The Rebel Road…

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Talibanisation of NWFP

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There are numerous reports of incidents of the local Taliban of Pakistan’s tribal areas coming to various public places and enforcing their will at the point of a gun. Recently, these activities have spread to the settled areas, particularly in Tank and Bannu districts. The political reverberations of this invasion were sounded in the systematic decimation of an entire tier of the governance structure of the tribal areas. The Taliban killed more than 150 tribal maliks, rendering the government incapable of establishing its writ through the political agents, who worked in close collaboration with local maliks. But this was not all. The Taliban went on to exhibit their muscle by trying to enforce a parallel governance system and forcing people to abide by their dictates. According to them, they are out to enforce Islam in the tribal areas, but this has turned out to be their own interpretation of sharia meant to consolidate their power.

The religious intolerance that the Afghan Taliban displayed when they tore down statues of Buddha, considered to be a cultural treasure of Afghanistan, has traveled into Pakistan. Girls were prevented from getting education. The Afghan Taliban decreed prohibiting women from appearing outside their houses unless necessary and that too accompanied by male members of the family. This created many problems for working women of Afghanistan, which had lost a large majority of earning hands to the war.

It is not uncommon to read of such news items emanating from areas in Pakistan where local Taliban hold sway. After gradually gaining control in the tribal agencies since the military operation started in 2004, the Taliban have now expanded their influence into the adjoining settled areas. Not only is the geographical range of operations of militants phenomenal, the sheer number of incidents of violence is staggering. It is for this reason that both the power as well as the social impact of the retrogressive and conservative views within the NWFP is growing day by day. Today, the local Taliban are flexing their muscles to secure more ‘operational space’ within the settled areas as well.

There have been incidents, such as those reported on May 3, 2007, when two bomb blasts at different locations within Charsadda district destroyed some 12 video and barber shops. On May 9, at Amirabad in Charsadda, an explosion destroyed four music and video shops. On May 16, bearded individuals came to video shops and distributed pamphlets and individually-named letters to shop owners ordering them to wrap up their shops within 10 days or face dire consequences. The shops that chose not to close down met an unfortunate end. On June 12, a bomb blast destroyed a small music shop belonging to Farmanullah Khan in Charsadda. The reason his shop was destroyed was because he received a notification from the local Taliban to close his shop, which he had ignored.

Not long ago, a girls’ schools and an under-construction college were bombed in Darra Adam Khel in FATA. Later, pamphlets were distributed in the area threatening the teachers and students to wear veils or face closure of their schools. There were also reports that private schools in Peshawar had received warnings to end co-education in February this year. On June 5, a bomb was thrown into a private school in the suburban area of Peshawar, Hayatabad. Unfortunately, the government has not done much to control the Taliban activities.

Another unfortunate example of the spread of Taliban influence within NWFP is the concerted campaign of religious leaders against the anti-polio drive of the government. The government had to suspend the three day campaign (August 7-9) in areas of NWFP after health workers were detained and beaten up by armed people in the Charmang in Bajaur Agency. Looking for an opportunity to challenge the government, the local religious leaders termed the anti-polio vaccination drive a joint conspiracy of the Americans and the Pakistani government aimed at reducing the population of the Muslims since, according to them, the polio drops contain chemicals that sterilise the children. There have been reports that even doctors and health workers of the area did not administer polio drops to their children because of threats. The clerics have gone to the extent of killing a doctor in February 2007 in Bajaur. The vaccine in question is the same used the world over, including over 50 Muslim countries. It is also interesting to note that the clerics who use this ruse do not furnish any evidence to support their claim. It is a scientific fact that no chemical, no matter how tenacious its make-up or potent its dosage, can stay in the human body for up to 25 years, as they claim.

There were 350,000 cases of polio-affected children across the globe in 1988. Pakistan ranked high on this scale with endemic level polio affliction. However, in recent years Pakistan has seen a dramatic decrease in the epidemic. The official figures for the polio cases recorded in 1994 were 25,000, in 1999 they had decreased to 558, in 2005 it was 28 and in this year the number has been reduced to only 12. Polio is an eradicable disease if it is ensured that all children have received doses of the vaccine.

