Are Taliban inevitable?
The News, Feb 16 2009
The targeted killing of an MPA in Peshawar sadly is not the last in a long chain of murders and violence in NWFP. Many councillors and high-profile politicians have been targeted in Swat; before that numerous maliks, khans and ulema have been assassinated in FATA and adjoining areas like Bannu. Such acts are now the norm, raising questions about the efficacy of government policies.
Is a Taliban take-over inevitable? Is implosion of the state in NWFP a foregone conclusion? Although many people now acknowledge that the writ of state is ineffective in almost a dozen districts of NWFP, yet they carry on as if it is business as usual in Pakistan. What options are available for areas where the existing system is placed under tremendous stress and the seeds of a new, more brutal order appear to be superimposing themselves through fear and gun power? Is there a plan for the road ahead?
Two types of attitude toward the state of affairs are noticeable in Pakistan: The first is marked by apathy toward the areas embroiled in violence. This is not new—Karachi met the same treatment in the 1980s and 1990s; Balochistan in the 1970s and now; and East Pakistan in the 1950s and 1960s.
The second attitude, in ample evidence recently, expresses concern about the deteriorating situation in NWFP as it has implications for the rest of Pakistan. The destruction of girls’ schools (not that girls education data was enviable in Swat or Waziristan) is the ultimate symbol of loss of power and loss of reason. Articles and Internet advocacy about the urgency of the situation and the need to act can be seen daily.
Most articles rue the government’s failure against the Taliban in scenic Swat (as if Swat is the only place they operate in). Others try to figure out who supports the murky Taliban brands. They highlight Wahabi funding, the shadowy role of secret agencies (the favourite villains are the ISI, CIA, and RAW with all sorts of junior partners), and the presence of foreign militants.
A host of other explanations tell us how the Taliban have managed to spread. For example, some middle ranking army officers and bureaucrats bitterly accuse their superiors of betrayal. They feel frustrated and demoralized by the perception that the Americans, in cahoots with some in leadership positions, play double games, e.g. equipping select Taliban groups with sophisticated technologies that are effectively used against their attempts to restrain the activities of the Taliban. Many analysts blame the Musharraf government for deliberately looking away while the MMA encouraged right wing organizations to spread their operations.
No one can tell which strand of analyses carries more grains of truth than others, yet these analyses almost paralyze us due to their pessimistic conclusion, that the Taliban are very powerful and fated to take over. These forebodings are augmented by stories of the Taliban’s viciousness, their monopoly over the weapons of fear as they demonstrate their brutality by skinning people, slitting their throats and mutilating bodies, collapsing the difference between human beings and animals.
Meanwhile, the affected people continue to protest in a mute manner, bitter against the armed forces and political government for failing them; and, loathing the Taliban for dislodging them from their homes. Some even contend that the military and the Taliban are one and the same—the soldier who guards his security camp in the day wears a turban and becomes a Talib in the evening.
Given this complex situation, the question for us is: What is the government’s roadmap for the future? The provincial government seems to vacillate between negotiating deals and facilitating local resistance. It made deals with some extremists in Swat, though the people most affected opposed these deals. The result is in our faces.
The government also indicates that it will support anyone who resists Taliban incursions. This was the case near Badaber recently when nine alleged Taliban were killed. The UC nazim announced that they would not allow the Taliban to terrorize them and claimed the support of 28 other UCs. He has organized voluntary committees to defend the village as the Taliban vowed to avenge the killings. The local administration and police announced their support.
Going back and forth between negotiating with the Taliban (against the wishes of those affected) on the one hand and facilitating resistance on the other hand, serves to confuse. The provincial government, backed by popular vote, would do well to be decisive. Pledging support to the UC nazim instead of initiating an inquiry into the clash is hopefully not a policy statement. That would be tantamount to the government abdicating responsibility.
The government must rethink its latest knee-jerk strategy of supporting local resistance as it can backfire. Increasingly more people may take up arms ostensibly to defend themselves, resulting in the mushrooming of local mafias and militias acting in their own interest.
Only governmental vacillation and ad hocism can make the Taliban inevitable in the short-term. We know that the Taliban can impose their writ only through fear but rule through fear is unsustainable. Eventually people will oust the Taliban but the costs between ‘now’ and ‘eventually’ include brutalization of society, and the loss of the government’s moral legitimacy to lead, and power to rule.
Both the provincial and federal governments must communicate a medium and long-term vision accompanied by a clear strategy for implementation. Meanwhile, their representatives should desist from vacuous statements while making a peace deal here and initiating a military operation there—such tactics sans an overall strategy are useless at best and counterproductive at worst.
The writer is a researcher with a PhD in political science. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org