The challenge from the Taliban is Ideological, not Military

by Asim Salahuddin

The current crisis of militancy gripping Pakistan is the most serious threat to the integrity of the State since the loss of East Pakistan in the war of 1971. Pakistan today is surrounded by hostile neighbours, is crippled economically and is slowly being crushed under the weight of world public opinion that it is a terrorist State, which is being generated by its supposed ally America. With Balouchistan already rumbling with a separatist insurgency which has not yet thankfully gained popular traction, the armed conflict which is being fought with Taliban forces in Swat, Buner and Dir is threatening to roll back the writ of the Pakistani State to just the provinces of Sindh and Punjab. A solution must urgently be found to prevent further bloodshed on both sides of this conflict. The problem however requires a detailed analysis and also a solution that provides a lasting fix and not just another short term truce or treaty that will be broken.

 The roots of the current conflict between the Pakistani armed forces and Taliban fighters can be traced back to the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. This conflict is a direct spill over from the fighting in Afghanistan against the Americans and a reaction against the support of the Pakistani State for America’s war and its actions of bombing and killing its own Pakistani citizens at America’s behest. The opponents of the Pakistani armed forces, the Taliban, are not a coherent or unified group. Made up of various factions known collectively as the Taliban you have the CIA Taliban, Afghan Taliban, KGB Taliban, Punjabi Taliban, ISI Taliban, Tehrek-e-Taliban and others. These numerous factions have varying agendas, with some being armed resistance to US occupation, some being armed resistance to Pakistani attacks, others still being those who are funded and equipped by foreign intelligence agencies to create unrest and strife in Pakistan. Varyingly, apart from those foreign sponsored groups using the following reasons as cover, these groups are demanding an end to the bombing of Pakistani territory by American and Pakistani armed forces and an end of Pakistani support for the American occupation in Afghanistan. Some groups, failing this, want an end to interference from a Pakistani State which has proven itself incapable of looking after both the needs and security of its people.

 In origin the demands of the Taliban do not constitute a military threat to Pakistan. These groups are not foreign invaders seeking to control land/territory as part of some imperial adventure as America is in the Muslim world. The principle grievances of these groups are political in origin. The challenge to the Pakistani State therefore is from Pakistanis, civilians who have taken up arms against the nature and policies of the State.

 This problem is further being driven by America in collusion with the Zardari government of using force to wipe out any resistance to the American occupation of Afghanistan, as it has lost the battle for hearts and minds a long time ago. It is interesting to note that this is actually a complete continuation of the policies of the Musharraf era, and that the popular change which people were expecting with the departure of the military dictator has not materialised. America and the Zardari government are actually instrumental in creating and perpetuating this crisis in order to turn Pakistani public opinion in favour of America’s imperial campaign in Afghanistan and the wider Muslim world by repackaging this conflict from being America’s war to Pakistan’s war, as the people have rejected the colonial ambitions of the US and its ‘War on Terror’. This was one of the key sound bites issued by Zardari as he came to power, which was a pledge for Pakistan to adopt America’s ‘War on Terror’ as Pakistan’s own war.

 The fact of the matter is that this is America’s war, not Pakistan’s. Pakistan is being pushed in to a conflict with its own people and neighbours. Pakistan is being directed towards civil unrest and ultimately breaking point, and this is in accordance with the American plan for Pakistan. Lt Col (ret) Ralph Peters, in his article Blood borders: How a better Middle East would look for the US Armed Forces Journal, proposed a new map of the Middle East which showed the break up of country, with only Sindh and Punjab remaining as Pakistan. It is now well established that the both America and the UK are trying to fragment or Balkanise Pakistan for four principle objectives.

  1.  To take control of Balochistan for its immense resources
  2. To use the port of Gwadar in Balochistan to establish an economically viable energy corridor from the Caspian Sea through Afghanistan and away from the influence of Russia.
  3. To remove a strong Pakistan as an obstacle for India so it may act as a true counterweight to China.
  4. To break up Pakistan to remove the potential of an Islamic ideological threat from Pakistan which it brands as the ‘Islamist threat’

 With this being the true reality of the problem which is manifesting itself as the conflict with the Taliban, tribal areas and Balochi insurgency, how is the Pakistani State equipped to respond to such crises?

