Confronting Popular Narrative about the Taliban — I

It originally appeared in Daily Times as my weekly column BAAGHI on Monday October 10, 2011

Last week, one got the opportunity to be on a television talk show with General Hamid Gul and Oria Maqbool Jan, a civil servant turned hawkish columnist for Urdu language newspapers, on the panel. Both have a long, indomitable record of being Taliban apologists and proponents of the infamous ‘strategic depth’ policy in Afghanistan. A lopsided panel it was, no doubt, but the host still insists on being ‘neutral’. Well!

What came up during the discussion was not something new, for one is quite familiar with the arguments usually thrown up by the likes of Mr Jan and General Gul. But how the ‘educated’ middle-class reacted to the counter arguments against those by the two gentlemen was quite astonishing. One would expect a violent backlash from our misguided youth after you loudly challenge the relevance of the Two Nation Theory or maybe stand up for the rights of religious minorities and oppressed social classes. But when even the advocacy of a rational approach in reviewing foreign policy becomes a threat to the ‘existence’ of Pakistan and amounts to ‘treason’, based on which you call for ‘public hanging’ of the challenger, hope is almost lost.

We have a brand of liberal and progressive ‘analysts’ who will join us for the equal rights for religious minorities, women’s empowerment, no persecution of Ahmedi Muslims, etc, but the same coterie will go the extra mile to justify the Taliban and how important it was/is to keep our link alive with the Haqqanis. One would not want to blame the Hamid Guls and Orya Jans who have been clearly putting forward their dream, which is Islamic glory and defeating the imperial US, Hindu India and the infidel West by a glorious Islamic rule first in Afghanistan through the Taliban, and then in Pakistan through — well let us figure it out — whom? I am worried about the ‘saner’ sections of the intelligentsia that enjoys the freedom promised by western civilisation and believes in a progressive world, but still prescribes to a medieval solution to conquer the region.

A queasy fetish of ‘supremacy’ inherited from a delusional united-Indian Muslim has engulfed Pakistan’s educated classes; while the system at home runs on money borrowed/begged from the West, society continues to suffer from unfathomable oblivion leading to sick denial and the people bear the brunt in the form of collapsed state writ to provide for basic needs and ensure rule of law. What General Gul claimed in the said programme is a very simple narrative that is now the popular understanding, thanks to a hypocritical and venal media, which is an accomplice in the radicalisation of Pakistani society and gives uncompromising coverage to these thickheads only to misguide a people with slightly less than zero percent literacy rate when it comes to history, international politics and Pakistan’s own role in violent South Asia for decades. The storyline on Pakistan’s streets is as follows:

The Taliban’s was a peaceful reign. The US made these jihadis during the Afghan jihad and then they got together under the banner of the Taliban. The US stopped supporting the mujahideen after the Soviet withdrawal lest Islam gain power in the region. 9/11 was an inside job to be used as a pretext to enter Afghanistan and then Pakistan. The US attacked a sovereign Afghanistan in 2001 and the Taliban came forward to defend their homeland. They are thus freedom fighters, not terrorists. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is against Pakistan and is funded by India. More than 70 percent of Afghanistan is being controlled by the Taliban right now. The Karzai government is just an American puppet and does not represent the Afghan people. Afghans love the Taliban and want them in power. It is the indisputable right of the Taliban to rule Afghanistan. India is fuelling the ‘insurgency’ in Balochistan through its massive presence in Afghanistan via “hundreds of Indian consulates” along the Durand Line. Pakistan will get a huge advantage against India if the Taliban come to power. The Pakistani Taliban are just our brats who should be spoken to in order to remove their ‘grievances’ and to mainstream them into Pakistan’s society and state. Terrorist attacks started happening in Pakistan after we announced our support for the global war on terror.

One would need several columns to deal with every single myth listed above, some of which are so insulting to average human intelligence that one cannot even laugh at them. If the Pakistani Taliban is the handiwork of our all time villain, Hindu India, how can the same Indian agents be our bigray huway bachay (spoilt children)? If some of our brats have been conspiring to implode our country in connivance with our supposed enemy, how and why should we negotiate with them in order to mainstream them into Pakistani society?

It might be useful to recall here that the Taliban’s was not an internationally accepted sovereign government. Recognised only by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, Kabul did not have any embassy during that gory regime save Pakistan’s. Why I call that regime gory is verifiable from the news files of that period. When hundreds of Shias were killed, women were violently subjugated, girl children were denied education and basic health services in case a female doctor was unavailable, anyone who did not accept the authority of the Taliban was brutally killed and non-Pakhtuns and ‘rebellious’ Pakhtuns were butchered, calling such a period as the ‘most peaceful’ one amounts to a shameless partisanship with the killers.

This unrecognised government by a group of barbarians who came to power through the gun (provided by us and not by the US) and not the vote, had zero credibility in the first place. They were loathed internationally for their opposition to and violence towards even aid groups working for humanitarian causes. They hosted militant sectarian organisations that killed the Pakistani people just for saying or not saying their prayers in a certain way. There were training camps of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other militant outfits that were involved in the killing of urban Pakistanis — ironically, the same class that is today supporting the Taliban as ‘freedom fighters’. They were hosting bin Laden, the most wanted terrorist who was being claimed by the US and Saudi Arabia as well. It was not very long before 9/11 that then Prince Abdullah visited Pakistan (and later Kabul as well) for negotiations with the Taliban, with the Pakistani authorities a part of the process, to hand over bin Laden. This was before 9/11.

This rogue Taliban government not only committed crimes against humanity and stubbornly overturned the world’s repeated requests to not harbour terrorists (belonging to al Qaeda and Pakistani sectarian outfits), it also started antagonising Pakistan. Press conferences by Mullah Zaeef, Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan, are on record where he accuses Pakistan of not only interfering in Afghanistan’s internal matters but also levels allegations of Pakistan eating up donor money that came to Pakistan in the name of Afghan refugees. Mullah Zaeef’s book shows the Taliban’s hatred for Pakistan where he calls Pakistan a hypocrite state that plays double games with everyone.

(Read the second part here