By Waqar Mustafa
Review: For its historical and political examination of terrorism in Pakistan, Talibanization of Pakistan is a valuable work.
Talibanization of Pakistan: From 9/11 to 26/11
By Amir Mir
Publisher: Pentagon Press
Price: $ 39.95
American journalist George Crile's best-selling book, Charlie Wilson's War, tells the story of how the United States funded in Afghanistan the only successful "jihad" in modern history that gave the Soviet Union its Vietnam. The support which took place via a Pakistani corridor led to a later jihad against westerners, which Crile claimed to have foreseen.
No specific reference to the September 11 attacks is made in Charlie Wilson's War., Crile, however, wrote that the mujahideen's victory in Afghanistan ultimately opened a power vacuum: "By the end of 1993, in Afghanistan itself there were no roads, no schools, just a destroyed country -- and the United States was washing its hands of any responsibility. It was in this vacuum that the Taliban and Osama bin Laden would emerge as the dominant players."
Several Pakistanis back his version for there is an element of truth in it. After the ouster of the Taliban regime, this time again courtesy Pakistan, militancy and violence spilled over the border from Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban has been responsible for a wave of violence across the country. As well as numerous suicide bomb attacks against military, government and foreign targets, the Pakistani Taliban was accused of killing former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in late 2007. Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a missile fired by a US drone aircraft on August 5 and replaced by Hakimullah Mehsud who has vowed to exact revenge. Suicide bombings have made Pakistan, that would brim with life, a depressing place. But more troublesome is the way of life Pakistanis have been introduced to. It's fear all over -- capital cities or fringes, no exception. And its intensity is growing.
Blaming the US for the mayhem Pakistan is in, however, evades Pakistan's own responsibility for creating the monster of the Taliban, which is now burgeoning itself. The country was so obsessed with having a pliant, anti-Indian government in charge of Afghanistan (the policy known as "strategic depth") that it was prepared to get into bed with the Taliban.
The twisted thinking proved insane and suicidal. Frankenstein is really under threat now. This October has seen an unprecedented and dangerous escalation. The Taliban carried out four major attacks showing their growing power and ambitions. One, against Pakistan's army headquarters was staged with the help of a militant organisation from the country's ethnic Punjabi heartland highlighting that the Taliban no longer aim merely at controlling the ethnic Pashtun areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan but at gaining control over the state.
Gaining and wielding power through terrorism has its roots in history. During the French Revolution, the régime de la terreur was initially viewed as a positive political system that used fear to remind citizens of the necessity of virtue. The use of violence to "educate people" about ideological issues has continued predominantly as a tactic by those who do not have the powers of state at their disposal.
Bruce Hoffman, the director of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, has, in his book Inside Terrorism, listed some major historical trends in international terrorism. He makes careful distinctions between the motivations that drive political (or ethno-nationalist) terrorism and religious terrorism, and he also shows why the rise of religious terrorism, coupled with the increased availability of weapons of mass destruction, may foretell an era of even greater violence. In the past, Hoffman argues, the main goal of the terrorist was not to kill, but to attract media attention to his cause in the hope of initiating reform. "For the religious terrorist," however, "violence is first and foremost a sacramental act or divine duty executed in direct response to some theological demand or imperative. Religious terrorists see themselves not as components of a system worth preserving but as 'outsiders', seeking fundamental changes in the existing order."
Once hosted, greeted and funded by the US as mujahideen and its offshoots later tolerated by Pakistan, a raft of groups is now ganging up with the Taliban or al-Qaeda. These varied groups are ensconced not only in the unruly tribal areas, but also in the most populous province: Punjab, proliferating and operating with impunity.
Pakistani Taliban fighters virtually took over control of the Swat valley, northwest of Islamabad, beginning in 2007 and a push out of the valley toward Islamabad spread fear early this year. Islamabad cracked down militarily on the Pakistani Taliban only after it was clear that deal-making had failed. The army has now set its sights on South Waziristan -- 6,620 square km of area housing about 10,000 hardcore foreign and local fighters -- that has more risks than opportunities, in the hope of rooting out the most potent domestic threat to the state.
Amir Mir's book Talibanization of Pakistan: From 9/11 to 26/11 covers all the significant facts about the rise and rise of Taliban in Pakistan and combines purposeful theoretical investigation with good use of history and empirical evidence. For its historical and political examination of Talibanization, the book is a valuable work and a "must read," at least for anyone who wants to understand how Pakistan can respond to acts of terror. Mir's strength lies in the building up of case-studies in an historical context to illustrate the dimensions of this amorphous phenomenon. Mir draws in the reader with skill rarely seen in nonfiction writing. This extremely complex issue is dealt with in a unique yet straightforward manner.
The book has the obvious authority of high quality research. It covers a variety of areas profiling terror groups, methods and mindsets. While dates and incidents are included, they serve as interesting and helpful examples of the issue. Some of Mir's conclusions are not to everybody's tastes, but it is an inherently controversial and hotly debated issue, it's the nature of the beast.
As the title suggests, Talibanization of Pakistan: From 9/11 to 26/11 should cover the period from Sept 11 attack on the US World Trade Centre to Nov 26 Mumbai raid, but the book has up-to-date information until about two months ago. A fascinating survey of the recent history of Talibanization and all its well-documented horrors, it's gripping -- and alarming.
Source: The News, Islamabad