That the Pakistani state is faced with a very serious insurgency by various local extremist Islamic groups, loosely termed as the Pakistani Taliban, is now an accepted reality. Some political leaders and commentators attempt to explain the violence of these groups as a reaction to the perceived pro-American policies of the state. However, after suffering almost 50,000 civil and military casualties in this conflict, the seriousness of this threat can no longer be doubted. If any further proof is required one need only to look at the more than six divisions of the army currently deployed in the FATA region and the continuing operations over the past at least four years in these agencies, all the way from Bajaur to South Waziristan.
What is however most astonishing in this conflict is that while one adversary ie the Taliban is fighting this war as a total war, the other one, ie the Pakistani State, continues to treat it as a purely military engagement whose goal appears limited to containing or ousting the enemy from its strongholds. The Taliban have launched not only a military assault on the Pakistani state and its security apparatus but also an ideological one, in which they are challenging the very foundations of the Pakistan as a modern-day, democratic state. The state however continues to pursue this fight piecemeal; confronting them militarily but refusing to address the ideology and the world view that the insurgents espouse; the basis on which they recruit and target the state.
In most prolonged conflicts, it is not just the military superiority that is decisive, in particular in the case of asymmetric warfare as in an insurgency. The willingness of people to continue to provide the necessary resources, to support the security apparatus and to deny the insurgents the physical and motivational space that they require to fight, all constitute crucial elements for success. Each of these require the belief within the populace that they have a cause, a world view, or a lifestyle that is worth defending and the enemy is the enemy because he seeks to deny them the identity that they hold precious. States build this consensus by firstly identifying and pronouncing the enemy, his goals, his ideology and world view and contrasting it with the one popularly held. Part fact, part exaggeration, such propaganda is pursued by states not wishing to see the sacrifices on the battlefield being undone by vacillation and indecision at home.
It is disappointing, indeed deeply worrisome, to see where we stand in respect of creating such a national consensus against the Taliban and their terrorism. While coverage of the terrorist actions and threats is aplenty in the print and electronic media, one is at a loss to understand why there is never an official presentation identifying the various Taliban groups, their leaderships or the litany of their crimes? Have we ever seriously and systematically informed our public about the Taliban’s opposition to democracy, elections, women’s and minorities’ rights and modern education? Which almost all of us regard as cherished ideals? Why are we content to relegate the beheadings of our soldiers and the continuing bomb blasts in our markets, our hospitals and our places of our worship as ten second news bites? Why, one may ask, are these not converted into a grand narrative of the fight of “our good” as opposed to “their evil”, as would be done by any society fighting a war with such a huge number of casualties and general suffering inflicted by the conflict?
It may be instructive to recall an incident to illustrate the effectiveness of building public sentiment in fighting this conflict. At the height of the confrontation in Swat, when the Taliban of the Fazllulah-Sufi Mohammad group had established their reign of terror, the need for military action was being hotly debated. There were however concerns about the acceptability of such an action amongst the general public. All it took to turn the public sentiment firmly in support of the action was the televising of an interview of Sufi Mohammad on prime time TV wherein he unambiguously rejected the entire political, legal and societal structures that comprise this state. If any further cajoling was needed it was provided by the airing of an interview of an arrested terrorist who far from being repentant or appearing to have been misled was quite emphatic about continuing on the same path if released.
[quote]The Taliban are justified as a resistance group against the US invasion of Afghanistan rather than as the sworn enemies of a moderate Muslim culture [/quote]
Rather than building on this approach of the state winning the public to its side, the Taliban, unwittingly, have been afforded the ideological space that they need to operate. While the Taliban continue to mask their terrorism with an anti-US and Islamization rhetoric, their sympathizers such as many of those sitting in the Difa-e-Pakistan Council continue to confuse the general public about their aims and ambitions. The crimes of terrorism that they themselves proudly own up to are brazenly denied by their apologists as the acts of unidentified enemies of Pakistan. Publications that build on the same extremist narrative and the vitriolic, anti-western, intolerant sentiment continue to proliferate in the local markets and serve the cause of Talibanization. The Taliban, even if apologetically, are justified as a resistance group against the US invasion of Afghanistan and not projected, as they should be, as the sworn enemies of a moderate Muslim culture or as the local franchises of Al Qaeda and its global jihad.
If this war is to be won soon the message needs to be spelled out loud and clear that the war against the Taliban is a war against the Talibanization of the state and a war to protect our most cherished and important rights. As the Taliban have themselves made no secret, their war with the Pakistani state will not end with the departure or defeat of the US in Afghanistan. If any doubts remained, these were removed by their spokesman in the days immediately following the attack In the Mehran base that their fight against Pakistan would continue till the end of its “infidel system” and the establishment of a “true” Islamic state. In a later development, reacting to Imran Khan’s announcement of leading an anti-drone march to Fata, the Taliban once again voiced their opposition to the democratic system as an infidel system and pledged to do all to subvert it. Many similar pronouncements have followed since, emphasizing their opposition to the democratic system as a basis for our polity.
In the final analysis, this is a war between two world views. On the one hand is the world view of the typical Pakistani which includes general moderation, traditional tolerance and a pragmatic acceptance of the modern world. Liberal variants of this world view perceive the modern world not as a finished project but as an enterprise in which the Pakistani nation wishes to be a participant along with other peoples of the world. A world view that with all its shortcomings still has the honesty to realize that there are no simple solutions or shortcuts to human emancipation and development. On the other hand is a world view based on absolutism which believes it has all the answers; indeed that there is only one set of answers, and all those who do not agree on its veracity have no right to exist.
No amount of wheeling and dealing or one step forward two steps back approach in this fight can lead to a defeat of the Taliban. The Pakistani people are the ultimate defenders and protectors of their freedoms and they need to be taken into full confidence about what this fight is all about. The fight is not about anything other than the right to exist as free humans with the freedom to define ourselves and to choose our own destinies.