 It is clear for all to see that the current government is insincere, incapable and lead by corrupt politicians. The country is now almost openly being run by America. When you have a situation where the military head of a foreign power, Admiral Mike Mullen, is paying regular visits to Pakistan and the fact that the Pakistani armed forces are deployed to Dir when Hillary Clinton criticises the Pakistani government for “basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists” in the wake of the Swat deal, it is a no brainer that Pakistan is no longer a sovereign state. This is aside from the regular bombings and killings of Pakistani territory and civilians by US Predator drones. Such a situation is leading to instability in the country as Pakistan participates in America’s colonial war. As the Pakistan follows a foreign agenda, people are beginning to challenge the legitimacy of the State, questioning its purpose and the use it provides to the people. If the Pakistani State is going to kill its own citizens on the orders of a foreign power, it is clearly not serving its people by any stretch of the imagination. What then is the nature of this Pakistani state? If it will not look after its people, what is the source of its strength, and where does it derive its authority from?

 The Pakistani State is the manifestation of the contradictions embodied by the political classes and a product of external agendas as defined by foreign powers. The Pakistani State has no organic authority from the people; hence it is constantly challenged by the people. These challenges in the past have manifested themselves in various forms over the course of history, with military coups and the break up in 1971 being some examples. The current problem of militancy is the latest incarnation of this challenge to the authority and legitimacy of the Pakistani State. Currently there is one strata of society ruling Pakistan and implementing a system which the people do not respect. Politically the system has no value as many of the politicians are known to be corrupt, inept or both. Ideologically, the system has little support from the people as it is simply an imported British product and a relic of the colonial era based upon secularism. As democracy loses its façade of providing a mechanism for electing and accounting rulers and reveals itself simply to be a tool for the rich and powerful to change laws as they see fit, the people are shunning the system and apathy is rampant in society. The ideal of Pakistani nationalism, which the system is supposed to represent and protect, has shown itself to be incredibly weak at binding the various peoples in Pakistan together. Pakistani nationalism is founded upon a contradiction, namely that the State of Pakistan was created in response to a popular movement to live according to Islam by the Muslims of India yet what was yielded was secularism. As this Islamic ideal was left by the wayside, the only situation in which the people within the borders of Pakistan would come together and bond as Pakistanis would be when faced with an external threat like India. As such the State, lacking internal domestic support, is propped up by foreign powers that manipulate it for their own ends. The ruling class therefore willingly follows the diktats of those it relies upon to stay in power, namely the colonial nations such as America and the UK.

 If we look at the response of the Pakistani State to the current Taliban militancy crisis, we can see that it has been one of almost colonial ruler to a conquered people rather than a State dealing with its citizens. General Ashfaq Kayani declared that “The army will not allow the militants to dictate terms to the government or impose their way of life on the civil society of Pakistan”. Interior Minister Rehman Malik before the latest operation said that “Enough is enough” adding that “a handful of militants cannot challenge the writ of the government”. For the sake of argument, if General Kayani is given the benefit of the doubt for thinking as a military man responding to the threat of violence no such excuse can be made for the Rehman Malik. As the civilian authority and representative of the State Malik’s response epitomises the response of a State that is out of ideas as to how to deal with a population dissatisfied with its performance. By using physical means to put down an uprising which is political in origin is to stoke the flames of internal unrest and civil war.

 If the stick of the government is leading to violence, then the carrot being deployed is leading to the voluntary amputation of the State itself. Nizam-e-Adl, the government bill being implemented in Swat as part of a peace deal with the Taliban where Sharia law will allegedly be implemented, is a non-starter as a method of conflict resolution. The fact that the implementation of a few social rules makes a mockery out of Sharia law and a farce of Islamic ruling is only part of the issue at hand. If one goes along with the ridiculous assertion that Sharia law is indeed being implemented in Swat, then what you have is a recipe for disaster as effectively within the borders of one State there are two legal codes in operation. This will serve only to entrench separation and division between a group of people and the State as you begin to have two sets of laws running in parallel, which is impractical and inconceivable for any successful and progressive State. All this is despite the fact that if Sharia law was to be sincerely applied it would not be in the form of a neutered ‘Bill’ but as the source of all laws in a State which then defines the economic policies, judicial system, foreign policy, social system etc. Clearly then this is at best a foolish attempt to remedy a deeper ideological problem or at worst an insincere attempt to show the application of Sharia law.

