Islamabad diary: Can the Taliban be defeated?

Ayaz Amir

Go down the list of the leading clowns purporting to run the country’s affairs and ask this question again. Does anyone in his right mind think that a dispensation led by Asif Ali Zardari and including friend Rehman Malik, Governor Salmaan Taseer (who looks more like a roué than anything else these days), Ambassador Hussain Haqqani – who leaves a slimy trail behind wherever he goes – et al, is up to fighting any war, leave alone a war against the Taliban?

The Taliban are not the Viet Cong. Let us be clear on this score. No Ho Chi Minh lights the way for them. But they have spirit and doughtiness and believe in their cause which is more than can be said of the forces they are fighting against – the United States, its increasingly befuddled NATO allies and the redoubtable military of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

The Americans have made a hash of Iraq. They are getting stuck, well and truly, in Afghanistan. And whereas we should be thinking for ourselves, our army is holding on to American coattails, being sucked into a conflict for which most of its men have neither stomach nor motivation. This is not to disparage the Pakistan military but only to point out the obvious circumstance that the will to fight does not come when you act at the behest of others.

Call Baitullah Mehsud and his partisans what you will. Call them barbarians and cutthroats. But at least give them credit for being resolute fighters. American military might has not cowed them. The Pakistan army has not made them run.

The recent peace deals with Mehsud came not from a sudden longing for peace. They were dictated by necessity. Those whom you can’t defeat you must approach some other way. If the mountain will not come to the prophet, the prophet must go to the mountain.

Losses or reverses suffered by our army can’t be a matter of pride for any Pakistani. But when will our generals learn the difference between right and wrong? There are just wars and stupid wars but we seem to have a talent for marching every time, from the ’65 war onwards, to the tune of folly. The difference is that whereas in the past we scripted our own disasters, this time our American friends are doing the job for us.

But this is also our war, we are told by the new scoutmasters of Islamabad. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (about as powerful in Pakistan as Karzai is in Afghanistan) chants this mantra as does Zardari who has become adept at addressing American concerns. In distant Athens where he went to address the Socialist International – ye gods what more surprises are in store for us – Asif Zardari declares: “We will restore law and order to our land and attack fanaticism and terrorism wherever it rears its ugly head.”

Pakistanis can be forgiven for being confused. Zardari’s idea of law and order is the NRO, the ordinance quashing all corruption cases against him. If he had a sense of gratitude, he would raise a statue to Musharraf in his hometown, Nawabshah, for the favour Musharraf has done him. And to think that a man with this gilded reputation is the Churchill leading Pakistan in the fight against ‘terrorism’.

A country whose leaders high and low lay out the red carpet for an American assistant secretary of state, and take in advice from him on how to run their affairs, of such a country are we expecting that it will succeed where America itself is failing? We are not a banana republic but we seem to have some kind of a death wish urging us to behave like one. The gratuitous advice that the selfsame American official, Richard Boucher, keeps giving during his periodic trips to Pakistan, would it be tolerated in Teheran or Delhi, or even Baghdad for that matter where if any talking has to be done it is handled at a much higher level?

To give Boucher his due he is probably right in saying that Pakistan’s problem is a troubled economy rather than Pervez Musharraf. But is it his place to speak in this manner?

Forget Boucher, who after all is someone in the State Department. When Don McKinnon, the Commonwealth secretary general, who wouldn’t be given the time of day anywhere else in the world, used to visit Islamabad, opposition politicians, an entire claque of them, would queue up to read him their grievances against Musharraf.

The Taliban may be the most barbarous set of people on the entire planet but they have self-respect. We have resources, we are not a failed state (at least not yet), we have a large army and alone among Muslim states we possess nuclear weapons. Iqbal exhorted us to hold up our heads high and cultivate self-respect. All his poetry is about this. But somewhere during the course of our national journey we lost self-respect.

True, the Taliban have their own ideas about how societies claiming to be Islamic should be run. They have their own ideas of justice. I would like to go to my nearby mosque – which, alas, I haven’t visited in years – when I feel like it and not at the point of a gun. I would like to keep my beard the way I please and not how someone else tells me. I would like the girls’ schools in my neighbourhood to remain open. And I would want no violence in the name of religion.

But this is me and my sensibilities. How does the coming of the Taliban in the Frontier – and the Frontier, by the way, is not very far from where I live in northern Punjab – affect those at the bottom of the heap? The privileged, among whose number I count myself, have a lot to lose if the existing order of things is disturbed or overturned. But how are the poor and the helpless affected?

The growing failure of our different institutions, our collective failure to put our house in order, is an invitation to the conservative sections of our society to think along the lines of a radical Islamic takeover. They have been given grounds for thinking that anything will be better than the mismanagement of national affairs we are witnessing at present.

The answer to this malaise is not to send in tanks to the tribal agencies – in fact the tanks will be death traps if they are moved deeper into the tribal belt – but to put our affairs in order. The fight in the Khyber Agency or in North and South Waziristan has to be fought not there but in Islamabad.

It was Musharraf’s limited vision – his failure to appreciate where his alliance with the US could lead Pakistan – that has turned the tribal agencies into a hotbed of unrest and insurrection. Without rethinking the basis of that alliance we can’t get our Taliban policy right. We’ll keep shooting the symptoms when we should be looking for the underlying causes of the rise of the Taliban along our western frontier.

Western analysts and ‘liberal’ pundits at home have tried to give their own spin to the results of the February elections, hailing them as a defeat for extremism and a victory of moderate forces. The February verdict was primarily a vote against Musharraf’s policies, in the lead his policy of overweening dependence on the United States. The judges’ issue was an issue but as part of this larger mosaic. As a candidate in the election I can testify to the emotive impact on the minds of people of the Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa operation. A mention of it and audiences would become emotional, even to the extent of having to dry their eyes.

Benazir Bhutto’s assassination removed all lingering doubts and took the nation over the edge. Whoever may have been behind that tragedy, the electorate saw it as part of the narrative of the Musharraf years.

Although the Americans will end up burning us, we don’t need to turn our backs on them. We are not Iran. We are not Venezuela. Our people may be proud but our elite and our leaders suck. America can punish us in ways our leadership class will find hard to stand. So a clean farewell is not an option. But at least we can start standing up for ourselves and thinking for ourselves.

But the first condition is to get things right on the home front, which seems a hopeless undertaking if we look at the jokers and charlatans playing at being national leaders. One look at their monumental pretences and their essential hollowness and one’s heart sinks.

Email: chakwal@comsats.net.pk

Source: The News, 4/7/2008

2 Comments

  1. Mr. Tariq
    I did not want to respond to your nonsense comments but you are crossing the limits now. I don’t know what your intentions are but rest assured that if Taliban are able to takeover Pakistan then their ultimate destination will be Delhi and it will not be something new for them, if your do not know, just read Indian history please.

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