Extremely Extremist and other stories

From The News

By Shandana Minhas

During his visit to Beijing President Asif Zardari said terrorism ‘needs to be tackled on an urgent basis’ and  that he would ‘utilize every forum to brief the world about prevailing situation.’ Here’s an idea. Why doesn’t he do the same for Pakistan? For all the millions still doing the ala ostrich routine? He could be on all the channels simultaneously. His PR people could make him a slick presentation with charts and everything (no giving him a laser light though, that might be asking for trouble). Points he might like to cover include:

The Taliban do not distinguish between good Taliban and bad Taliban, and neither should we. While their foot soldiers might start out as the brainwashed sons of poverty, deprivation, illiteracy, sold on a vision of paradise through the creation of hell on earth, and their ideological leadership tech savvy and highly intelligent, they are all dedicated and focused on one particular goal. That goal is to destroy Pakistan as we know it, and build in its place a medieval dystopia.

The Taliban are not seeking to create this dystopia – dubbed Absurdistan by one commentator and Jihadistan by another- for the betterment of humankind. They are not seeking to redraw borders for the oppressed to be able to practice their religion without fear of persecution or indignity, or under the imposition of somebody else’s agenda. That already happened. It was called partition.

The Taliban are not a logical progression of the hope and belief generations before us bought into when they chose to follow Jinnah. They are an artificially created, mutant strain of its antithesis. Here is what Jinnah felt about people who did not believe as he did : “If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his color, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make…I cannot emphasize it too much.…No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed. That has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

Here is what the Taliban do to people who do not follow their proscribed version of faith: they kill them.

The Taliban can naively be seen as trigger happy tribesmen but they now function as a protective umbrella for diverse destructive entities. Post the 2007 siege of the Lal Masjid, the ‘jihadis’ from the north have built mutually beneficial strategic relationships with sectarian fanatics and separatists in all the provinces. They have infiltrated deep into the heartlands of Punjab, working with supposedly banned groups to facilitate the planning and operations of attacks like the suicide bombing of a mosque in Dera Ghazi Khan on February 5th in which 29 people of a sect were killed. A report carried by a foreign periodical notes that Umme Hasan, head of the notorious Jamia Hafsa and widow of slain radical cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi, has made 12 trips there in the past few months, working up the crowds who attend her rallies with footage of the siege of the mosque. Her message to them? Islamic revolution in three months. Her recently released brother in law’s message to his flock after his release? Prepare for sacrifices.

The Taliban and the movements coalescing around them are not confined to any one part of this beautiful country. They are in our homes via television, the internet and the radio; they are in our mohallas and our cities. They intend to stay there. Responding to criticism of the Swat chapter’s disavowal of its pledge to lay down arms after the Nizam-e-Adl regulation was passed spokesman Muslim Khan said “It’s out of the question that the Taliban lay down their arms.” He articulated their goal of continuing their mission in “new areas across Pakistan”, saying “When we achieve our goal at one place, there are other areas where we need to struggle for it.” That goal, and it must be emphasized and reiterated so people remember, is the further imposition of an imported, brutal, inhuman, misogynistic, immoral code that is completely divorced from the pacifistic spirituality of much of this nation. That goal is against the spirit of the principles outlined in our constitution, the principles of “democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam.” That goal, and not America’s ‘war on terror’, is why Pakistan’s people, and the organs of the state, need to focus completely on countering them.

The Taliban cannot be countered through compromise via faux Sharia or a purely military solution. The former emboldens them, the latter emboldens those ambivalent about them. They cannot be countered in the long term till our education system is rehabilitated, our curriculums redrawn. They cannot be countered in the short term till Pakistanis choose a side and force the government and hence the army to choose it too, something critics say they have successfully managed to avoid till date, for perfectly understandable reasons.

Here is why President Zardari or Prime Minister Gilani or Saudi proxy Nawaz Sharif are happiest when looking at the Taliban through their peripheral vision. It is a point made ceaselessly by Dr Pervez Hoodhboy and others. The Taliban’s philosophy, abhorrent as it is to some of us, clearly resonates with others who are no more sociopathic or psychopathic than we are. Their vision is seductive because it hints at a society that will bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots (unless you’re a woman, in which case it’s more like had nothing then, have nothing now). Our leaders cannot or rather will not engage fully with this desi Frankenstein because to do so would require them, and the other privileged among us, to engage with issues that are anathema to our existence, for example income redistribution and dispute settlement that does not favor the powerful . Enter speedy justice and land reform, Taliban style. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

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