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“Many Pakistanis have acquired the Taliban mindset”

Pervez Hoodbhoy condemns the Peshawar tragedy and says that Zarb-e-Azb should have taken place years ago

“Many Pakistanis have acquired the Taliban mindset”

The News on Sunday: Do you have any hope that we would learn something from the tragic incident in Peshawar?

Pervez Hoodbhoy: There’s much talk about this gut-wrenching tragedy miraculously uniting all Pakistanis. Every public figure is saying this, as did the All Parties Conference resolution. Frankly, it’s delusional thinking. Peshawar was no 911-type of watershed moment, even though targeting school children is especially gruesome. Just wait another few days and this one, too, will fade into the background.

Just look at the past. Nothing changed after Lakki Marwat, when 105 people watching a volleyball match were blown up by a suicide bomber in a pickup truck. Or when 96 Hazaras in a snooker club were targeted by a double suicide attack. We’ve practically forgotten the 127 dead in the All Saints Church bombing in Peshawar or the 90 Ahmadis killed while in prayer. There have been multiple massacres where people have been ordered off buses, their national identity cards checked, and those with Shia sounding names promptly executed. Mosques, imambargahs, shrines, temples, and churches across the country have been repeatedly attacked with heavy loss of life.

Consider also the fact that nearly 60 polio workers — women and men who work to save children from a crippling disease — have been killed by the Taliban and associated religious fanatics. Assuming that we have a collective conscience, wasn’t this enough to wake it up? In brief, what’s new?

TNS: People are talking of how the narrative “started to fracture” within hours of the incident with fingers pointed at Indian hand, America, CIA, Jews. What do you have to say?

PH: Many Pakistanis have acquired the Taliban mindset. So, they blame India, America, Israel, Iran, Afghanistan — you name it. Television anchors and political personalities concoct wild conspiracy theories. General Hameed Gul and his son Abdullah Gul adamantly insisted multiple times on TV that suicide attackers were not circumcised and, hence, not Muslim. Well, body parts have been quite plentifully available for inspection over the last few years but I have yet to hear them repudiate earlier claims.

Or take Imran Khan. For him, terrorism is only that perpetrated by the United States. He has consistently refused to name the Taliban as perpetrators even when they accepted responsibility. Even now, his admission that the TTP may be involved in the Peshawar massacre is contained only in a tweeted message, not over TV. While he weakly sympathised with Malala Yusufzai, he adamantly refused to condemn the Taliban for the shooting, even though shortly thereafter a 9-page pamphlet was widely circulated signed by the TTP and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. It was entitled Aqeedon ka Tasadum and explained the Islamic reasons for why Malala had to be killed.

Earlier, it was even worse. In 2009, around the time of the Taliban takeover of Swat, on Hamid Mir’s Capital Talk he claimed that the Swat Taliban were fighting a war of liberation against the Americans. When I asked why were they fighting in Pakistan rather than Afghanistan and killing Pakistanis, he accused me of being an American agent and then attempted to physically attack me. Viewers can google this video.

TNS: Religious leaders have condemned the Peshawar massacre. Does this satisfy you?

PH: Many have refused. Among them is Maulana Abdul Aziz of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid. While they say it was regrettable, they also say the Army was fighting America’s war and so is responsible. Let’s recall that until relatively recently, there were imams who refused to perform burial prayers for army soldiers killed in action against terrorists.

Doubtless, the murderers of the young children were men seized with extreme religious passions. The Taliban have released pictures of the bearded “martyrs”. Shot in both legs, Shahrukh Khan, 16, says he survived by playing dead as the gunmen roamed the school, shouting Allah-o-Akbar before opening fire. Another surviving student, Aamir Ali, says that two clean-shaven gunmen told students to recite the kalima before shooting them multiple times.

Yet, in spite of having committed countless atrocities, no religious leader has called for the Taliban, or like-minded groups, to be expelled from Islam. When pressed, the answer is usually that Allah alone can decide who is Muslim and who is not. But these same people rush to declare Ahmadi’s as deviants and kafirs.

TNS: Linked to this is the question of centrality of military in foreign policy and, thereby, politics and its consequent disempowerment. Do you see a connection between this and the incidence of terrorism in the country?

PH: You reap what you sow. For nearly three decades, militant groups have freely operated in Pakistan. They morphed into massive militant establishments that now run their own training centres, hospitals, and disaster relief programmes. When Sartaj Aziz, adviser to the prime minister on foreign affairs, recently said that Pakistan was not going to target militant groups that “did not pose a threat to the state”, he accidentally spilled the beans. In fact, he was merely stating Pakistan’s zero-sum paradigm — we exist to hurt others, not to better ourselves.

Look at what we are doing to Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban leadership is securely entrenched in Quetta and Karachi. Do we not know that the Afghan Taliban are responsible for atrocities no less revolting than the TTP? While bewailing the murder of our children, let us be aware that Pakistan’s soil has been used time and again for inflicting sorrow and hurt among innocents across the world. Today, it is not just India and Afghanistan who accuse us, but also China and Iran.

TNS: So, what would you have the army leadership do in the light of the Peshawar school tragedy? Do you feel that Zarb-e-Azb is on the right track?

PH: Some reports seem fake and hyped-up. And who knows how many innocents were killed together with terrorists? At the same time, it is a very serious operation that has dealt the TTP a massive blow, hence the blowback. It must continue. On this front, General Raheel Sharif has definitely broken with his timid predecessor, General Kayani. Though deeply saddened by the impact it has had on the tribal population, I think Zarb-e-Azb was necessary and should have taken place years ago. North Waziristan must not remain the epicenter of terrorism.

