Who will fight this Talibanisation in Pakistan?

Who will fight this Talibanisation?
Editorial, The News, March 30, 2007

The events of recent days in the NWFP town of Tank and in Islamabad should shatter the assessment of all those policymakers, government functionaries and members of civil society who thought that Talibanisation was a feature only of FATA or some other remote and backward area of the country. Tank, which is now under curfew, and where several people were killed as extremists (thought to be allied with a Waziristan militant commander with whom the government brokered a 'peace deal' last year) launched an all-out attack on Tuesday night, is the district headquarters of Tank district and not far from Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan and Lakki Marwat, all reasonably large towns of NWFP. The violence there began on Monday after a school principal had the courage to call in the police after jihadis barged into his institution and tried to win new recruits to their cause. The local SHO also responded and he sadly paid for it with his life, reportedly killed in the most cold-blooded manner possible, after he thought he had managed to broker a truce with the militants who would leave the school peacefully and without any new schoolboys in tow. The principal was kidnapped the following day from his home and he too paid for his courage in standing up to these extremists with his life -- on Thursday it was reported that his body was found from South Waziristan. The militants who attacked Tank on Thursday have been linked to pro-Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud since this is his area of influence, although he has himself denied any such connection. However, it is worth reiterating that on many occasions in the past militants have carried out attacks against government installations and security personnel or killed so-called 'informers' in areas under their influence but then disassociated themselves from these acts. One can only hope that the president is absolutely one hundred per cent accurate when he says that those elements in the intelligence agencies who in the past had supported the Taliban, the jihadis and their sympathisers are no longer in the service of the government and that now any assistance to these extremists is coming, if at all, from retired intelligence officials.

The other disturbing development is taking place right in the heart of the federal capital. In this case particularly, the government and the Islamabad local administration are to blame for not having acted earlier when the female students of Jamia Hafsa had forcibly and illegally occupied a children's library demanding that this occupation would end only after the government rebuilt a portion of a mosque complex that had been demolished by the Capital Development Authority because it was built on encroached land. Now since those protesting claim to be religious students, one would first like to ask them their position on the legality of a house of worship – both from the temporal and the theological point of view – that is built on encroached land. Had the government acted promptly and strongly against this illegal occupation of the library and told the students and their madressah patrons that mosques built on illegal land are not legal, and had the students been ejected and not allowed to roam around Islamabad and launch 'raids' perhaps what happened on Wednesday could have been pre-empted. But as usual, the government seemed to sleep through this all, with the religious affairs minister claiming a "breakthrough" some weeks ago in the occupation stand-off.

This 'breakthrough' was that the government would rebuild the demolished parts of the mosque. The minister also managed to pose for the cameras as he laid the first 'brick' of this promised rebuilding operation. But the naivete of the minister and all those in the government who agreed to this view of giving concessions to the undue and illegal demands of extremists in the country was once again proven wrong when after being given a foot they proceeded to demand a mile. Hopefully, in any future negotiations, the services of the good minister will not be used. Instead of leaving the library and returning to their seminary as any God-fearing law-abiding citizens would have done (they in fact would not have occupied the library in the first place), they placed more demand before the government and refused to end their occupation. The initial 'raid' they conducted on one of the capital's busiest bazaars amazingly went unnoticed by the police and local administration, again making one wonder whether some elements in either or both organisations were perhaps sympathetic to the cause of these extremists. An SHO has apparently been suspended for failing to act against the students when they 'raided' the market but one would like to ask the government what it plans to do in the case of the minister, whose 'breakthrough' emboldened these extremists so much that they believed they could go about dispensing their own warped interpretation of religion and law on everybody else, holding even policemen hostage in the process.

What is perhaps equally worrying is the fact that there may be many in Pakistani society who may think that what these extremists posing as students have done is good and necessary. After all, with all the intolerance and bigotry that one is exposed to as a Pakistani in the course of one's daily life (from the mosque imam's often virulent sermon, the bias and prejudice manifest in the national curriculum, the overdose of religious programmes and channels on television, to the increasing tide of religiosity in society and the tendency among many people to bring in religion into just about everything), the government and civil society have themselves to blame for this increase in Talibanisation. As for the government, it fails on several counts. Foremost among them is its remarkable -- and sadly enduring -- inability to take a stand against extremists forces such as in Tank and the Jamia Hafsa students, deeming such matters 'sensitive' and then burying its head in the sand like an ostrich, pretending everything is all right, and continuing to think (at least some sections of the government and security establishment do, it would be fair to assume, subscribe to this view) that a way of having leverage with our regional neighbours means supping with the extremists and jihadis. In addition to this, the government is guilty of adopting a clear double standard. liberal and law-abiding progressive elements are tear-gassed and lathi-charged when they organise peaceful protests but when the extremists and obscurantists indulge in violent protests they are given undue concessions and a free hand to act with impunity. Tank and the Jamia Hafsa episode should serve as a wakeup call to the government. It must act decisively now. The future is only going to get bleaker unless madressah and national curriculum reforms are carried out and the overt display of religion in national life is curtailed, to levels normally found in other Muslim countries such as Malaysia or the Gulf states. As for civil society, and those who think they are non-extremist (i.e., progressive, liberal and/or moderate), they better stand up and speak against the extremists or risk their very existence and way of life coming under a permanent threat.

'Suicide attack' on Pakistan army BBC - March 29, 2007
At least two people have been killed in a suicide bombing at an army base in north-east Pakistan, the military says.

One of the dead was a soldier, the other the bomber, officials said. Eight troops were also hurt in the blast at the base in Kharian in Punjab province.

The bomber walked up to troops and blew himself up, a military spokesman said.

This is the second such attack on the army in recent months. Last November, 44 recruits were killed in a suicide blast in North West Frontier Province.

The bomb in Kharian, a cantonment town 130km (80 miles) south-east of the capital, Islamabad, went off next to a military vehicle, officials said.

"The soldiers were sitting near their vehicle outside the garrison area and the bomber came and blew himself up," military spokesman Maj Gen Waheed Arshad told the AFP news agency.

There have been a series of suicide blasts in Pakistan in recent months.

Pro-Taleban militants have been threatening to launch suicide attacks against the army unless President Pervez Musharraf ends his support for international forces in Afghanistan.


Alibhai said…
Its our own hellish blowback effect. ISI is right down the street from Jamia Hafsa. ISI officers have been saying their prayers in Lal Masjid for a long time. Who were we kidding thinking we could use them to recruit jehadis and never have to pay for that.

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