Friday, May 1, 2009

Pakistan’s neo-Taliban

Overseas Pakistani Friends

A blog of overseas Pakistani friends

Pakistan's neo-Taliban


By I.A. Rehman

THE militants' tactical retreat from Buner, an armed operation against them in Dir and some formal assurances by the army top brass have given most Pakistanis a sense of respite. It should now be possible to comprehend the neo-Taliban phenomenon without which they cannot be overcome.

The armed bands engaged in terrorist activities in the northern parts of Pakistan are called neo-Taliban because it is necessary to distinguish them from the Taliban that overran Afghanistan in the 1990s and about whom conservative Pakistanis entertain some wholesome notions. They condone the Afghan Taliban's excesses against women and their animalistic hostility to arts and culture, because they want to see the same done in Pakistan.. At the same time these elements still praise the Afghan Taliban for unifying their country, for checking violent disorder and for disarming non-state militias. And, latterly, they are hailed for resisting foreign intrusion.
While the neo-Taliban operating against Pakistan can outdo the Afghan Taliban in their animus towards women and democratic institutions, they display none of the characteristics attributed to the latter by their Pakistani supporters. Unlike the Afghan Taliban they are dividing Pakistan and not consolidating its unity; they are increasing violent disorder and not suppressing it; and they are raising non-state militias, not disarming the existing ones.
Finally, the Afghan Taliban could claim to be fighting for their motherland and resisting 'imperialism'; the neo-Taliban have invaded their patrons' motherland and are fighting for a brand of imperialism Allama Iqbal had denounced in his 1930 address. Thus, the neo-Taliban cannot be favourably compared with their Afghan predecessors.
A large number of Pakistanis have been confused by the neo-Taliban's rhetoric that they want to enforce the Islamic Sharia. Nothing can be further from the truth. The neo-Taliban's precursors in Afghanistan too were not driven by their love of the Sharia. For all one knows, Hikmatyar, Rabbani and Masud, targets of the Taliban offensive, also swore by the Sharia. The Afghan Taliban had a definite political objective — to capture Afghanistan for themselves. The neo-Taliban too have a purely political objective — to establish their rule in a part of Pakistan and if possible over the whole of it.
True, there are many people in Fata and Malakand Division, as there are in Islamabad and Lahore and Karachi, who sincerely believe an Islamic polity is feasible. The neo-Taliban are exploiting the religious sentiment of these people just as it was exploited by quite a few of Pakistan's rulers, Gen Ziaul Haq in particular. Gen Zia told the people, 'If you believe in Islam, this means you accept me as your sovereign.' The neo-Taliban's logic is indistinguishable from Gen Zia's. The qualifications and the credibility of neither are open to scrutiny.
Indeed, the neo-Taliban's religious mask is more transparent than even Zia's. The latter had some use for Pakistan's constitution, its elected representatives and its judiciary; the neo-Taliban want to scrap all of them. Zia accepted the Shias' right to exist; in their campaign to exterminate the Shias (for instance in Kurram Agency and D.I. Khan) the neo-Taliban have added a hideous concept to the vocabulary of criminology — sectarian cleansing.
Further, the neo-Taliban can easily be indicted for degrading the Sharia on three main counts. First, they cannot convince even their apologists in Pakistan that suicide bombings, the killing of innocent people, beheading their victims without due sanction, extortion and looting of the homes of the internally displaced, seizure of orchards and burning down of schools are in accordance with any version of the Sharia. Secondly, by denying the evolutionary process in the Sharia and closing the door to ijtihad in what is essentially a man-made code, the neo-Taliban are trying to bind the Muslim people within the clerical thought frozen six centuries ago, a view that has prevented Muslims the world over from keeping abreast of the times and humankind's social growth.
Thirdly, more often than not, the standard of the Sharia is raised by tribal elites that are afraid of losing their privileges if their communities progress towards a higher social formation. Nobody should thus be led by the neo-Taliban's invoking the Sharia for their hearts and minds are as unclean as their hands.
Another myth about the militants operating in Fata and Malakand Division is that they are the latest avatars of the Pakhtun identity. They are not. Of course, some Pakistani Pakhtuns (as well as some non-Pakhtuns from Punjab and Karachi) have joined the neo-Taliban but there is no evidence that the Pakhtuns are prepared to abandon their Pakhtunwali. Besides, the neo-Taliban's aversion to the Pakhtuns' language, poetry, music, arts, cultural diversions and even their dress code is known. If the neo-Taliban had their way the Pakhtuns' ethno-cultural identity could be as much under threat of extinction as the other ethno-cultural identities within the Pakistan family (Punjabi, Baloch, Sindhi, et al)
If despite all that can be argued against the neo-Taliban they are able to challenge the state of Pakistan the reason lies not in their strength but in the faults and failings of the latter. Pakistan has become vulnerable because its democratic institutions are not worthy of being so described, because its rapacious elite offers no quarter to the poor, because its justice system does not enjoy the people's confidence, because it does not offer a fair return to the peasant and the worker, because it guarantees neither dignity to women nor gainful education and employment to the youth. It is these weaknesses of the state that has made the neo-Taliban look more menacing than they are.
To say at this point that the government should concentrate only on administrative and judicial reform is like telling West Pakistanis in the summer of 1971 that they could keep Pakistan intact by learning Bengali. The quest for democracy, justice and social rights must of course continue but this will be a long-drawn-out struggle while the threat to the state's integrity demands an immediate response. A proper understanding of the neo-Taliban threat should lead to two steps.
First, the government should reduce its trust deficit with the people. Its claims of fulfilling its obligations to the nation must be backed by something more than the hollow perorations and meaningless gyrations of ministers.
Secondly, the people must receive evidence that those maintained for and charged with defending the lives, properties and entitlements of the people, which is what national integrity really means, are able and willing to earn their keep. The neo-Taliban have lost all claim to leniency; they must be made to face the full might of the state, except for those who can be trusted with mending their ways.



