WOUNDS THAT BLEED

The Tal­iban have eroded the State’s author­ity in large parts of Pak­istan, pos­ing a se­ri­ous threat with their sheer scale of vi­o­lence

India Today - - SIGNATURE - Ja­son Burke The au­thor is the South Asia cor­re­spon­dent of The Guardian and au­thor of The 9/ 11 Wars

It was not the big­gest bomb that Pak­istan had had to en­dure. The blast in Charsadda, Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa prov­ince, killed a few dozen and wounded a few score more. Most of these were as­pi­rant re­cruits queue­ing to sub­mit ap­pli­ca­tions for a much- needed job. They were lo­cal men, killed on their own soil. Those who planted the de­vice that took their lives were also lo­cals— mil­i­tants of the Tehrik- e- Tal­iban Pak­istan ( TTP).

What marked the bomb out as note­wor­thy, was its tim­ing. It came two days af­ter the death of Osama bin Laden in the Pak­istani gar­ri­son town of Ab­bot­tabad. It was a mes­sage sent by TTP lead­ers to their coun­try­men, and to the world. The demise of the al- Qaeda chief was of lit­tle im­por­tance to it, the TTP was say­ing— their fight con­tin­ued. Few needed the re­minder. Though the TTP came on the scene late in the his­tory of mod­ern Sunni Mus­lim mil­i­tancy— for­mally formed only in 2007— they were just the lat­est in­car­na­tion in a long strug­gle, pit­ting var­i­ous forms of vi­o­lent ac­tivism based out of the western prov­inces, against the Pak­istani state or its an­tecedents. Ear­lier, there had been waves of re­sis­tance against the British, many in­spired by rad­i­cal Is­lamic ide­olo­gies. In­deed, as one vet­eran of ear­lier bat­tles re­mem­bers what cler­ics had told their com­mu­ni­ties in the 1930s: “He ( the for­eigner) is com­ing, and we should stop him by force, as he is de­stroy­ing Is­lam and our laws.” In this rugged re­gion, where even the British never suc­ceeded in im­pos­ing their author­ity, tribal and par­tic­u­larly eth­nic iden­tity has al­ways been strong.

The Pash­tun peo­ple— mil­lions strong— never saw them­selves as part of the Raj. Nor did they see them­selves as part of Pak­istan after­wards. Deeply con­ser­va­tive, hard- fight­ing and feud­ing, ruled by the Pash­tun­wali tribal code, sus­pi­cious and xeno­pho­bic— the pop­u­la­tion of the new coun­try’s western marches could be used to fur­nish ill- dis­ci­plined fly­ing col­umns to send across its bor­ders, but could never be in­te­grated into it. Rear flanks in the war against the Sovi­ets, pro­vid­ing shel­ter to hordes of Afghan refugees and base for arms fac­to­ries, the 1980s and 1990s were not kind to this area ei­ther. By the end of the decade, the Afghan Tal­iban was mak­ing its influence felt. Groups of lo­cal men co­a­lesced into a quasi- mili­tia, out­side the nor­mal hi­er­ar­chy of tribes, im­pos­ing a new and rig­or­ous law.

AFP PHOTO

NATO OIL TANKERS IN FLAMES AF­TER A TAL­IBAN AT­TACK NEAR QUETTA, BALUCHIS­TAN, IN 2011

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