Friday, May 08, 2009

Fighting the Taliban Fascism: What is to be done?

Fighting the Taliban Fascism: What is to be done?
By Dr. Mohammad Taqi
Watandost: May 8, 2009

Begin - to begin is half the work, let half still remain; again begin this, and thou wilt have finished.

Many in Pakistan and abroad believed that the Taliban would be satisfied after getting their pound of flesh - the Nizam e Adl Regulation (NAR) 2009. However, the fall of Buner and then the April 19, 2009 speech by Sufi Muhammad coming on the heels of videos of the Taliban atrocities, sent shudders down the spine of even those riding the fence, on the issue of fundamentalist militancy in Pakistan.

Detailed reports from individual and organization-based analysts have given excellent account of what now appears to be the primary concern for Pakistan, the United States and the international community at large: the existential threat to Pakistan from the rising Taliban tide.

The question is, then, what is to be done?

But more importantly, where to begin and where do we go from here? What is the path that we choose and what are the practical steps that we shall take?

Thought Leaders as the Vanguard:

The gravity of situation demands a comprehensive national and international approach to confront the Taliban fascism that portends a clear and present mortal danger to Pakistan. Nothing less than a mass movement to eradicate the Taliban will suffice.

In the absence of the traditional political parties taking the bull by its horns and showing effective leadership, it becomes national duty of the intellectuals to the raise awareness – internally and globally - about the crisis and bring to bear pressure on the indigenous forces to re-establish the writ of the state.

The process of formulating a national policy must start with the analysts, Op-ed writers and thought leaders from all sections of the society coming together on one platform, to clearly define the reality and magnitude of the Taliban menace and explain to the general public what we are really up against.

Individual writers and speakers have done a reasonably good job of stating the obvious but so far it appears more like parallel play and not a unified and concerted effort to delineate a minimum common program around which the public can rally.

The opinion leaders must talk to each other, before they can convey a powerful message to the masses. This dialogue must take place as soon as possible and the Pakistanis working at different policy institutes within and outside Pakistan ought to take the lead in initiating it.

An average Pakistani needs to hear a clear message that cuts through the chaotic web of disinformation and conveys in simple terms all the evil that the Taliban represent. The following are a few areas which are interconnected and deserve immediate attention and action:

Who are Taliban?

Many people still have qualms about as to the Taliban are. The Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is a multiethnic conglomerate involved in active insurgency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and in terrorist activities in the rest of Pakistan. In Pashtun areas the leadership and cadres of the TTP are ethnic Pashtun along with strong presence of Arab, Uzbek, and Chechen and Punjabi militants.

Whereas many of the TTP rank and file has fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets, Afghan Mujahedeen and the US-NATO, others have trained inside Pakistan.

The common ideological thread for the various individuals and groups comprising the TTP is a militant brand of Islamic fundamentalism which had – courtesy Saudi money and indoctrination - become the core creed of the Jihad against the Soviets. Wahabists, Salafists, Ahl e Hadith, Panjpiri and Deobandi are some of the terms used interchangeably for its adherents. There exist doctrinal differences among these various sectarian franchises but their vehement opposition to the moderate Hanafi, Barelvi, Sufi and the orthodox Shiite Islam, is strong enough to unite them on one platform.

The Al Qaeda (AQ) and Punjab-based jihadist (PBJ) outfits like Sipah e Sahaba,Lashkar e Jhangvi, Lashkar e Toiba and Jamat ud Dawa work hand-in-glove with the TTP; the former in the North and South Waziristan and the latter in Orakzai,Kurram and Khyber Agencies, Swat and settled areas of the NWFP.

The local criminal networks have found common ground with the militant outfits for various reasons and have been involved high-profile targeted killings and bombings of the police officers, especially in Peshawar city.

International criminal networks have served as the economic nervous system of the TTP through their AQ and PBJs connection, and have served as conduit of funds from (mostly) private donors based in the Gulf countries.

The Afghan Taliban are in close contact with the TTP and some of the key leaders Jalauddin Haqqani,Mullah Dadullah and Maulana Sufi Muhammad (in 2001) have operated on both sides of the Durand Line against the Afghan, US and Pakistani interests .

The Taliban objective in Pakistan is to replicate the fascist Islamic emirate that existed in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001; their eyes are on Pakistan as a whole, and not just one division, region or province.

Impact of Media:

The single most important variable that can change the equation against the Taliban is the effective use of media.

To date, little has been done to thwart the conspiracy of conspiracy theories, perpetuated by the half-baked media anchors that double as nouveau intellectuals these days.

Moving forward as a united front, the opinion leaders must confront the media-persons trying to sell to the nation, their fantasies about the Taliban being a CIA, Mossad or RAW creation.

It would take more than the sporadic “civil-society” activists to take on the pro-Taliban retired Army generals and the Taliban apologists among the politicians on talk shows, weaving a web of deceit about an Indo-Zionist plot at work in Swat and FATA.

The media, obviously, could not and should not be censored and the only solution to the outright lies and half-truths is that a systematic and overwhelming pro-Pakistan response must be crafted and delivered by a designated team of intellectuals to counter the pro-Jihadi message.

The Taliban propaganda machinery continues to spread its hateful message through FM radios but no attempt has been made to counter this. A proposal for Radio Free Swat had been launched with no success in implementing.

