The Head of Medusa
By S Iftikhar Murshed
February 23, 2014
The leaders of the country have seen the head of Medusa in a mirror and fear has transformed them into stone. This is the impact the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has had on the nation. Ordinary people – men, women and children – have writhed under the tyranny of its despotism which has never thought it necessary to proffer a reason for its atrocities other than in terms of false religion. Even the most grotesque acts of cruelty, such as the beheading of soldiers, are presented as piety.
In its worldview good and evil are sharply defined. There are no grey areas. Those who do not conform must be put to death. Compassion and mercy have no place in the litany that is chanted in its temples of worship. Forgiveness is banished forever even though all religions through the ages have emphasised that “God’s house is the only house where sinners are welcome.” The Quran is far more emphatic about this and in two of its verses it states that “God has willed upon Himself the law of mercy and grace” (6: 12 and 54).
None of the other divine attributes have been similarly defined in the holy book of Muslims. This is of overriding importance because it encapsulates the spirit of their faith. But the creed of the TTP and its affiliates is entirely different. Theirs is a religion of violence and is far removed from Islamic teachings. The consequences have been disastrous.
Though computations vary about the exact number of casualties, it is generally agreed that more than 40,000 people have been killed in terrorist outrages in Pakistan over the years. But what can be said with mathematical certainty is that in the five-month period from September 10, 2013 when the prime minister convened the ill-advised All-Parties Conference, till February 20, 2014 terrorism has claimed a staggering 460 lives – 308 civilians, 114 military personnel and 38 policemen – while 1,264 people have been seriously injured. These include 684 civilians, 531 soldiers and 49 policemen.
The gruesome statistics will keep mounting because the TTP has read the signs and is convinced that the grovelling leadership of the country is addicted to a policy of appeasement and is incapable of taking decisive military action in North Waziristan. This assessment is depressingly accurate as was evident yet again last Sunday when the spokesman of the TTP’s Mohmand chapter, Omar Khalid Khorasani, announced that his group had killed 23 Frontier Corps personnel who were captured in June 2010. The men were mercilessly decapitated and their bodies were thrown on the wayside.
The prime minister, who exults in the title of ‘the lion of Punjab,’ should have reacted by immediately terminating the farcical talks with the TTP and ordering stern military reprisals. Instead he initially behaved like a terrified rabbit dazzled on a lonely road at night by the headlights of the hunter’s vehicle and decided to merely put the futile dialogue on hold till the Taliban declared a ceasefire. On Wednesday the outlawed group responded that the government must first give an assurance that its fighters would not be killed or captured and only then would it agree to a cessation of hostilities. The government’s rejection of the TTP offer was, for once, a correct decision. It was only then, according to a PML-N insider, that the prime minister reluctantly authorised Thursday’s airstrikes in the North Waziristan and Khyber agencies.
But the government is still willing to resume the talks if the outfit announces an unconditional ceasefire. Even if the TTP agrees to this, it will mean nothing because organisationally it is a coalition of more than 40 odd terrorist groups. These affiliates and franchises operate independently and this, as an analyst has recently explained, not only serves as force multiplier but also provides the TTP’s central Shura a mechanism for denying terrorist attacks whenever there is need.
Furthermore, what the leadership of the country does not understand is that the mere announcement of an unconditional termination of hostilities by the TTP is not enough. The sine qua non for the initiation of talks with the outfit is that it must first disarm. This is the requirement of Article 256 of the constitution which unequivocally affirms: “No private organisation capable of functioning as a military organisation shall be formed, and any such organisation is illegal.” Talks with the TTP are, therefore, permissible only if it agrees upfront to abide by this provision of the constitution.
In a refreshingly perceptive article last week a scholar argued convincingly that all insurgences end in three possible outcomes: (i) the grant of political autonomy like in East Timor, South Sudan and Palestine; (ii) assimilation into the political mainstream as in El Salvador, Nepal and Chechnya, and; (iii) the partial or complete defeat of the insurgents as in the case of the LTTE in Sri Lanka as well as the uprisings in East Punjab and Indian-occupied Kashmir.
The first and second outcomes can only materialise in the unlikely event that the TTP accepts the constitution, disarms and relinquishes violence. The autonomy envisaged in the first scenario already exists in the tribal areas where the TTP and several of its affiliates are based. This is because Article 247 of the constitution ousts the jurisdiction of the high court and the Supreme Court from Fata and confers legislative authority on the president.
But nevertheless the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution are applicable to all citizens irrespective of where they reside. The state is, therefore, obliged to ensure that these rights are not infringed in the tribal regions. In other words the powers of the president to promulgate ordinances and regulations in respect of Fata are circumscribed inasmuch as these must not violate any of the inalienable rights assured by the constitution. This is what the TTP will have to respect.
The outfit has unfailingly justified its hideous track record of mass murder and destruction under the pretence that its only purpose is to impose Shariah on the country. The bluff needs to be called. The word Shariah (or Shir’ah) signifies a way to a watering place because water is an indispensable element for all life and it is used in the Quran in the sense that it embodies a system of laws essential for the survival of any community in the social and spiritual sense.
The fundamental and unalterable principle of Islamic law is that no duty (Taklif) can be imposed on the individual without his being granted a corresponding right (Haqq) which means that the state must fulfil its part of the social contract by providing economic and social security to all citizens. Furthermore, the laws of Islam are simple and few in order not to place too great a burden on believers as explained in the Quran itself (5: 101-102).
Soon after it was established in 1981, the Federal Shariat Court set about reviewing all statutes that had been in place since 1841 in order to determine whether any of them were in conflict with the injunctions of the Quran. Its findings were that none of the laws promulgated during the colonial era were repugnant to Islam and, surprisingly, “whatever few un-Islamic provisions were found were enacted after 1947 and not by the British.”
The hypocrisy of the TTP is thus laid bare. Its only objective is the capture of power which it disguises in fanciful Islamic formulations. But what is disquieting is that its fraudulent ideology has spread. The liberal elite in the country, who are content to occupy themselves with the trivialities of social intercourse, are quick to accuse the madrasas (seminaries) for the rapid proliferation of religious obscurantism and violence. What they do not cede is that they are as much to blame for allowing clerics, who have no place in actual Islam, to propound absurd interpretations of Quranic pronouncements.
What emerges is that till the TTP is either defeated or significantly weakened militarily peace will not return to the country. But those at the helm think differently. The prime minister is convinced that it is only through talks that the militancy can be brought to an end. He would do well to remember the saying that “society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer.”
S Iftikhar Murshed is the publisher of Criterion Quarterly.