 Both of these responses show a State which is at a loss for ideas as to how to deal with a population which neither respects its authority nor recognises its legitimacy. These actions of the Pakistani State are leading to a tremendous loss of life and civil unrest, whilst revealing the nature of the State and its relationship with the people. It is being driven by foreign instructions and threats by America and is attacking the local population, the very people it should be defending. What is then the way out of this quagmire that Pakistan finds itself sinking in?

 The solution is not to deploy an increasing amount of armed forces to the region, let alone allow a foreign colonial power to help with an armed operation. The solution is to strengthen the authority and legitimacy of the State in the eyes of the people. The State must regain the initiative by establishing a sovereign authority which derives its support from the people and not from external forces; otherwise the State shall always be weak, externally dependent, subject to manipulation by foreign forces and fire fighting insurgencies constantly. The core problem that Pakistan faces is that the people are disenfranchised and disillusioned with the State and do not identify with it. The interests of the State now clearly diverge from the interests of the people. Such a situation is not tenable and will sooner rather than later lead to either massive bloodshed or the breakup of the Pakistani State, or both, as was the case in the war of 1971. This is clearly in the interests of the foreign powers like America and part of their plans which are out in the open. The interests of the State must urgently be defined so that the people can be united around these. Nationalism has failed to define the interests and could never succeed in origin. Pakistani nationalism neither has the depth of history to which all the disparate ethnic and tribal groups in Pakistan can lay claim to as being common heritage nor does it have the necessary political depth which can be used to define specific interests. At best it will result in Pakistani colonialism, as it offers nothing to the people except shallow loyalty to a centralised administration, which is what the people in provinces outside of Punjab are feeling.

 There must be one basis upon which the interests and all laws of the State are based upon. This basis must be the casus belli of the State and the idea for which the State exists to protect, implement and propagate. This basis must serve as the source of all values and ideals in the society which bind people together. This basis must not be confused with opinion, as even if a basis is agreed there could be multiple opinions as to how best to implement this basis. This is not an issue, rather this is healthy. For example, in the UK you have the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP and Green Parties whilst in America you have the Republicans and the Democrats. The key is for a State to adopt one coherent and consistent basis. In the UK and America this is Capitalism and secularism applied in tandem within the Democratic ruling system. So whilst all of these parties may differ in their opinions on policy and indeed engage in heated or bitter debates on specific issues at times, no one contends the basis of the State. The discussion only centres on how best to adhere to this basis and which rules will result in the best application of this basis. The result of this is that regardless of what party comes to power, the nature of the State never changes and the people will obey the laws of the new government, even if they do not agree with all the new laws or policies of the new government.

 The problem in Pakistan is that there is no coherent basis upon which the State is built. People may form parties and groups and come to power on ideas as varied as secularism, socialism or Islam. In effect, Pakistan has no basis for existence. Laws, regulations and even the constitution change according to the whims and wishes of every new ruler. The identity of the Pakistani citizen is undefined. Indeed, Pakistan and what it stands for is not defined. As of now, the State of Pakistan stands for nothing.

 It is clear then that the basis for the State must urgently be established and it should be something which the people identify with and trust. There is only one idea that has the ability to bring together the various ethnicities and tribes in Pakistan as one and at the same time has the political depth to define very clearly both the interests of the individual and the State in perfect unity. This is Islam.

