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