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This is indeed our war

This is indeed our war
Friday, May 01, 2009
Farhat Taj

The Pakhtuns do not need enemies when they have self-proclaimed friends like Imran Khan – this is in response to his article published in this newspapers on April 23. The fact of the matter is that this war on terror is very much Pakistan's own war. It used to be America's war when the jihadis were funded by the US to fight the Red Army in Afghanistan. The Pakistani and international jihadis have now made it Pakistan's war. As a responsible state Pakistan cannot allow terrorists crossing over into Afghanistan to attack Afghan civilians (who are usually Pakhtun), the Afghan National Army and US and NATO forces in the country that came there under a UN mandate.

The Musharraf government's decision to send the Pakistan army to Waziristan in 2004 was correct. But the decision came too late, too little and too half-heartedly. Following the US bombing of Al Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan in 2001, the foreign and Pakistani jihadis escaped into Waziristan. They were not welcomed by the people of Waziristan and proof of this also is that they killed more than 200 tribal leaders of Waziristan, after which the region's tribal order collapsed. The state under President Musharraf was guilty of criminal negligence for allowing the jihadis to decimate the tribal order.

Imran Khan may not know it or ignore it for political reasons but the fact is that there is a widespread perception among the Pakhtuns that the Musharraf government played a double role: on one hand it allowed the jihadis to take control of the tribal area and on the other hand showed the US that the Pakistan army was fighting the terrorists. It was during his regime that the army entered into agreements with the Taliban in FATA – and all of these failed. The agreements had two versions: oral and written. The written versions were according to the law of Pakistan. The oral versions implied that the Taliban would not attack Pakistan army and the army would let the Taliban do whatever they liked and this would include them crossing over into Afghanistan.

