The Talibanisation of minds
The News, May 07, 2009
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor
There are two dimensions to the challenge of defeating the Taliban. One of course is the issue of re-gaining control over the territories they have wrested away from the state. The military successes in Dir and Buner, as the army moves into a new phase of aggression, are of course encouraging. The mysteries of how tactics in this respect are decided remain rather obscure though. In the past the civilian governments have implied that the military is unwilling to take on the Taliban. In an unusually strong set of comments the US has meanwhile slammed the government while praising the military.
What wheels are moving behind the scenes we don't quite know – but we have learnt from the past to be wary in such situations. And meanwhile, despite the increasingly nonsensical statements of Sufi Mohammad, who now says democracy is un-Islamic and Sharia must extend across Pakistan, the ANP government seems determined to cling to its myth of a peace accord that seems increasingly fragile by the day, if not the hour.
There is, however, another aspect to battling the Taliban. That is the question of control over minds. The Zia years taught us how difficult it can be to fight off notions of morality used to brainwash and blind people. The dance with orthodoxy that began during the 1980s – when TV actresses rose from their beds with dupattas miraculously intact – lingers on. It has taken nearly two decades to reclaim some of the space Zia stole away from us, and re-discover music, classical dance and the simple liberty to dress as we choose.
Now the Taliban have launched a new threat to these basic freedoms. In Lahore's Liberty Market shopping centre – women have been ordered over loudspeakers to cover their heads. The more relaxed dress codes that had become the norm, echoing back to a happier time in the 1960s and the 1970s have begun once more to retreat. Many women admit they are more careful than ever before about how they dress in public. In both Karachi and Lahore stories echo of threats being made to women shoppers in the streets. These may be inaccurate, but they add to the fear we all feel almost constantly.
The threat to schools – especially those that are co-educational or which take in just girls – is also terrifying. No one could perhaps have imagined a situation where security cameras appear at school gates, visitors face elaborate searches and pupils live in fear of bomb attacks. This could be the work of the handful of elements on the lunatic fringe who have in the past placed explosives at juice shops frequented by young couples and attacked the venue of a performing arts festival. It could also be the doing of individual 'pranksters'. But the effect it has had is very real – altering the city scene forever.
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Pakistan must rebuild lives to beat Taliban: analysts - AFP