Gen. Sharif has done well in meeting President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul and has rightly demanded joint action in combating Mullah Fazlullah’s TTP, now apparently ensconced on the Afghan side. But what of Mullah Omar? I wonder if Ghani asked Sharif whether Pakistan will be willing to hand Omar over to face justice at the hands of the Afghan people, or a joint operation to get him?


  • Pervez Hoodbhoy has clarity of thinking and the courage to speak the truth. Pakistan needs leaders with these traits. Alas! there are none and is the primary reason for the predicament that the country finds itself in. It is mindboggling why the leaders elected by the popular vote continue to appease the religious fanatics. Religious parties never secured large popular votes in the election, a clear indication that the people don’t want relious leaders to govern the country. Yet both civilian and the military leaders, don’t owe their position to religiosity, can’t cut themselves loose from the militants and mullahs.
    It may end up tragically for Pakistan. How many times India will tolerate the attack by the militants like Leshkar e Toiba led by Hafiz Saeed. They may decide, more likely under BJP, to retaliate leading to major war. India has been building its conventional military capability and is the largest importer of military weapons from multiple countries. They may consider themselves strong enough to launch a major military offensive in retaliation. Would Pakistan’s leaders, both civilian and military, realize their folly of coddling the militants after they survey the damage inflicted on Pakistan in a major war?

    • How many militants were going from Pakistan to India in 1965 and 1971?? yet India could not stop attacking Pakistan. It has been more than 6 decades that PAKISTAN has come in to existence and India can not tolerate this pain, stop crying over it and face it. There are > 20 states in India demanding independence not just Kashmir so there is something wrong there. We have proofs of the way Indian Muslims were isolated during election by BJP…
      Stop glossing over facts and you won’t have to wait long for Glory of Pakistan, Insha Allah. I am PH’s student and I can tell you he loves Pakistan and will never stand by India on anything cunning agenda that brings his country in Bad light :)

      • Bhai stop listening to Zaid Hamid and his stories.”20 states demanding independence” and still this country is the 3rd or 4th largest economy on the planet. triumverate of khans of bollywood, numerous muslim presidents,muslim industry titans and what not and you want to live in a world created by Zaid Hamid. I pity you.

        • i am surprised that u have enough time to listen to that zaid hamid … there are many cartoons like him in India and Pakistan … hindu jihadi as well muslim jihadi … this is just business and about personal gains … nothing more

      • Bro, the fact that you say india keeps attacking you is a manufactured lie of the sins of your army. India has never attacked Pakistan except in 71 when it was itself under lots of problem due to mass influx of Bangladeshi refugee who were killed by your Army

        • ifsomeknowiwillbekilled

          dear amit there is no india and pakistan all is we are humans form subcontinent

          love peace for humanity

      • How long will you behave like an ostrich ? First of all I want to clarify that India never attacked Pakistan. It was Pakistan which always began war with India. You can watch so many youtube clips in which so many prominent Pakistani scholars as Najam Seth, Hasan Nisar , Ex Air Chief AShghar Khan and so many others accepted this truth and very clearly accepted that Pakistan lost every war with India. Now can you give the list of those 20 states which want so called ‘ Independence’ from India ? It is true that your ISI and Pak Army tried their best to destabilize Kashmir Valley but couldn’t get single inch from valley. Please wake up, open your eyes and stop day dreaming which is injurious to health.

  • The good professor knows Pakistan well. Those like him (in this list I include people like Bruce Reidel, Christina Fair) would say that Pakistani establishment would do some kind of cosmetic surgery after this event but nothing substantial will happen, certainly no change in policy or paradigm shift.
    Pakistan, long ago, made the momentous and suicidal decision to use terrorism as state policy to bleed India. Later, this was extended to Afghanistan. The result is for all to see.
    The proof of pudding is in the eating. The proof that there is going to be a major shift will be evident if Army takes on players like LeT and its leader Hafiz Sayeed. But this is unlikely.

  • Hi, I am not a Pakistsni and have recently completed my PhD in geopolitical situation in Pakistan in relation to terrorism, I agree with some of Prof Hoodbhoy assertions but disagree with others. Taliban is not a local but regional phenomenon, having close alliance with ISIS and Boko Haram. In my view different parts of South Asia and Middle East are assembly and training grounds for the fighters coming to join ISIS. Taliban, ISIS and other similar organisatuons are funded by some big Internatonal players. These organisatuons find their way into vulnerable, under privileged and unsuspecting local populations and develop their trust and credibility. That’s why most of their influence is in rural areas across the region. Therefore I don’t feel Taliban should not be seen as an isolated problem which has continued to grow by virtue of wrong measures taken by the governmental apparatus. It’s a very complex issue with many heads involved and simplifying it would be akin to trivializing it.

    • Who are those big international players, what stops you from mentioning their names?

  • No criminal & Sinful can be expelled from Islam , as long as He believe that Prophet Mohammad Saw is last Prophet and there will be no Prophet after him, But Ahmadi’s are declared Kafir because they are follower of Mirza Qaidyani. Which contradicts the basic fundamentals of being a Muslim.

    • So now you have decided the criteria of who can be expelled from the religion and who can not?
      Funny because I thought the basic requirement of a Muslim was saying the Kalima i.e. There is NO God but God and Muhammad (pbuh) is his messenger. How did you or anyone else get the authority to add things to that?

  • I would like to say that the all evils in this country are because of terrorism. If we want to survive in this world we should eliminate terrorism from our society.

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