The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

In a strange twist of cir­cum­stances, Pak­istan is to­day at war with the same Tal­iban it had once pam­pered.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Ji­la­nee S. G. Ji­la­nee is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and the for­mer edi­tor of SouthAsia Mag­a­zine.

Pak­istan is fight­ing against the same Tal­iban which it cre­ated years ago.

Like Franken­stein flee­ing in hor­ror from the mon­ster he cre­ated, Pak­istan dis­avows the Tal­iban whom it in­vented and is en­gaged with in al­most a life­and-death strug­gle. The sce­nario could be en­ter­tain­ing, but for the blood be­ing spilt.

Dur­ing the Soviet oc­cu­pa­tion and even when the Tal­iban as­sumed power in Afghanistan, the Afghani and Pak­istani Tal­iban were not dif­fer­ent en­ti­ties. There­fore, when the US in­vaded Afghanistan, the Tal­iban, on both sides of the Du­rand Line, took up arms to re­sist the oc­cu­pa­tion, much as they had done against the Soviet forces. But this time, in­stead of sup­port­ing the Tal­iban’s fight for freedom, Pak­istan al­lied with the in­vader and, for a sump­tu­ous fee, trained its guns on them.

Bait­ul­lah Mehsud yoked splin­ter groups of mil­i­tants to­gether in 2007 to form the Tehreek-e-Tal­iban Pak­istan (TTP). Mehsud also adopted a wider agenda. While fight­ing the Amer­i­cans and their al­lies was fore­most, he added the ap­pli­ca­tion of Sharia as an ide­o­log­i­cal un­der­pin­ning. This brought him into di­rect con­flict with the govern­ment of Pak­istan. But the strong­est ca­sus belli has been Pak­istan’s al­liance with the US against the Tal­iban, which re­sulted in a pro­longed war be­tween the TTP and Pak­istan troops.

Dur­ing the last nine years or so, the Pak­istan mil­i­tary has launched nine fullfledged and sev­eral small-scale mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions against mil­i­tants. But it has failed to take them out. Some com­men­ta­tors ar­gue that at­tempts have been half-hearted thus prompt­ing a crescendo of lib­eral voices to clamor for the army to launch an all out mil­i­tary ac­tion in North Waziris­tan and cleanse the ter­ri­tory once and for all of the Tal­iban.

Be­cause of the TTP’s ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties, the killing of 40,000 civil­ians and sev­eral thou­sand soldiers and of­fi­cers of the Pak­istan army, be­sides reneg­ing on sev­eral agree­ments in the past, a strong lobby de­nounces any sug­ges­tion about talk­ing with the group. How­ever, only the charges about mind­less killing through sui­cide at­tacks may stick. But army fa­tal­i­ties should be treated as nor­mal oc­cur­rence in a war, where both sides take ca­su­al­ties. Tal­iban were also killed but their num­ber re­mains un­known. As to go­ing back on agree­ments, the al­le­ga­tions against the TTP have not been proven through an un­bi­ased in­quiry.

Ap­par­ently, there are two ba­sic fac­tors be­hind the on­go­ing war. The first is Pak­istan sid­ing with the US; the other is the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Sharia. But some more have fur­ther mud­died the wa­ters. First, in this con­flict, the record of the army’s re­la­tions with the Tal­iban is murky. Sec­ond, is the mat­ter of for­eign na­tion­als firmly set­tled in N. Waziris­tan; many of whom have taken lo­cal spouses. Even oth­er­wise, ask­ing the lo­cals to drive them away or hand­ing them over to the army would amount to ask­ing them to re­nege on their hal­lowed tra­di­tion of “Pakhtun­wali,” un­der which a host must pro­tect any­one whom he has given shel­ter un­der his roof. That is why Mul­lah Omar faced Amer­i­can in­va­sion but did not sur­ren­der OBL.

There is no ques­tion that the TTP have made a men­ace of them­selves. Mind­less mur­ders, like the lat­est at­tack on Jus­tice Maq­bool Baqar of the Sindh High Court, are the per­fect recipe for sui­cide. Th­ese acts may swing pub­lic opin­ion against it, achiev­ing what Pres­i­dent Zar­dari’s procla­ma­tion that fight­ing TTP is “Our War” and Gen. Kayani’s hor­ta­tory speeches have failed to do.

The army’s ca­pa­bil­ity to kill or drive away ev­ery soul from the area is be­yond any doubt. But an all out mil­i­tary ac­tion may spawn more con­se­quences than its spon­sors seem to have bar­gained for. For ex­am­ple, it would be seen as eth­nic cleans­ing and in­vite the charge of geno­cide from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. More­over, this time it may not be easy to shake the charge off as in the case of East Pak­istan. The killings and the dis­place­ment of thou­sands of fam­i­lies would sow bit­ter­ness among the peo­ple that would stay fresh for many years. Anger may find ex­pres­sion in snip­ing and kid­nap­pings as dur­ing the Bri­tish rule. And the dream of es­tab­lish­ing the state’s writ may re­main un­re­al­ized.

Iron­i­cally, de­spite its ex­cesses the TTP has an edge over its de­trac­tors. Its de­mands for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Sharia Law and Pak­istan with­draw­ing its sup­port from the US against the Tal­iban are un­der­stood by the com­mon man and there­fore draw im­me­di­ate sup­port. On the con­trary, the idea of “state’s writ” is vague and be­yond the com­mon peo­ple’s com­pre­hen­sion.

The TTP is fight­ing the govern­ment but it does not defy Pak­istan’s sovereignty. It has never called for in­de­pen­dence. Its de­mand amounts to full au­ton­omy and noth­ing else. That au­ton­omy it wishes to ap­ply is for the pur­pose of in­tro­duc­ing Sharia. The al­le­ga­tion that the Tal­iban de­fies the Con­sti­tu­tion also does not gel. In­deed the con­trary would be truer, be­cause, TTP’s de­mand for Sharia sup­ports rather than con­tra­dict what has been stated in the Ob­jec­tives Res­o­lu­tion (Ar­ti­cle 2A) and Ar­ti­cle 227 of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Ac­tu­ally it is the Amer­i­can fac­tor that has vi­ti­ated the at­mos­phere and desta­bi­lized FATA. The US dic­tates the Pak­istan govern­ment’s pol­icy to­wards the Tal­iban. It there­fore sab­o­tages any steps taken by the govern­ment for en­gag­ing with the Tal­iban. For ex­am­ple, the US was aware that Nawaz Sharif was in­clined to talk with the Tal­iban af­ter he was sworn in. Yet it killed TTP’s sec­ond-in-com­mand, Wal­iur Rah­man, in May with a drone at­tack. The con­se­quence was fore­told and the TTP promptly with­drew its ear­lier of­fer to talk. This is one rea­son why, in spite of the Tal­iban’s bru­tal killing of in­no­cent peo­ple and other ex­cesses, the right­ist lobby and re­li­gious po­lit­i­cal par­ties have never ut­tered a sin­gle word of re­proof against the group. Peo­ple like Maulana Fa­zlur Rah­man and Mah­mood Khan Achakzai openly fa­vor dia­logue. Nor is Imran Khan op­posed to it. Ul­ti­mately, talks may of­fer the only way out of the quandary.

Those who fire ver­bal bul­lets on news­pa­per pages against the Tal­iban will have to have sec­ond thoughts. The idea of talk­ing from a po­si­tion of strength or only with those Tal­iban who lay down their arms, should be dis­missed. As Gen. De Gaulle once said, “You talk to peo­ple who shoot at your soldiers. You do not talk to peo­ple who do not have blood on their hands. They are ir­rel­e­vant.”

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