 Islam is the ideology which has a natural resonance with the people and has a track record of success when applied correctly in its entirety and in its true State form. Once Islam is adopted as the coherent and consistent basis, an ideologically strong State shall emerge as this State will naturally derive its authority from the people. This State shall have a clear direction as defined by the Sharia and the legitimacy to tackle both external threats and internal rebels who seek to implement their own views upon the people. The State will then be seen to represent the people and not foreign interests. The current State apparatus is not equipped to support the implementation of Islam. It does not posses the appropriate departmental bodies, courts, ruling structure or economy. The State will thus need to be revamped and re-established in the form of a Khilafah. Only the Khilafah State would posses the structure needed to implement Islam as a State ideology. This is not an administrative issue where one can swap or rename a few departments in the current Pakistani State and implement a few Sharia rulings on theft or adultery and be declared Islamic. The new Khilafah structure is needed to reflect the transference of sovereignty away from Parliament to the Sharia and the investment of authority in an elected Khaleefah, not a President, Prime Minister or military dictator. If one attempts to implement Islam and Sharia in the current State structure, then you will produce a circus show of the like that is currently going on with Nizam-e-Adl.

 Once this new State structure is set up on a clearly defined and coherent basis with support from the people, the issue then will be to assess the claims of any restless groups such as the Taliban via a due process of law through the appropriate organs of the state (councils, courts etc) and then issue a verdict which shall have universal legitimacy. The State will also be able to lead the people the Taliban currently rule to progression. For instance, education for girls will be enforced; Taliban like groups can have no objection to such rulings as the curriculum would teach values which are consistent with Islam and the verdict would be handed down by a legitimate Islamic authority. Issues will not be disputed as the Khaleefah will adopt public laws which everyone must follow. Anything not adopted will be the right of individuals to decide upon, no compulsion. As with any other ideological State, differences of opinions will be allowed and if people want to lobby the Khaleefah for a change in opinion then appropriate channels shall exist. Indeed it shall be the responsibility of the Islamic civil society, such as political parties, to account the Khaleefah to ensure that the Sharia is being followed at all times. The current system does not provide this. It is the lack of such a legal framework which causes frustration amongst the various Islamic groups as there is no official mechanism to address their concerns or consider their opinions. This legal process would be the correct method for not only dealing with the Taliban but also any other movement which seeks to be separate from the State or establish an alternative order.

 By establishing the Khilafah State the impracticalities of the Pakistani State shall be swept away and the people shall be united on a shared intellectual basis rather than a shallow idea of nationalism, which is a colonial construct in origin anyway which serves to divide rather than unite people. The Khilafah State shall not only solve the problem of unity and address any issues of militancy within society, but it shall give direction to the whole of society. As the national interests are defined according to Islam, many of the current problems shall be solved. The foreign policy of the State shall be in line with the wishes of the people as the State shall refuse to take part in any colonial adventure with nations such as America. The security and property of its citizens shall be protected, as the State shall exist to serve the people, not the other way around as it is currently. Separatist movements shall lose legitimacy as the basis for the State shall not be divisive nationalism but an inclusive ideology. The economy shall be revived as inflation is brought under control with investment in industry and production, a gold standard backed currency, capital flows freed up as interest is removed and the taxation system simplified. Industrialisation shall occur, leading to a rise in education standards and employment as the State seeks to provide for the people and project the ideological strength and power of Islam globally.

 A variety of topics have been addressed briefly in the closing paragraphs, with each topic warranting a lengthy explanation in its own right. However for the current issue at hand the challenge presented to Pakistan by the internal dissenters and foreign powers is one of challenging the ideological soul of the State, and this has been addressed. This challenge must be met with a barrage of ideas, not bullets or missiles. Islam is capable of meeting this challenge and providing a resounding answer. It is then up to the people of influence in civil society, politics and the military to adopt this call and save the people of Pakistan before it is too late.


The writer is a Pakistani analyst and freelance columnist

1 Comment

Filed under Identity, Islam, Pakistan, Taliban, Terrorism

One response to “The challenge from the Taliban is Ideological, not Military

  1. pwyoutube

    You may seek answers in “drone attacks” or “U.S. presence”, but there were “Lashkar” who were threatening “dharna” in front of Parliament during Nawaz Sharif’s previous tenure. So the issue is more ancient than most people would suggest.

    “Drone attacks” are a red herring.

    If it was not this, people would pick out U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

    It is a way of making decisionmakers in Pakistan defensive.

