Doctors man the front lines of battles in Pakistan, Terror finds a willing host in medicine. By Robert Terpstra


An interesting article in a prominent magazine this month has shed light on perhaps how Muslim fundamentalists and jihadists are deceptively able to spread their message. The vehicle and the manner in which they do so may be surprising.
As pointed out in the Middle East Quarterly by Stephen Schwartz, medical students and doctors have been the target, and a receptive medium, in which to bring terror in both subtle and explosive ways.
In the wake of the massive earthquake in the regional capital of Muzaffarabad, Kashmir in October 2005, in the disputed mountainous area of Pakistan, doctors were sent in to help the sick, injured and dying. What, of course was reported, and rightly so, was the degree of difficulty rescuers had in reaching the area and the poor timing the earthquake had as the harsh Pakistani winter was fast approaching. What was not reported was the lasting effect the doctors’ unconditional help had. Naturally, no one could have predicted it at the time, and even the savviest sociologist would not have immediately grasped the potential problem enveloped in the events.
Far from drawing on conspiracy theories or the clandestine work of a foot soldier network of doctors without borders to carry out terrorists’ work, the truth is that the art of casual bedside manner soon turned into a dangerous game of psychological warfare with the minds of the Kashmiri people. The most pressing work was done by Islamist groups that had been previously banned by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at the time.
Specificity did not allow the terror to be dictated in limiting itself to Pakistan.
One will be unable to forget 9/11, the events of the 7/7 London bombings in 2005, as well as the thwarted 2007 London and Glasgow car bombs and a plot to blow up six airlines simultaneously during transatlantic flights. All these terrorist plots had great effect on those throughout the world, but especially on the young minds of those practising medicine. The connotations are hard to grasp, but in fact the point is valid.
Highly gifted individuals with very little restrictions in accessing the population and able to interact on a deeply personal level – as seen in Muzaffarabad – a minority of doctors turning to fundamentalist thought. Throughout the duration of their schooling, both in the U.K. and elsewhere, a medical student could graduate without ever having to take a class in humanities, meaning that expressing oneself was stunted, religious tendencies perhaps not kept in check, the potential for, literally, a ticking-time bomb ever-present.
If one looks specifically at current counterterrorism efforts, the emphasis is now squarely on Iraq because of the pseudo-success of the recent surge and now a call by General David Petraeus and the U.S. President George W. Bush to pause and reassess for at least four more months. Those within the field admit that the potential for isolated and mass terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan has once again reached pre-war levels, enriching the possibility that a burgeoning NATO contingent will become defenseless and casualties will appreciate, forcing a ‘won’ second front back to an uneasy immediacy.
To compound this unforeseen difficulty, Medecins Sans Frontieres – the so-called manna from heaven organization Doctors Without Borders (and others like it who can traverse boundaries and civilizations) - will now fly under the radar, undetected and play a key aspect in the two countries.
With much celebrated talk about the abuse in treatment of detainees, it is another little known Geneva Convention that may now be heard. Will the ‘refuse of treatment for the sick’ by a willing, never mind an enemy combatant, be ignored in a strategic manner for both military and political reasons? It is almost as if a poison, administered by a health official, is slowly dripping from a UV, coursing through the veins of the unsuspecting – an act that may soon tear at the very fabric of our society.
This trend will now be almost undetectable, the men and women recruited, the men and women instructed, the very men and women on the front lines of terrorism, those that took the Hippocratic Oath in saying, ‘First, do no harm’, are those inflicting it, in an unprecedented manner, in the most malignant and sinister way imaginable. It is an insurgency difficult to beat, inexcusably more of a hard pill to swallow.

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