world, and rightly so.

It is so easy to blame the Taliban for all this bloodshed — and again, quite correctly. Their actions and ideology should be condemned without any hesitation or equivocation. Any arguments justifying or approving harm and death of innocent civilians are inhumane and morally bankrupt.

Yet we’re also keenly aware that U.S. drone strikes that target militants do kill innocent civilians in the process. The death of civilians naturally breeds anger and resentment in areas where drone strikes are carried out, making them a recruiting ground for the Taliban. And while the Obama administration and the Pakistani government are both working against the TTP, they often interfere and disrupt  each other’s strategies out of mutual distrust.

Somehow, despite the attacks, we managed to elect a democratic government on May 11, and the new government promptly announced its interest in trying to start a dialogue with the TTP to find a political solution. I understand the argument that it is reprehensible to negotiate with a group of morally depraved people who have caused so much death and destruction.

But our counter-insurgency operations have not succeeded, despite the deaths of thousands in our military, making political dialogue a necessity. When a U.S. drone strike killed TTP’s second-in-command, Waliur Rahman, on May 29, the enraged Taliban withdrew its offer for peace talks and vowed revenge on the Pakistani state. Even though he was killed in a U.S. drone strike, the TTP alleges the strike was carried out in cooperation with the Pakistani government, and my country has been attacked mercilessly ever since.

The new government did condemn the drone strikes in Pakistan, which our officials see as a breach of our sovereignty. And every time a senior Taliban leader is killed, a new one steps forward. Since the TTP is itself divided, each new leader takes the negotiation process back to square one, too.

Whether peace talks with Rehman might have succeeded is an irrelevant question now. The new TTP leadership is too enraged for any peace talks, and it’s innocent civilians and tourists who once more pay the price. As long as that’s the case, who knows when the fairies will return to their meadow — or when my family will get to visit them.

Umema Aimen is a student at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass.

Umema Aimen is a student at Qalam Institute Seminary in Arlington, Texas. She is a native of Pakistan.

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