by Amit Julka
When I read Taj’s book, ‘Taliban and Anti Taliban’, I thought a more suitable title for the book would have been A People’s History of FATA, as it has much in common with Howard Zinn’s seminal work A People’s History of the United States. Both books narrate the story of a land from the point of view of the conquered, and not the conquerors. Both books seek to challenge the dominant narrative and conventional wisdom. The only difference is that Zinn’s Native Americans had been vanquished and exterminated about four centuries ago while Taj’s tribesmen are being systematically oppressed and exterminated as we speak.
And this is where the significance of the book lies. It presents the story of a people who have been often been regarded as savages and brutes from their eyes and not the eyes of those who wish to conquer them. FATA has often been termed as Pakistan’s dirty backyard. The state claims that the region is not under its control, and hence justifies oppression against the natives under the garb of the draconian FCR laws. The Americans say that the region is a haven for terrorists. However, no mainstream observer has bothered to tell the story of the people and the way they have been squeezed between the state and the Taliban.
The book starts with the chapter ‘Deconstructing Some Myths About FATA’. In this chapter, Taj questions two fundamental notions that outsiders have about the region and its people. Her first argument is that contrary to popular opinion, the people of FATA are not Taliban sympathizers. She argues that the widespread militant activities in the region have more to do with the state’s policy of treating the Taliban and their ilk as strategic assets. Thus, according to her, the Taliban and other jihadi groups have been imposed top-down and enjoy no popular support. On the contrary, she argues that it is the indigenous people of the region who have tried to resist them, and it is the state’s collusion with the militants that has changed the power structures in the region and destroyed tribal institutions like jirga and Pakhtunwali.
Her second argument is that the state’s attempt to portray the tribal areas as unruly and beyond its control is nothing but insidious propaganda. In fact, it is the state, and especially Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI that has repressed people through legal and extra-legal means. Moreover, she adds that the influx of militants from Afghanistan to Pakistan wouldn’t have been possible without the state’s collusion. This, she claims flies in the face of the state’s claim that some soldiers may have sympathised with the Taliban due to ethnic affiliation or other such factors. ….
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