By Najam Sethi
19 Oct, 2012
IMRAN KHAN’S populist “stance” on the Pakistani Taliban in which their origins, beliefs and motivation are all somehow linked to America’s role in Pakistan has spawned much confusion and contradiction in society.
Consequently Pakistan’s ruling elites are bereft of any consensual political strategy to combat the most serious existential threat to their nation- state since independence. It is important, therefore, to restate the facts about the Taliban in general and Pakistani Taliban in particular and explain cause and effect.
It is wrong to say that the Taliban are a product of US intervention in Afghanistan. The truth is the Taliban are a product of the civil war in Afghanistan in the 1990s in which Pakistan and not America was a real player. When they seized Kabul in 1996, America was not even on the scene. It had nothing to do with their formation and it refused to recognise their regime. Indeed, the Taliban provoked America to intervene in Afghanistan when they sheltered Osama Bin Laden, who openly claimed responsibility for attacking America on 9/ 11. When America attacked Afghanistan in December 2001, it did so under a NATO/ ISAF force backed up by the UN. It is wrong to say that the Taliban are a blowback consequence of American drone attacks that exact huge civilian casualties. It is wrong to say that if Pakistan can somehow stop the drones, the Taliban will stop waging war. The truth is that the Taliban appeared in 1995 and the drones in 2004. The truth is that the Afghan Taliban violated Pakistan’s sovereignty first when they created safe havens in FATA in 2001 and America did so in the late 2000s when it started raining drones on them. The more uncomfortable truth also is that the military establishment of Pakistan approved of both safe havens for the Taliban and the drone strikes against them.
The final truth is that, according to Maj- Gen Ghayur, a spokesman of the Pakistan Army, the drones exact more military than civilian casualties. Indeed, the Pakistan army’s main grouse against the Americans is not that they use drones indiscriminately or illegally but that they refuse to enable the Pakistani military to own and use the drones. It is wrong to argue that there should be no military action against the Pakistani Taliban regardless of the death and destruction they daily wreck on Pakistan and its citizens. It is wrong to demand peace deals with them.
The truth is that we have cobbled four major and nine minor peace deals with sections of the Pakistan Taliban since 2004. Each deal was repudiated sooner than later by the Taliban and has left Pakistan weaker and the Taliban stronger.
It is wrong to argue that a military operation against the Taliban is misplaced for the same reasons that a military operation in Karachi or Balochistan is to be discouraged. The truth is that the troubles of Karachi and Balochistan are very different from those in FATA. In Karachi, there is a law and order problem of criminality and sectarian strife that requires strong and neutral police measures.
That is why Imran Khan can still have political rallies in Karachi. and Balochistan. As Akhtar Mengal explained, the dissidents are demanding historical constitutional rights of administrative and financial autonomy.
That is also why the Supreme Court is defending their right to due process of law.
B UT IMRAN Khan cannot hold any rally in Waziristan.
The Taliban are not demanding constitutional rights like the Baloch. Instead, they are seeking to oust the Constitution of Pakistan and eliminate the notions of a free media, independent judiciary, sovereign parliament etc. They are waging war against the very idea of Pakistan.
It is wrong to argue that true liberals do not ever advocate war and Pakistani liberals are fascists for doing so. The truth is Liberalism is principally against wars of aggression or imperialism and supportive of wars in defence of the democratic and constitutional nation- state. If Pakistani liberals support military action against the Taliban they do so because they perceive them to be a mortal existential threat to Pakistan. It is wrong to say that the Malala incident is a conspiracy by the West to push Pakistan into military operations against the Taliban. The West has been urging Pakistan to go after the Taliban for many years. But Pakistan has consistently refused to do US bidding.
That is why the US- Pak “strategic relationship” has ended. If and when we do act decisively against the Taliban it will be when we have cobbled a national consensus to root them out.
It is wrong to formulate a three pronged anti- Taliban strategy that says we must wait for the US to leave Afghanistan and stop the drones first, then woo 90 per cent of the misguided Taliban and act against 10% hard core elements later. The truth is that drones are not cause of the Taliban. The truth is that the Taliban can’t be split easily between good and bad. And the truth is that a small and localised military operation will yield only temporary relief because the Taliban will melt away into Afghanistan as they did following the Swat operation and live to fight another day at another front.
T HE widespread belief in falsehood over truth is one reason why the Malala incident is still not cause enough to become a “turning point” for Pakistan. But there are more mundane reasons for a lack of consensus on how to deal with the Taliban. General elections are round the corner. Imran Khan’s electoral strategy is geared to exploiting rampant anti- Americanism in Pakistan, especially among the young whose memory does not go beyond 9/ 11. Nawaz Sharif, who has most to lose from Khan’s success, cannot be unmindful of the potent role of anti- Americanism in Pakistani politics. But he is equally worried about the consequences of a violent backlash from the Taliban that creates an opportunity for the government or military to postpone the elections in a national emergency. So the PMLN is not even ready for a parliamentary resolution condemning the Taliban let alone sanction military operations against them.
The truth is that Talibanism is an extremist mindset. The truth is that its proponents exist in every nook and corner of Pakistan.
The truth is that this mindset was created in three decades of military misadventures and civilian opportunism. And the truth is that this mindset was created and nurtured in a regional context. Nothing short of consistent and consensual policies of the opposite variety for at least a decade or two will succeed in uprooting this menace and bring sanity to Project Pakistan.
Najam Sethi is the editor of The Friday Times THE Taliban