Courtesy Fouzia Saeed
DISSPELLING THE MYTHS ABOUT TALIBAN
Myth: The root cause of Terrorism is extreme poverty and lack of education
Reality: This is not true. There are many countries in the world that suffer from extreme poverty but do not have terrorist groups. Within Pakistan many areas are more poor than Swat, but have not become violent. On the other hand people who have become terrorists are not doing anything to eradicate poverty or provide education. Terrorists merely use the resentment of the marginalized and those resentful of other state actions in the initial phase of their ideological campaign. Once in control, they tax the poor, destroy school buildings and stop girls from going to schools. Most of those who have been killed due to militant attacks are women, peasants and the poor.
Myth: Terrorism is because people were not getting speedy justice
Reality: Terrorists take over communities that are dissatisfied with one thing or the other so that they can thrive on their dissatisfaction and at least initially mobilize them on their agenda against the state. They act like Robin Hood in the beginning, joining the people to raise their issue from a religious platform, giving it a divine legitimacy. Once in power, they repress and abuse locals and consider themselves to be unaccountable to no one. In reality, history shows that the kind of unchecked and absolute power that the terrorists demand always leads to more injustice. It never gives justice to the common people and to the weak in society,
Myth: Terrorism is America’s war
Reality: It is true that America has been a primary culprit in creating these demons in South and Central Asia since late sixties and the initial overt war was between USA/CIA and Osama/Al Qaeda, but since Pakistan was so involved as a player with both sides that today, it has become our war also. We have to admit that we had an active role in this equation, not just that of a paid agent of the America. Since the 1980’s all our military and political leaders took pride in creating the Taliban. For the last 20 years Pakistanis have suffered immensely, especially since 2003 and therefore, now, we are the ones who have to deal with this challenge. We cannot sit back and ask why are we fighting America’s war on our land. Regardless of who started the war and why, today it is we, the Pakistani’s, whose house is on fire and we have to protect it for us and our children.
Myth: Terrorists are jihadi and want to bring Shariah
Reality: Jihad in Afghanistan was used by USA as a term to legitimize their insurgence against the Soviet Union. Because Pakistan also used the term Jihad for insurgence in Kashmir to help their freedom movement, people confuse the current phenomenon with it. The Terrorists we are dealing with today have nothing to do with jihad. Most of them do not even know what Islam is. Taliban destroying schools and mosques, killing policemen and citizens who are also Muslims and denouncing our legal system, including lawyers, judges and the Supreme Court. These groups are giving a bad name to Islam all over the world. They are using the word Shariah so that anyone who stops them looks like they are working against God and Islam. Their leadership is after power and control and has brainwashed thousands of workers who might actually think that they are fighting this battle for Islam or for earning a place in heaven.
LOSSES WE SUFFERED AT THE HANDS OF THE TALIBAN GROUPS
Since 2000, 3852 innocent Pakistani citizens have been killed in terrorist attacks. Out of these nearly 3000 have lost their lives since 2007. This includes men, women and children. Innocent civilians who were injured, many grievously, number 9741. The suffering of their families at the hands of guardians of Islam will continue for the rest of their lives.
Education was attacked by the Taliban in the name of Islam. They closed all the schools in Swat and burnt many of them. The basic right to education was taken away from 119,248 little girls and boys. 121 schools were totally destroyed and 65 were broken. 3425 teachers who were supporting their poor families were left without a job. According to the NWFP government, it would take 32 to 35 billion rupees to reconstruct the schools burnt by the Taliban. Many of these atrocities continue to be justified by them through reference to shariah and even as a reaction to American attacks against the Taliban, but the connection is lost on most of us.
In the name of Islam, they destroyed basic facilities that provided the poor citizens medical care and opportunity of livelihood. Only in Swat, 24 bridges, 16 Basic Health Units, markets, including 300 privately owned music shops and government administration buildings were destroyed. 700 hotels were closed causing suffering in the families of over 30,000 employees who are now struggling without a job. Damage to government buildings alone amounts to about 52 billion rupees.
Due to the fear created by the inhumane practices and an economic havoc created in this land of tourism, 700,000 people ran from their homes in Swat alone. Similar practices pushed out 800,000 people from FATA. The lives of these people have been irreparably damaged. The Taliban today control all their resources and property.