Another shocking fact is that the Taliban are going around recruiting not just willing teenagers for their cause, but also demanding that schools within their influence ‘donate’ ten children each. In this regard when they tried to forcefully recruit children, from a school in the Tank area, the principal of the school resisted and called the police. Later, on March 28, 2007 the school principal was kidnapped, but freed later on.

NGOs and international aid agencies working for the social and economic uplift of the people of the area have not been spared the wrath of the Taliban. Not long ago, the Taliban kidnapped the female staff and driver of Khwendo Kor. This organisation has been working in NWFP since 1993. Mr. Khalid Usman, FATA area manager of Khwendo Kor, relates that the kidnappers in question identified themselves as the Taliban and, after releasing the female staff and later the driver, refused to return the vehicle saying that the car had been sent to Afghanistan for jihad. According to him, the kidnappers have familial ties with many local administrative heads as well as the Federal Constabulary (FC) due to which it is very difficult to bring them to book.

Aftab Alexander Mughal, in his article titled Living Under Fear (Countercurrents, June 21, 2007), presents some important statistics. He says, “Militants are mainly active in Lakki Marwat, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu and Karak districts, but their presence is also seen in the Lower Dir, Upper Dir, Swat, Mardan, Malakand, Peshawar, Nowshera, Tank, Hangu, Kohat, Mansehra, Kohistan, Swabi, Chitral and Charsadda districts.

According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, throughout 2006, approximately 163 people were killed in the NWFP in more than 84 incidents. Just the first five months of year 2007 (till May 18) have already seen at least 149 people, including 100 civilians and 18 security force (SF) personnel, killed in the province, a clear index of the mounting violence. A significant proportion of these fatalities have occurred in suicide attacks, with at least six of the 10 suicide attacks in Pakistan in 2007 (till May 18) having occurred in the NWFP.” These are extremely worrying incidents but they require a detailed account of the Taliban’s history.

Afghanistan underwent a Communist Revolution in 1978 and came under the democratic rule of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) led by Noor Muhammad Tarakai who became the new head of state. However, considering the fact that this literally meant that a whole bloc in Asia comprising USSR, China, Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, etc. had come under the red banner, this did not settle well with the western imperialist powers. For this purpose, new allies were sought in this region to fight against this growing ‘threat’.

Pakistan, at the time under the illegitimate and unconstitutional dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq, proved to be more than happy to oblige. General Ziaul Haq was looking for ways to legitimise his rule and this proved to be a perfect opportunity. There are also reports of millions of dollars that the US was pumping into Pakistan for purposes of training and arming this new army of ‘imperialist mujahideen’. Most of this money remains unaccounted for even today.

Given the nature of Pakistan’s involvement in this imperialist proxy war, which was fought against the USSR, it was inevitable that we would reap the rewards of our mindless loyalty to the US. The many bodies that we piled up in our collective closets have come back to haunt our present.

The Taliban, originally referred to as the mujahideen, were the ones who fought the USSR for many years and, were finally able to oust the democratically elected PDPA from power. The USSR also stopped the military support of the PDPA and recalled its forces from Afghanistan. In this manner a new theocratic Afghani state came into being.

Life in pre-revolution Afghanistan was extremely difficult. Nearly five percent of the Afghan rural land owners owned nearly 45 percent of the agricultural land and nearly a third of the rural population consisted of landless peasants or tenants. The PDPA instituted land reforms in Afghanistan and cancelled mortgage debts of agricultural labourers and tenants. Yet all the progress that had come about under the PDPA, such as the growth of an infrastructure which was a revolutionary move on the part of the progressive government, was rolled back and destroyed in the name of a new version of Islamic system. This new theocratic state was doomed from the beginning.

More than three million Afghan refugees live in Pakistan today despite the two million refugees who immigrated back to Afghanistan as a result of the ongoing repatriation — most of them second generation refugees. Herein lie the seeds of contemporary Talibanisation in Pakistan. Hassan Abbas, in his book Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army and America’s War on Terror, relates the condition of the Afghan society in the time immediately after the Afghan war. He states, “The devastated people of Afghanistan, ravaged by unending years of war, welcomed the Taliban peace, which was later to enforce a draconian uniformity on them. Pakistan welcomed the change in Kabul, because at long last it had a friendly government in power there. The initial American reaction was also favourable, because in the Taliban they saw a power which was anti-Iran.”

