Saturday, April 25, 2009

Off-Topic: No point in talking to the Taliban in Swat

Pakistan ceded Swat after a military failure. But the subsequent deal that lets them (who?) impose Sharia will turn out to be a malignant cancer. Already, there is much confusion in Pakistan in how to respond to Taliban. But the desire to have a "successful" Islamic system (aah - the dream of Islamic utopia - courtesy of General Zia) pollutes a forceful response from the civil society, so desperately needed at this time. Thankfully, some clarity was provided last week by Sufi Muhammad - the "peace broker" between the government and the Taliban in Swat. Now - he is supposed to be one of the relatively good guys. He explicitly told a large rally last week that they don't recognize the judicial system of Pakistan ("product of infidels") and find democratic principles against the spirit of Islam. Needless to say that they aim to spread their system to the rest of the country. Thank you Sufi Muhammad for being clear on your goals. Finally, there may be some respite from the conspiracy theories that Pakistan is always engulfed in - or is it being too optimistic?

To illustrate, here is a report from Channel 4 (by the way, what's up with this Taliban dude's focus on "white women"?? A bit of a non sequitur, don't you think?)

It should be very clear: these guys are nasty and their sights are set on Pakistan. I don't think their voluntary withdrawal from Buner means anything. It just shows that they can take a town in northern Pakistan pretty much without resistance. They are methodically moving in - and we will soon start seeing the destabilization of the rural areas of Punjab (see a related earlier post: The situation in northern Pakistan).

Also see this:
Disarray on Pakistan Taliban threat (from BBC)

and also at a Congressional hearing, Hillary Clinton brought up the fact that the US earlier abandoned Pakistan, and that's what created many of the current problems.

Update: 4/26: Here is an excellent oped by Mohammed Hanif - that more or less explains the attitudes of moderate Pakistanis: Pakistan bows to the Taliban's rise. Here is how he ends his article:

In Swat, I heard the same story again and again: Before the peace deal, soldiers would stop people at checkpoints and say, "Don't go that way, the Taliban are slitting someone's throat." But they wouldn't intercede to stop the throat-slitting.

The problem, as many see it, is that there's no alternative. Yes, the Taliban routinely place near the bottom of opinion polls, and in elections they garner less than 10 percent of the vote. But we seem to be an exhausted society, incapable of rising to this challenge.

When we look overseas for support, we are confronted by the Americans demanding that we oppose the Taliban even as U.S. drones continue to kill impoverished civilians in the remote-controlled hunt for Taliban officials and the latest al-Qaeda No. 3. There is not a single Pakistani who supports these attacks or the way they are being conducted. They have made being pro-American radioactive. And they have also made opposing the Taliban that much more difficult.

What are people to do?

I got a glimpse of what they are already doing in Lahore. At a hotel that is so safe, I was told, that Americans often use it, I saw security guards posted at multiple entrances. You see private security guards everywhere in Pakistan, but one I spoke with had his pistol drawn. When I asked him why, he shrugged and said that those were his orders. But how he will guard against a truckload of explosives, a band of men armed with rocket launchers or an ideology that wants us to dress and behave like people in Mecca circa A.D. 570 remains unclear.

Good luck!


Ali Kazim Gardezi said...

It's really sad to see Swat in the hands of extremists. In my opinion, it's the greatest danger ever faced by Paksitan. We all need to condem and fight it as Pakistan's existence is at stake.

The problem lies, when they (extremist) bring people's sympathies by giving it a religious tone. No one among us wants to go against his/her religion. We need to tell people that these guys have got it wrong. They are have there own ulterior motives.

Don said...

The Taliban certainly have their own motives, although I'm very confused about people's knowledge and attitudes of them. If they only receive around 10% of the vote (in other words, that they are hardly voted for), it would seem that SOME of the Pakistani population recognizes that their aims are not in tune with the aims of the public. In the areas that are already under Taliban control, they would be a very intimidating presence-- but what about the part of the country, the majority of the country, in which they do not yet have power? Without the same intimidation, and with understanding of the motives and goals of the Taliban, you would think there would be fervent demand for action!

... and maybe there is. But if that is the case, it sure seems underreported. And if it isn't, what the hell is going on?

Matthew said...

How much of the success of the Taliban in the frontier is due to the fact that they're fighting NATO and the US? Is it as simple as "the enemy of my enemy is my friend"? I'm sure it's more nuanced than that, but simple emotional appeals do tend to speak loudly.

But really isn't NW Pakistan already "prepared ground" in terms of religious extremism due to wahhabist influence? If the Taliban are at least in part a religious movement, their takeover of NW Pakistan isn't a surprise in that regard.

Salman Hameed said...

"If they only receive around 10% of the vote (in other words, that they are hardly voted for), it would seem that SOME of the Pakistani population recognizes that their aims are not in tune with the aims of the public."

Well...this is where Zia's legacy of Islamization comes in. There is indeed strong sympathy in all of Pakistan for an "Islamic system" - but not from Mullahs - who are considered illiterate and backwards looking (especially, compared to the upper-class elites). Hence, a pragmatism has existed - where a (relatively) secular system exists in a religious society - but Islamic political parties are shut out. However, many are also aware of the compromises being made to conform to modernity. The Taliban, however, present a system that makes no compromises to modernity (also read western here). Thus, there is an underlying admiration for it - and the brutalities are usually overlooked.

Of course, all of this is now also being colored by rising nationalism because of the drone attacks. The Taliban, for many, are standing up to America. In comparison, the Pakistan government, despite its status as an ally, has been unable to even stop American bombing in Pakistan's territory. So you can see the reasons for the contours of sympathy from the moderates who should be against the Taliban.

The Wahabi elements were more common in the tribal belt (thanks to the global Jihad against the Soviets). However, areas like Swat - while certainly religious - have practiced a relatively relaxed form of Islam and are quite modern. In fact, Swat valley until recently used to be the top tourist destination in Pakistan - with modern infrastructure. This why the takeover of Swat is disturbing - it is quite different from North and South Waziristan.

hedge said...

Of course the Taliban fears white women. They ought to. "White" women show that women do not have to be oppressed or powerless or uneducated. For some, this will never make a difference, they will always view infidel women as such. But for plenty of others, they will realize that they are being sorely used and will slowly turn against the Taliban.

But don't worry, Taliban, we'll all be dead from global warming first.

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