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Return of reality?

We have to understand that what we call ‘the Taliban’ in the plural and the West in the singular is a polyglot, not a monolith. There are Afghan Taliban. Now we have many Pakistani groups that call themselves Taliban, prominent amongst them being the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) headed by Fazlullah, son-in-law of Sufi Mohammad. Baitullah Mehsud has his own band of Pakistani Taliban. Sufi Mohammad, with whom the Swat Peace Agreement was signed, heads TNSM. Some of them are criminals who have taken the name Taliban as camouflage. Then there are Pakistani fighters in the tribal belt who also call themselves Taliban. Their number grows as unemployment and America’s drone attacks increase in what many regard as America’s war. The Taliban employ many jobless youth at handsome salaries and, when needed, call them up for ‘service’, even after years. These groups are loaded with money, weapons and equipment, some more sophisticated than ours. Where’s it all coming from?
These group network with each other and with Kashmir-specific groups, sectarian militants and with Al Qaeda. Thus it is difficult to define the contours of the animal. It has no head, which makes it difficult to eliminate. They fight mountain and urban guerilla war which conventional armies are not trained for. They blend into the local population. Enough people support them, a necessary pre-condition for successful guerilla warfare.
During two weeks in China one heard of three horrendous terrorist incidents in Pakistan – in Manawan, Chakwal and Islamabad. One returned to find the attention of our leaders, ruling class and media occupied with what one can only call a supreme irrelevance in the context of our myriad problems: will the Nawaz League join the federal cabinet or not? Who cares when our country’s existence is threatened? It took the handing over of Malakand district, including idyllic Swat, to the Taliban under a ‘Peace Agreement’ and the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation (NAR) passed without debate by the National Assembly that brought them back to reality with a bang. The progressive and enlightened Pakistan envisaged by is founders was fast receding into the twilight.
Hardly had the ink dried on the agreement that Fazlullah’s TTP took Buner and then Shangla. Hysteria set in. Alarm bells started ringing in Washington. Next would be Swabi from where the motorway would take them the 60 kilometers to Islamabad in less an hour. There the mullah of Lal Masjid just released by the recently liberated judiciary was waiting to welcome them. That’s not more than a mile from Pakistan’s power centers. We were reaping the harvest of negotiating from a position of weakness – capitulation through negotiations.
Once Sufi Mohammad got what he wanted he forgot the Peace Agreement and challenged the constitution. He declared that he would impose his version of Shariah throughout Pakistan, that democracy, parliament and the judiciary are un-Islamic and lawyers and pro-democracy clerics infidels. He forgot to annul their marriages. His Shariah would be outside the ambit of Pakistan’s judicial system. He lost a lot of sympathy and support in so doing.
Why hasn’t the Supreme Court hauled Sufi up for contempt? Where are the lawyers? Where’s civil society. They should be on the streets. Perhaps they are organizing a ‘Long March’ from Swat to Islamabad via Buner, Shangla and Swabi. There would be an unending sit in around parliament until the president annuls NAR. They will get Richard Holbrooke’s help again for sure.
What else can you expect from government born of this alien British system? Praful Bidwai, writing in ‘the Guardian’ about the ongoing Indian elections, says: “In an election for the masses the rich will be the winners. Identity, not economic need, is the prime mover. The affluent can rest easy.” No more. Sixty-two years of non-delivery by the State and its institution has caused a vacuum. Such vacuums are filled by the most powerful, usually the army. But armies fail because they come to save the iniquitous status quo, not change it, since they are part of the power elite and share in the spoils while the people remain in want. Finally comes revolution.
All revolutions are not necessarily good. Most are anarchic and reactionary and regress countries into the past. Anarchic revolutions are led by demagogues who appeal to the lowest common denominator. Only sometimes do they bring positive change that produces distributive justice. Both are armed with an idea that makes the oppressed, deprived and hopeless see hope. If the idea is regressive and reactionary it ends up as false hope. If it is modern and progressive the hope comes true. The army has filled the vacuum in Pakistan four times but failed to deliver to the people. Now it is the Taliban promising speedy justice. To the beneficiaries of the status quo it is a reactionary force. To the oppressed it is a positive revolution – thus far.
The failure is not only of the State and the judiciary. First and foremost it is the failure of the intelligentsia for being unable to remove our ideological confusion. It is the failure of liberals steeped in western political constructs unrelated to the aspirations and frustrations of the people to offer them something realistic. Altaf Gauhar wrote in 1979: “The media revolution has led to awareness amongst the poor. They know their rights after seeing the condition of workers in rich countries. It has led to an explosion of aspirations and an expiry of patience.” If the State and its institution fail to address those aspirations and frustrations, some other force will. It is situations like these that give rise to fascism.
America made a bad situation worse in its own hysteria. Richard Holbrooke came with JCSC Chairman Admiral Mullen. The admiral returned in less than a fortnight. Our army and ISI chiefs went to Washington separately. That the UN Security Council could pass a resolution allowing America to cross the border into Pakistan became a real possibility. But America also realized that it could do little. It is near impossible to seize Pakistan’s nuclear assets because they are disassembled and spread throughout the country and moved around constantly. There is no one particular place to bomb to smithereens. Economic collapse would only strengthen the Taliban. Balkanization would destabilize South Asia and the Middle East at the very least. Above all, America has realized that the war cannot be won without Pakistan.
Hillary Clinton rightly accused our government of abdicating its writ to the Taliban. Hysterically, she asked Pakistanis to oppose it – a veritable call for revolt. General Petraeus told Pakistan to “change its attitude towards India” (won’t Obama tell this man to shut up?). How can we change our attitude when India creates war hysteria at the drop of a hat and divides our army’s attention? Or when it foments revolt in Balochistan and meddles in the Frontier? Not until the Kashmir dispute is solved, India stops its meddling and mischief here and deals with its own Hindu militancy and the oppression of minorities.
America created a self-destructive trust deficit with Pakistan by accusing our army and ISI of duality. Perhaps it’s a natural human reaction to defeat. On the one hand America knows that it cannot win without Pakistan’s army and the ISI. On the other it keeps undermining them.
As the hysteria reached a crescendo came the news that our Army Chief General Kiyani had read the riot act to the Taliban and told them to clear out of Buner, or else. Fazlullah told Fateh, his commander in Buner, to withdraw and return to Swat. But by far the best result to come out of the hysteria is that America too seems to have found reality and changed its tune. Hillary Clinton acknowledged America’s role in creating this situation since 1979 and admitted that the abandonment of Pakistan after the Afghan Jihad had been a mistake. David Kilcullen, who had predicted that Pakistan could fall apart in five or six months, talked of chalking out a new relationship with Pakistan. That’s the best news that one has heard in a long time. If America and Pakistan can work together in trust towards a common goal for the common good, the war can be won and Pakistan can start moving towards becoming the State envisaged by its founding fathers.
There’s no room for complacency though. The Taliban’s leaving Buner doesn’t mean they are defeated. It’s a tactical retreat. Now one worries about Karachi, ready to explode into warfare between the MQM and the Taliban, perhaps as early as next week. Soon it will deteriorate into a disastrous ethnic conflict. That’s far more difficult for the army to control. The government has to act to prevent this, and act now.

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