The NWFP is considered to be a conservative society and this also manifests itself in the make up of the provincial government led by the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). This is no mere coincidence. Components comprising this very political organisation were at the forefront in disseminating money and material to the Taliban mujahideen during the Afghan war and, therefore, had always enjoyed a certain political clout in the region. Arguably, their close relations with the Taliban continue. Therefore, it would not be unfair to say that the Taliban find fertile ground within the MMA-governed NWFP.

In the Afghan invasion post-9/11, the Taliban have been literally exterminated like pests. Afghanistan has been bombed by millions of dollars worth of munitions resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths. Today, the would-be freedom fighters are nothing more than rebel terrorists.

However, let us come back to the earlier aspect of jihad being exported to Pakistan – this is a matter that warrants closer examination. The many nuances of this phenomenon are such that they cannot be easily explained. Indeed there are a lot of ‘hidden hands’ at work. A very important question that needs to be addressed, according to Bushra Gohar, director of the Human Resource Management and Development Centre in Peshawar, is why the NWFP suddenly became a cauldron of troubles when once it was peaceful, at least in relative terms, as any other province of Pakistan?

The answer she provides is that the military and the agencies have a direct involvement in the instability of the region. The Pakistan army and the security agencies have been fighting another proxy war against the people of Afghanistan and, by association, the people of the NWFP as well. Ahmed Rashid, in his book Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia explains the role of the agencies in the Afghan conflict and the ensuing Talibanisation in NWFP. He says, “The ISI became a victim of its own rigidity and inflexibility, even as its power to actually control the Taliban dwindled. The agency’s operatives in Afghanistan were all Pashtun officers, while many were also motivated by strong Islamic fundamentalist leanings. Working closely with Hikmetyar and later the Taliban, this Pashtun cadre developed its own agenda, aimed at furthering Pashtun power and radical Islam in Afghanistan at the expense of the ethnic minorities and moderate Islam.”

This new proxy war is very politely referred to as the ‘war on terror’ although Gohar refers to it as the ‘war of terror’. Gohar explains, “There are a number of factors which have contributed to the Talibanisation of NWFP. The deteriorating law and order situation, the social insecurity, inequity and poverty coupled with the oppressive environment, which characterises any dictatorship, have taken their toll on Pakistan. The government of Pakistan has been unable to maintain its writ and the direct result of this weakness has been incidents like the Jamia Hafza fiasco.”

She continued, “Another important indicator is that the Talibanisation, itself, has reached the centre of Pakistani politics, i.e. Islamabad. The capital, which is theoretically supposed to be the most secure and stable area of Pakistan, has been a theatre to political and social strife in recent months. Be it the hordes of bearded militants roaming the streets spreading their version of Islam or the numerous political activists lining the roads outside parliament demanding rights and freedoms – Islamabad has lost its claim to political constancy in a most dramatic fashion.”

Gohar added, “In truth, the Pakhtuns are not the monsters that they are made out to be, rather they are very level-headed individuals. However, at the behest of the western imperialistic powers, the Pakistani government has taken it upon itself to systematically exterminate all hostility, again to appease countries like the US and Britain, from within NWFP. It is for this reason that massive military operations like the one in Waziristan have become common occurrences. The instability and loss of life thus caused have affected even the maliks of the region, who are known to be dependable cronies of the government in the past. The recent refusal of Malik Wazir Masood to attend the peace jirga, when he said, ‘How can we be expected to talk about peace in Afghanistan when we bury nearly 200 bodies everyday in our own back yards,’ bears testimony to this.”

Gohar paints a very grim picture of the future Pakistani society when she says, “NWFP is burning and this fire will not be limited to the NWFP but, in short order, will envelop all of Pakistan.” Talibanisation of Pakistani society, in contemporary times, is a reality – one that one must not shy away from. The threat of mullah-culture is a serious one and the clouds of social retrogression loom on the horizon. The only way to stop this is that all secular and liberal forces of Pakistan, such as the civil society and progressive political organisations join hands and raise awareness about the real motives of the Taliban, who threaten the very existence of our country.

Article Published in Vista Magazine, August 21st, 2007 issue.


Written by redtribution

August 22, 2007 at 10:50 am

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