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Myths and realities

Common perceptions that have been confusing masses and leaders

Myths and realities

In October 2012 when Malala was shot at I wrote an article titled How many Malalas will it take?’ Now I know the answer — it takes over 124 children to get Pakistanis out of the state of denial and hypocrisy. Now, after more than two years convicted terrorists have been hanged; there is talk of giving some kind of direction to fight terrorism; even military courts are being discussed. One can give credit to General Raheel Shareef for much of what has happened but why did we have to see the cold blooded murder of so many innocent children? Could we have done all this without such a sacrifice? And will we actually stay united to eliminate the terrorists or will new conspiracy theories be hatched, like they were in Malala’s case, to let the Taliban off the hook? Before we lose momentum it would be useful to refute some myths which create this paralysing confusion among Pakistanis and to suggest possible remedies.

Muslims do not kill Muslims so these people cannot be Muslims

Those who say this seem to know nothing about history. The battle of Jamal, between Hazrat Ayesha and Hazrat Ali, was fought in 656 CE; the battle of Siffin between Hazrat Ali and Ameer Muawiya took place in 657; the battle of Karbala between Imam Hussain and Yazid in October 680. The Kharijites fought both the Omayyads and the Abbasides for nearly three hundred years with the battle of Nahrawan, the first major battle against them, under the orders of Hazrat Ali himself in 657. Then there was the Zanj revolution between 869 to 883 which saw mind-boggling cruelty and about 10,000 dead in lower Iraq. A proper movement of political assassination of Abbaside grandees was begun by Hassan ibne Sabbah’s (1050-1124) Hashishaen (assassins). It came to an end only in 1256 after their castle at Alamut was destroyed. In some of these battles the holy Kaaba itself was broken or partially demolished.

This is only a glimpse of Arab history but one can quote instances from Turkish, Iranian and Indian history of Muslims killing Muslims. So, unless one is saying ‘Muslims should not kill Muslims’ or that ideally speaking, decent human beings, Muslims or not, do not kill other human beings, I do not know what people mean when they say such things. More importantly, saying such things is dangerous because people start absolving the Islamic militants and look for non-Muslim scapegoats.

They are Muslims but they are controlled by foreigners so they are not so much to be blamed

People who say such things shift attention to outsiders so that people do not blame the Taliban who continue to kill people. First, there is no proof at all that India, the US or Israel are involved in any such activity i.e Taliban-related terrorism in Pakistan. The religious militants are against all these countries and the US is still fighting them. It is, therefore, completely wrong and stupid to believe in the conspiracy theory which points to the ‘foreign hand’ in this ongoing insurgency.

The area of present-day Pakistan is called Khurasan and they think they will use it as a base to conquer India (Ghazwa-e-Hind).

It is, however, true that some of the Taliban leaders like Mulla Fazlullah are in Afghanistan and, indeed, the group which has killed the children in Peshawar is in Afghanistan. But then for years the Taliban who used to attack targets within Afghanistan were based in Pakistan. There was a period of ten years when Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US could have eliminated the militants and forced them to surrender arms but all three of us missed that opportunity. In any case, this argument, even if true, should have made us more keen to fight the militants rather than absolving them. Do we normally punish those who are enemy agents or do we cherish them as our lost brothers?

Where do they get their funding and weapons from?

This question is not as innocent as it looks. It implies that the militants get their weapons from some state as they themselves do not have the means to do so. One variant of it is that they do not have the capacity to launch sophisticated attacks alone so some state must be training them. Many people have conducted research on their funding. Their conclusions are that it comes from (a) levies on transport passing their areas (b) trade in narcotics (c) foreign donations by sympathisers including the Pakistani diaspora through hundi and hawala (d) kidnapping for ransom (e) bank robberies (f) car snatching (g) extortion (h) looting containers and selling their goods.

In any case they make small weapons themselves in places like the Darra Adam Khel and this area was flush with arms and ammunition left over from the war against the Soviets.

This is not our war?

This is untrue. Even before 9/11 Arab fighters had infiltrated our FATA and PATA areas. Soon after it they came in large numbers and turned on the Pakistani state. They killed about 300 maliks who were the go-betweens of the state (through the political agents) and the Pashtun tribes. Then they established safe havens for other rebels such as Chechens, Uzbeks and, of course, Arabs. We lost sovereignty and the army fought them to regain it. But in the beginning the army was not trained to fight this kind of war so Pakistan lost soldiers.

The Americans also fought them so the propaganda that they are anti-colonial heroes trying to defend Afghanistan was accepted by many Pakistanis. This caused much confusion and some of our religious parties condemned the army and praised the Taliban.

Moreover, one of our charismatic political leaders, Imran Khan, started saying that this was not our war. This confused our people, especially the educated urban elite, so much that even the army thought it would not be backed by the public if it took action. It is this which the PML-N also preached and that is why Nawaz Sharif lost nearly a year in trying to negotiate with the Taliban despite the fact that they never stopped killing people including generals of the army.