The real damage is at the individual level, where people were subjected to humiliation, fear and gross violations of their basic rights. As most of these punishments were carried out in public, they resulted in desensitizing the community, including children. Video recordings of such dehumanizing experiences were made and widely distributed to create an environment of extreme fear. The local population went quiet and gave their consent to what continues to happen in their area.
Suicide bombings and their threats continue in different parts of our country, intimidating the whole population of this country. While the citizens of this country made great sacrifices to strengthen the judicial system, the Taliban continue to undermine it by calling the High Courts and the Supreme Court “ghair sharai”.
In addition to the individual and collective atrocities outlined above, all this has destroyed the image of Islam and Pakistan in the world.
A BRIEF ANANLYSIS OF THE SITUATION
The genesis of the problem goes back to the time when America chose to use religious war to combat communism in 1960s. We saw a clear culmination of this strategy when during Zia ul Haq’s era, the United States used Pakistan to create fighters in the name of Islam and Jihad to push the Soviet Union out from Afghanistan while Zia marginalized genuine secular political leadership and put in place religious political parties to institutionalize the process. Later similar techniques were used by the Pakistani government and some adventurous groups to fuel the struggle of Kashmir independence.
The huge financial resources that had been created for the purpose of financing war in Afghanistan like drug trafficking, gun running, kidnapping and extortion were taken over by war lords. This process took on its own dynamics and created autonomous terrorist groups focused on gaining territorial control within Pakistan .
The terrorists we see today have little to do with the earlier generation in terms of their mission and cause of Islam. It is just that the trainings used to create these mujahideen, the arms introduced in the process and the knowledge of bomb making became a popular short cut to achieve any objective. A militant takeover in the name of Islam and sharia, through militant force, became an attractive way of gaining power, control and resources. Religious and madrassa clergy, instead of teaching peace and love, the true essence of Islam, got into using mosques as a façade for land grabbing, using madrassa students for training child soldiers and suicide bombers and using influential government officials to legitimize their use of excessive funds.
Soon criminals of the area also joined this approach establishing territorial control to give protection to their crimes. Sentiments of people against the government, higher classes, imperialism, joblessness, poverty, all were redirected in a way to further their so called struggle to enforce Sharia.
These people usually enter a community by setting up a mosque, extending social welfare activities to gain credibility and, then, when they have established enough control over the resources including ammunition, they turn around and pretend to be the monitors of morality of the local people. They use archaic, violent punishments like flogging, hanging in public, slitting throats to scare people to gain full control, so that no one dares to question their rule. They also hold the government hostage by threatening to kill locals and using suicide bombers randomly to destabilize the government and put it on the defensive. They also use Islamic terminology for example declaring anyone who opposes them to be a kafir and wajib ul qatal.
It becomes more dangerous when religious groups, officials of civilian administration and elements of the security establishment are found enabling these terrorists groups. This quickly weakens the state structure and its image in the eyes of the people.
Unless the citizens see through this façade, avoid being diverted by the superficial propaganda, feel the pain of those who have suffered the most and believe in the survival of this state, we cannot save our homeland for our future generation.
1. The terrorist activities going on in Pakistan are not jihad, or targeted to enforce sharia. These are criminal acts of violence killing thousands of innocent citizens and security forces of Pakistan in order to gain power and control over our land.
2. Terrorists are criminals of the Pakistani nation and should be captured and tried in the courts for their crimes.
3. There should be no deals with the terrorists that come at the cost of compromising basic rights of citizens as deals in past have only given them legitimacy and they have used these to gain more ground.
4. The government should use all its powers to curb terrorism effectively. This includes government’s intelligence, security and military forces, without violating the international human rights standards
5. All government departments, including the military, must be scrutinized, to root out elements that are supportive of terrorism or no government strategy will be implemented effectively.
6. Although USA and their allies were the major creators of this problem, at present the government should keep the interests of Pakistan and its ‘people first’ agenda while negotiating with these terrorists.
7. We, the people, want to support our government in safeguarding the interests of the State of Pakistan and to combat terrorism. We urge the government and other key political parties to show their commitment and a clear intention to deal with the menace of terrorism
8. We call on media not to portray terrorists as “soldier of Islam or freedom fighters” and expose their brutalities against common people and the security forces of Pakistan.