It is imperative that immediate radio and television broadcasts be started and recorded DVD/CD messages from figures like Afzal Khan of Swat distributed widely, to counter the Taliban vitriol.

International agencies can help facilitate a robust media offensive and the Pakistanis at various international policy institutes can help fast-track the proposal to an actionable stage.

This war could be won – or lost, over the airwaves.

Civilian Authority ,War Cabinet, Consensus Building and Alternative Leadership:

A case must be made for strengthening the civilian authority in Pakistan. However, the civilian rulers should be helped to take stock of their individual and collective potential.

What we have not seen thus far is anything along the lines of a war cabinet at the federal level. A weak defense minister and an even weaker prime minister can hardly be relied upon to inspire confidence. The defense minister has been MIA and the prime minister has a very poor insight into the mechanizations of the rapidly unraveling situation in FATA and Swat, as reflected by his cavalier remarks about Sufi Muhammad’s poisonous speech. The ruling coalition may need to be prodded into making an in-house democratic change for both positions.

Following the effective coalition models used elsewhere in the world, Mr. Nawaz Sharif should be offered the defense portfolio. With his popularity, parliamentary position and executive experience, Mr. Sharif would be a formidable person to lead charge against the Taliban.

Although unlikely, the PPP could do itself and the country well by replacing the prime minister with someone like Aitzaz Ahsan who commands deep respect across Pakistan, has an international recognition and is adept at workings of the federal government.

Similarly at the level of the NWFP and FATA the dissident voices within the ANP must be heard and brought to fore. Former parliamentarians from FATA like Lateef Afridi (Khyber Agency), Dr. Javed Hussain (Kurram Agency), Shahabuddin Khan (Bajaur) and Afzal Khan Lala (Swat) are some of the names that have been warning the provincial and central governments about their miscalculations and capitulations, but have not been brought into the decision making loop.

The Pakistani political parties ,across the board, lack any intellectual reservoirs, think tanks or policy institutes and this void is reflected in their knee-jerk response to national issues, including militancy.

However, such enterprises will take time to develop and to formulate a short to medium term policy, an all parties forum is probably the most expedient way to consensus building. There obviously are going to outliers and dissenters in such a conference but without a plurality of the political voices favoring a certain course of action , it would be impossible to take the general public into confidence and more importantly to have the Army obey the civilian authority.

Military Operations:

At the time of this writing, the Pakistan Army is already back in Swat.

However, the track-record of the Pakistan Army against the TTP has been less than stellar. The opinions on the Army’s performance range from it being inept and ineffective to its outright complicity with the Islamic fundamentalists.

Giving credence to such an adverse view is the fact that the Pakistan Army has been consistently ceding territory to the Taliban starting with its FATA operations in 2004. It has itself made, or forced the civilian governments to make, deals with the militants, who continue to renege on their promises. To date, not a single major Taliban operative has ever been captured or killed by the Army whereas the civilian deaths have led locals to cry foul. The sporadic and amateurish operations in FATA and Swat point towards either a dishonest or an incompetent assessment of risk.

Serious ideological differences might be at work within the Army whether to fight its Jihadist assets or to protect and preserve them for future use in Afghanistan and possibly Kashmir, after the US is forced to make a premature departure from the region.

Complicating the situation is Army’s perennial involvement in Pakistani politics, rampant corruption related to its innumerable business ventures and the Islamist penetration of the security agencies.

The civilian authorities, particularly the ANP’s provincial government have, from time to time, raised concerns about the lack of honest communication by the Army, on any aspect of military operations.

At the very least Pakistan Army’s willingness to produce lasting results remains moot and a credibility gap exists between what it is supposed to do and what it has delivered thus far.

Nonetheless, the Army remains the only organized force theoretically capable of defeating the Taliban. It has also been proven time and again that it cannot act in utter disregard of the popular opinion. In a situation where the thought leaders help build a case for annihilating the Taliban fighting machine – along the lines of the public opinion against the Nazis – the Army would not want to be on the wrong side of the national will.

The United States:

The USA obviously remains a key player globally and in the Pak-Afghan theater. However, the depth of the US understanding of the Pakistani situation leaves much to be desired.

For starters, the thought leaders, especially from the US-based think tanks, could ask the Obama administration to stop blowing hot and cold vis a vis the civilian setup in Pakistan. It does not behoove a meticulous person like Mr. Obama to make projections about the nascent democracy in Pakistan.

It would be imprudent and impractical to believe that eight years of Bush-Musharraf mismanagement of Afghan war can be undone - in months- by a civilian government in Pakistan, even if it was led by Nawaz Sharif.

The interests of the United States and the civilian government of Pakistan are convergent and without a strong political consensus in Pakistan to support the US Af-Pak effort a holocaust is looking us in the eye.

The US cannot have a one shot at victory approach. Patience and perseverance are the key to winning any war but more so against a perfidious enemy which has dug in for a long haul.

Raising awareness and not just militias is the way we can fight the Taliban fascism. It is imperative that the Pakistani intelligentsia takes charge of the situation. To climb out of the current abyss, a clarity of vision is required that can only come from the collective wisdom.

Sometimes, history needs a push; are the Pakistani thought leaders ready to deliver?

(Author teaches and practices medicine at the University of Florida and can be reached at

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