The Taliban also happen to be sectarian terrorists in that many of their targets are Shias. And in this regard their primary targets are the Pakhtuns of Kurram, Orakzai and Dera Ismail Khan. I think Imran Khan will be hard-pressed to go to Parachinar and tell the Turi tribe that the Taliban are Pakhtun nationalists. The Turis in Parachinar have been besieged by the Taliban for over two yeas now – all their land links to the rest of Pakistan have been blocked and hundreds have died while fighting the Taliban. If one wants to talk of Pakhtun nationalism then instead of looking at the Taliban one should look at what, for instance, the Ali Khel in Orakzai did where the Sunni section of the Ali Khel tribe stood up to the defence of the Shia when the latter came under threat from the Taliban. In addition to this, the Saralzai in Bajaur, the Khelil and Monand in Badabir and all those who stood up to the Taliban are the true embodiment of Pakhtun nationalism, not the Taliban.

The Pakhtun jihadis, together with their non-Pakuthn jihadis, are attacking the very core of Pakhtun nationalism. Almost 90 per cent of those killed, injured and maimed are ordinary Pakhtuns. Moreover, the terrorists' ideology is directly opposed to a nationalist ideology. The Pakhtun Taliban movement has all along been attacking all the symbols of the Pakhtun culture to bring the Pakhtun identity in line with that of the Arab jihadists. To call terrorism a nationalist movement is to create hatred among different nationalities living in the country especially when the people being killed as a result of terrorist activities belong to different nationalities.

The Pakhtun are experiencing a genocide-like situation at the hands of Taliban and Al Qaida terrorists . But people like Shireen Mazari, a member of Imran Khan's party, say that anti-Taliban local lashkars are in fact American sell-outs. This is most disrespectful especially since it is more a case of the brave Pakhtuns taking up arms to defend themselves in the face of a complete absence of state protection.

Imran Khan often compares the Taliban militancy with the tribal resistance to the British colonial. This is an insult to the Pakhtun history. Unlike the Taliban no tribal resistance leader ever killed fellow Pkahtun in the name of Islam of fight against the British. It is difficult to assess the impact the Taliban had in Swat due to the problems people had with the judicial system. A group of people who have never been elected – and probably will never be unless voters are forced to at gunpoint – blocking roads in protest does not automatically mean that there was a wider public support for them or their actions. Sufi Mohammad's TNSM got strength because the state succumbed to it again and again. Do not forget that Sufi Mohammad is the same person that misled thousands of young men of FATA and NWFP to go to Afghanistan to fight against the US and Northern Alliance in 2001. He managed to return safely but most of those who went to fight were either killed or captured – hundreds are still missing. Their families wait for them and they curse Sufi Mohammad every single day. Now thanks to the ANP government, he has been made a hero.

Anyone who has lived in Swat would have experienced that people of Swat are the most liberal people among the Pakhtuns due to their dependence on a tourism-driven economy. The Sufi Mohammad-style sharia has never been their choice. They would never want their primary industry – tourism – to be destroyed by those who rule over them. The argument of JI amir Munawwar Hasan that people of Swat elected the ANP and the PPP because his party boycotted the February 2008 elections is wrong. If religious right-wingers were so darling to the Swatis, they would have elected the JUI-F which was in the field.

How come so many tribal leaders were killed all over FATA and no one has ever been arrested for it? How come officials of the state and its institutions socially meet members of the Taliban? I have often met desperate people who say that the Taliban militancy has been engineered to send a message to the US and to extract more and more aid. More ominously, these Pakhtuns feel abandoned by the state.

Pakistan has to do the needful – something that it hasn't done so far. This means giving up the idea once and for all that the jihadis are strategic assets to fight proxy wars in Afghanistan and India. The next step would be to conduct targeted operations based on intelligence to destroy jihadi infrastructures all over Pakistan, eliminate their leadership and retake the territory ceded to the jihadis. Third, all those Pakhtuns who have stood up to the Taliban need to be protected. Disturbing as it may sound, the jihadis could well take over all of Pakistan, just like they have taken over Swat and FATA, unless of course the state chooses to crush them with an iron hand.

Whether the US offers financial help to Pakistan or not Pakistan has to fight this war to survive as a democratic state in the modern world.

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo, and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. Email:
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