    There are political parties operational in Pakistan who KNOW they will never themselves be in charge. Those who CAN be are meticulously avoiding it (Nawaz Sharif refusing to take cabinet seats in the government, but assuring “full support”).

    There is a lot of cannibalism going on in Pakistan currently.

    While examination of external factors (India in Baluchistan and Afghan “embassies”) and U.S. “drone attacks” are a valid concern.

    But one ALSO has to examine various endemic factors floating around in our country.

    In fact, while foreign factors ARE there, they are FAR less controllable than the ones that are domestic and related to the behaviour of our ulema (parties loosely affiliated with the Taliban) and groups which seek funding from Saudi (and perhaps the occasional Israeli “Arab”). These are all essentially “foreign” groups. Because if anything happens to Pakistan, it does not ruin the day for someone in Saudi Arabia, or Iran. It affects US. It does not affect Osama Bin Laden’s family.

    So I find it surprising how many people support outsiders over their own countrymen.

    There is a serious denial of duty to country going on in Pakistan.

    What do we do when there is a vocal minority of people who refuse to understand the path to stability.

    When they continue to insist on untruths – when the media continues to not challenge those slips of the tongue.

    Jamaat-e-Islam fixates on “drone attacks” and “Lal Masjid” women and children being killed – when it has been ascertained that there were no women and children killed in the attack on Lal Masjid. Yet they continue to say it nonetheless. Someone spouts the same accusations, and the media anchors let it pass without challenge. Why ?

    Those who are brainwashed into supporting ideals that have been imported from outside (or from religious parties). They ONLY act when the Taliban take over their party’s madrassa.

    Those who seek “restoration of judges” but proceed with “extrajudicial killings” (Shehbaz Sharif in Lahore).

    Those who talk of honest leadership but then side with Nawaz Sharif and Zardari (Imran Khan).

    It seems at this time, a LOT of people are seeing it as a “perfect storm” of problems for Pakistan, and they are ALL pouncing like jackals for their share.

    And this includes Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif (although they are starting to realize a bit late that things are getting out of control), and of course the shady “religious parties”, who are politicians, but act like scholars (which they are not). Since you CANNOT be a scholar (which requires you identify a fault even if it is in yourself) AND a traditional politician (who are out to “number barhana” even if it means lying).

    They recognize the state is in attention deficit mode (because of all the distractions). Far from waiting a bit to press their demands, EACH of them see it as an opportune moment – their problem has to be handled NOW.

    Baluch feudals are seeing it as a good moment to press for “independence”. Media covers the issue, but FAILS to ask them “where will you have your capital” and “how will you finance your country”. No challenge to examine the level of thought in the people making the challenges to the state. No challenges that a Baluchi can live anywhere in Pakistan plus he is intensely sparcely distributed over Baluchistan’s large land area. If nothing else at least establish how much Pakistan owes Baluchistan in back revenues for Sui gas.

    The Taliban are poised for attack. U.S. also sees this as THE time to make moves. India doing same.

    Meanwhile the religious parties are fixated on things Pakistan cannot control – i.e. the behaviour of OTHER countries. U.S. drone attacks and their behaviour in Afghanistan.

    How does a state control another state more powerful than itself ?

    Yet these people continue to make “rhetorical” demands like “we will only stop if you stop American in Afghanistan”, or “only if you bring us the Moon”.

    These are all non-starters. Essentially their intent is to promote deadlock. None of them are interested in making sure the engines of state continue to work. For the next 6 months, for the next few years. But no, they want their pound of flesh right NOW.

    Knowing full well the government, not they themselves (if they were in government) will not be able to meet unrealistic demands, they then claim victory – a non-resolution of demands which they can use to justify anything – it’s all “radd-e-amal”.

    It is as if people are morons and without thought – and everything happens as lock step. Where actions of the state have moral implications. But actions of the religous parties have NO moral bounds. This notion itself is antithetical to Islam. Where pell-mell “radd-e-amal” is chaos and anarchy and justifying it is akin to fitna.

    Most of these people give a hoot about Pakistan.

    Here is a response to a hypothetical “radd-e-amal” prone Taliban:
    Advice to a Young Taliban