By Sahar Gul
At this crucial time when there is need of uniting nation around the single national interest of providing relief to the IDPs and successfully annihilating the Taliban in the Malakand division and restoring peace in the region, the discourse by some people to equate Taliban with the Pashtun nationalist agenda seems nothing but an effort to create startling diversion which no doubt ultimately hampers the attempts to eliminate extremism from Pakistan.
Rustam Shah Mohmand’s equating Taliban with Pakhtun ethnic identity is flawed on ideological, strategic and operational counts of the Taliban and Talibanization. This discourse hovers around the cold era and hence fails to understand how a Talibanized mindset was nurtured and reared up to annihilate Pakhtun life, tolerant and secular Pakhtunwali and Pakhtun society by the local Taliban. Moreover, it is not a bad idea to remind the USA and ISI what they did to this region by creating radical religious politics and using them as strategic tools against the Soviets. We and our generations must and would condemn this strategic paradigm for ruining people’s life and their peace, but this is the time to focus on the most crucial issue which is to pressurize state to expedite relief delivery to the IDPs, root out the Taliban from the region, and most of all, the local dynamics of Talibanization in the region should be weighed the same way as the international dynamics are weighed.
Though most of the Taliban might be ethnic Pakhtuns but the Pakhtuns never owned them. When cancer starts spreading from once cell to the other parts of body, one allows even mutilation of that part by surgery; therefore, the cancer (Taliban) should be mutilated from the Pakhtun ethnicity. Moreover, the formation of Punjabi Tahreek-e-Taliban is a case in point that Talibanization has never been Pakhtun specific.
Indeed the trial and the torment are high in scale, but not the way Mr. Rustam states. But it does not make any sense when he says, Maulana Sufi Muhammad appears standing ‘steadfast in his support both to the government and to the newly enacted law’, ‘there were no country wide criticism on the Shariah law’, and, ‘the fear of the Taliban is vociferously projected’- we visited the Takht Bhai and Jalala camps, interviewed the affectees, photographed them. We met various women, men and children, approximately 1300 families in both of the camps coming from Dir, Swat and Buner. The heart-rending stories (of atrocities of the Taliban in the name of Islam) they told us are recorded, documented and published as well. Mr. Rustam Shah will be surprised to know that (let alone how the rest of the country resisted against TNSM) 100% people said that Taliban’s Islam was not the real Islam; the military operation was good if they killed the Taliban leadership. They said they were happy to leave the place, they said they were sick of the Taliban, they showed gratitude to military. Thriving on mistaken ideology can perpetuate more complexity. The solution is to give space to the people to share what they passed through- one would really eat one’s heart out while hearing heart-rending stories of slaughter, flogging, brainwashing of the youth for suicidal attacks and humiliation done by the Taliban. The chanting slogans of Pakhtun genocide imply that some people still are unable to distinguish Taliban from Pakhtuns. Resultantly they are actually accommodating enemy in their unawareness in these tragic times.
Such mindset needs to be reoriented before it fully transforms Pakhtun identity into Wahabi Jihadist ideological identity. The Taliban from Wziristan to Swat killed more Pakhtun elders than the era of Soviet-US war in Afghanistan, struck at jirgas–the only agreed upon institution in the code of Pakhtunwali, mutilated the dead bodies (again never imaginable in the Pakhtun culture), disrupted the social institutions of the Pakhtuns without giving any alternative, destroyed infrastructure of the Pakhtuns in large scale. Only in Swat, the Taliban have destroyed almost 200 schools, destroyed the tourist industry, ruthlessly cut off the forests and earned almost 8 billions from timber smuggling, and destroyed worth billions of rupees of infrastructure.
The assumption that the military of Pakistan would be perceived as Punjabi army during the operation seems to indicate a huge disconnect from the reality on ground. The people of Malakand Division and FATA have always welcomed the Pakistan army whenever the army seriously struck at the Taliban command and control system, their top leadership and their networks. One would like to remind Rustum Shah about several uprisings of the Pakhtuns against the Taliban’s illegitimate, inhuman and barbaric rule in parts of Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. Rustum Shah knows quite well the Ali Khel of Aurakzai, the Wazirs of Waziristan, the Khalil Momand of Badaber, the Yousufzais of Buner and Dir, the Afridis of Darra Adamkhel, the Pakhtuns of Koh-e-Daman and the Salarzais of Bajaur took arms against the Taliban. In these instances, the Khalil Momand, the Salarzais and Ali Khels and the Pakhtuns of Koh-e-Daman have successfully resisted the onslaught of Taliban while the Yousufzais of Buner were deceived by the like of Rustum Sham, the commissioner Malakand Division, Syed Mohammad Javed. Even recently in Upper Dir, people laid siege of the Taliban and killed a number of them. This is yet another evidence of peoples’ rage against the Taliban
It is not wise to construct irrelevant sentimental discourse, create diversion of thought and dilute intensity of the real issue that might lead to a colossal defeat. Here are the points that need to be considered; one, the widespread skepticism people have regarding military’s role is that the collateral damage by the unplanned aerial attacks that could have been prevented if the crack down on the Taliban were a little organized and planned. Second, so far the military has not come up to the expectations of people regarding killing the top leadership of the Taliban. Fixing money over the head of the leaders is evidence of military’s inability to capture them. Third, government does not appear to be taking measures regarding getting the IDPs back to their places. Forth, the unorganized operation seems to be unending; if it is protracted for a month more without a concrete achievement of military, the people would lose their trust in military operation. Fifth, the upcoming monsoon might multiply the hazard the IDPs are facing at this moment. The government seems to be less prudent about the impending hazards the sufferers would undergo. Hence it is likely that the fatigue of living away from homes might exhaust people more and they stop supporting the military operation any more. The nation needs solidarity through clarity of interests rather than treating people of Swat and Malakand division with naïve sentiments only.
(The writer is Research Fellow at Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy and Director Regional Academy for Research and Renaissance and can be accessed through firstname.lastname@example.org )