The Naivety of Taliban
By Malik Siraj Akbar
It is misleading to solely describe the Taliban as a political movement. They, in fact, constitute a mindset. The problem with identifying them as a political movement is that it causes confusion. By restricting the definition of Taliban to a bunch of Islamic fanatics who wish to gain political power and impose Islamic law, also known as Sharia, we are largely ignoring their vision for a society and approach toward the people they intend to rule.
Misreading the Taliban mindset also leads to the deflecting conversation about the “Afghan Taliban” and the “Pakistani Taliban” or, as some diplomatic circles may also describe it as, the “good Taliban” or the “bad Taliban.”
A few years back, courageous Pakistani investigative journalist Zahid Hussain had warned us of the rapidly emerging Pakistani Taliban. His books Frontline Pakistan and the Scorpion’s Tail alerted us in advance to the rise of the Pakistani Taliban, who received covert support from the Pakistani military intelligence agencies. In Scorpion’s Tail, Mr. Hussain observed:
“The Pakistani Taliban was even more brutal than their Afghan comrades. Beheadings and public executions of opponents and government officials became common practice, and videos of those killings were distributed widely to spread fear.”
The Pakistani Taliban’s brutalities have taken the whole world in a state of absolute grief after they shot a 14-year-old young girl, Malala Yousafzai, who stood for girls’ rights to education. The Taliban have warned that they will kill the teenage girl should she survive this assassination attempt. Malala is still fighting the battle for her life in a Pakistani military hospital.
The Taliban have also vowed to kill the father of the girl because of his contributions to promote girls’ education in remote parts of Pakistan where the Taliban still terrorize the population.
Condemning the Taliban for their human rights abuses will not democratize Pakistan or Afghanistan. There is an urgent need to understand where the Taliban mindset emanates from and who else, besides the Taliban, is responsible for mushrooming this scary world of intolerance and violence.
Western-educated, self-styled liberals in Pakistan often insist that they have nothing to do with the actions of the Taliban. One also comes across condemnation of the Taliban actions by secular Pakistani politicians. This, nonetheless, is not the full truth. In Pakistan, political Islam has never remained the exclusive domain of traditional clergymen. The secular leaders and intellectuals have also exploited political Islam but abruptly distanced themselves when they smelled trouble.
The lower-middle class students of religious schools, who end up becoming Taliban, are the exploited product of self-destructive policies pursued by politicians and army generals in Pakistan. The problem with Taliban, unlike the politicians, is that they are caught in the wrong time and the wrong place.
Hence, no matter how many Taliban leaders are killed or detained, the [Taliban] factory of hate and violence will not go away because it originates from somewhere else. Taliban operate with a cadre of adults who have political and religious motivations. They do not enjoy direct decision-making powers in the Pakistani government to prepare and promote hateful textbooks inside the public schools. This task, unfortunately, is performed by the Pakistani government itself that is composed of secular politicians and elements in the army because their political survival also hinges on perpetuation of political Islam.
No political party in Pakistan publicly advocates for the separation of religion (Islam) from the state. In fact, Islamic political parties have never come into power in Pakistan but they have always enjoyed clandestine backing from the government.
Here is a brief history of how relatively moderate politicians and chiefs of the powerful Pakistan military accelerated the process of Islamization.
In 1949, Pakistan indicated that it would never become a normal western-style democracy when Oxford-educated Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan’s government inducted the controversial Objective Resolution. Under the Resolution, sovereignty belonged to Allah (God) instead of the parliament. In 1956, Pakistan introduced its first Constitution which was heavily influenced by the Objective Resolution and declared the country as an Islamic Republic.
In 1974, Pakistan’s apparently secular Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who attended the University of California and Oxford University, played the Islamic card for political reasons and declared the members of the Ahmadiyya community as “non-Muslims.” In 1977, Mr. Bhutto also officially banned alcoholic drinks although he was widely known for his fondness for alcoholic drinks.
In 1996, Mr. Bhutto’s daughter and Pakistan’s first female prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, established diplomatic relations with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, making Pakistan one among the only three countries — the others being Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates — that recognized the Taliban. In 1998, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League endeavored to enforce the Sharia in Pakistan by introducing the 15th Amendment Bill to the country’s constitution.
The Pakistan army is the most ardent institution supportive of bringing the country under Islamic rule through its multiple proxies, such as the Jammat-e-Islami, the Taliban and others. In the 1980s, General Zia-ul-Haq, the head of the army, drastically changed the foundations of the Pakistani society with his massive campaign for Islamization.
While the Taliban have been public supporters of Islamic rule in Pakistan, the secular politicians have also raised false hopes and unrealistic expectations among their voters for a romanticized aged of Islamic rule that will culminate in ubiquitous happiness and social justice. The Taliban and Pakistani politicians have taken these expectations to such an irreversibly high level that they find it impossible to replace the “Islamic dream” with the dream of a balanced society based on civic education and social justice without discriminating citizens based on their religiosity.
This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on October 19, 2012