They are angry people avenging drone attacks and military action

This is mostly incorrect. The leaders of the Taliban and those of other Islamic militants are not people who lost anyone nor are they taking personal revenge. Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other major leaders were very well off and are also educated. The leaders of the Pakistani Taliban have madrassa education. All of them have a narrative in which they believe they can create an Islamic state.

The area of present-day Pakistan is called Khurasan and they think they will use it as a base to conquer India (Ghazwa-e-Hind). This is an ideological position; a faith in which they believe blindly. Thus even if no drones had ever been used they would still have fought anyone who had opposed these aims. Drones did kill innocent people but they also did a lot of damage to the leadership of the militants. But for them the Taliban armies would have wreaked much more damage than they did after 2011. Nowadays, air force jets are used against the militants. These cause more destruction but this is a war and wars cannot be fought without air cover. The gist of the argument is that only a few foot soldiers might have been impelled to join the Taliban out of vengeance for their dead but the leadership and most of the other soldiers took up arms against Pakistan for other reasons.

The army has played a double game?

This theory refers to the fact that the army and the ISI did use Islamic militants to penetrate into Kashmir so that India should come to the negotiating table. This was a blunder and one which must be acknowledged first in order to make amends for it by never using militants against any state from the soil of Pakistan. The other blunder is the quest for depth in Afghanistan. The idea is to establish a government in Afghanistan which is friendly to Pakistan and recognises the Durand line. Also, in case of war with India, it should let our airplanes use their airports and provide other help.

It was Z.A.Bhutto who trained fighters like Hekmatyar and his ilk, all Islamists, to fight the Afghan government. Then Pakistan under Zia ul Haq supported the Islamic insurgency against the Marxist regime in Afghanistan for three years before the Americans began to do so. The story of how much Pakistan interfered in Afghanistan after that is known and it is precisely this which has embittered the Afghans and prevented them from attacking the Taliban who attack us although the same people will join the Afghan Taliban to attack the sitting government if they are not disarmed or eliminated.

General Musharraf did play a double game when he did not attack all the Taliban. The ones who attacked India were spared and the ones who attacked the American and Afghan governments were also spared. This was precisely why so many of our Shias died (the Punjabi Taliban had sectarian elements who killed them); and why ordinary people died in thousands since North Waziristan was not attacked till June 2014.

So, yes the army did play a double game and that was a mistake.

So should we support the army?

Yes, absolutely. For one thing, even when the army was playing a double role it was also fighting the Taliban which were attacking Pakistani targets. Ordinary soldiers and field officers were dying unsung and even the army’s mosques, homes, bases and messes were under attack. So, the fact that the policies of the high command were wrong, does not mean we should not support the army as a whole. And even in 2009 the army took a very successful action against the Taliban in Swat and defeated them. That action and the civilian support to the IDPs of Swat have never been fully praised.

Secondly, we must appreciate the fact that General Raheel Shareef has taken action which is nothing short of heroic. He began the Zarb-e-Azb at great personal risk. He comes from a family known for courage in battle but this kind of war, a never-ending conflict, requires more courage than wars between nations. General Raheel also signed the death warrants of terrorists which requires even more courage than storming an enemy post in battle. He has also promised to make no distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. As such we must support and praise the army and especially its chief at this juncture.

What should the politicians do?

First, stay united against the Islamic militants. Since Zarb-e-Azb started we have not treated it as our war but now we should. Secondly, government should establish courts within prisons. Their judges should wear masks. They should give as much money as Nacta requires and deploy armed commandos around educational institutions and other places which may be vulnerable. We should support the IDPs whom we have neglected. We should change our syllabi to eliminate war mongering and hatred against India. We should tell people exactly who is our enemy and why we must fight. And if they lay down arms we must have a programme to change their way of thinking.

The PML-N should stop protecting and supporting the militants as they have done in the past. Also, they should show more courage. However, why blame the PML-N alone. The PPP and the ANP succumbed to Mulla Fazlullah and gave the Taliban the fiefdom of Swat in 2009. Had the Taliban not been so rash as to initiate more bold conquests they would never have allowed the army to take action and clear them out. Most politicians, except those of the MQM, are responsible for strengthening them. Above all, Imran Khan, whom the youth follow, should point out clearly that the Taliban are our enemy and that this is our war. If he does this he will make sufficient amends for his past stance which, with apologies to his party, confused Pakistanis for many years. As for the religious parties, they must understand that they will serve Islam better if they present a peaceful image of it to the public.

So is there any hope?

There always is this side of the grave! But what if there are people who want more child-sacrifice before deciding whose war it is?

Dr Tariq Rahman

tariq rahman
The author is a linguistic historian.


  • Well argued and bluntly put. I hope it finds many readers.

  • I agree with every little thing you wrote. Forwarding it to many friends and relatives.

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