|Saturday, March 20, 2010
By Iqbal Haider
The record breaking rise in suicide attacks and the onslaught of repeated explosions all over the country, more recently in Lahore and Mingora, have naturally caused countrywide shock, anxiety and concern. People at large are anxious to find a real effective strategy to eradicate these extremist militant religious forces, their suicide bombers and the unending incidents of terrorism. Some say that the Government should hold negotiations with the Taliban. Some of the bearded or non-bearded leaders of the religious parties have been offering their services for mediating with these terrorists.
The first question that needs an answer is who the Government should hold talks with? Quite often, we hear about numerous groups of these Taliban. Some are called Afghani Taliban. Some are referred to as Pakistani Taliban, are they any different in their ideology or modus operandi? Some even issue character certificates to them as being ìGood Taliban or ìBad Taliban. On what grounds are they branded so, is not known and how do they differ is also not clear. Some are classified on regional basis that is Punjabi Taliban or Pakhtun Taliban, etc. They may be soon the basis of their existence in that area but are they in any manner different from each other? This is not the end of the list. There are several other militant equally bigoted and ferocious religious groups operating in Pakistan, such as the group of Fazlullah, Sufi Muhammad, various Lashkars and Jihadi groups in the names of Islam or Jihad-e-Kashmir and many banned organisations such as the SSP, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Al-Dawa, etc. I refer to them collectively as ìTaliban.
The categorisation or classification of Taliban would have been of some importance or relevance had they followed a different religious sect, norm or modus operandi. The differences of shades in their beliefs or activities are of least importance. A pertinent question that arises is would the negotiations with one group would lead to a peaceful settlement with all? It is not likely, as every group appears to have its own leader, objectives and force. Would all of these extremist barbaric violent groups agree to come on a common negotiations table? This again appears to be highly unlikely. Even if one or more groups agree to hold meaningful negotiations with sincerity of purpose with the Government, then the second most important question arises as to what the agenda would be and what should be the preconditions or steps for creating conditions conducive for successful dialogue. The parties to the negotiation and their mediators, if any, will have to determine the agenda for this meeting.
It is an undeniable fact that the common denominators amongst all groups of Taliban are their peculiar religious norms and common modus operandi of enforcing their brand of religion through force and terrorism. During the tenure of the Taliban in Afghanistan, we have witnessed there a rigid ban on use of internet, education for women; destruction of schools and colleges; ban on all forms of enjoyment fine and performing arts; forcing people to grow beards; destroying invaluable historical heritage of the world i.e. the Bamyan Buddha statues; forcing non-Muslims, particularly Hindus, to wear a distinctive bracelet in their wrist; indulged in intolerance and attacks on muslims of different sects; prohibition against sports like cricket, the Pakistani football team visiting Afghanistan wearing knickers on the field was harassed, abused and returned after shaving their heads; enforcing a peculiar form of justice system and sentences in the name of their own interpretation of Islam; imposing a bigoted and retarded system of education and curriculum, opposed to the basic injunctions of Islam and norms and practices of modern societies in the world. The aforesaid is not a complete list of the lifestyle and permissible and non-permissible acts according to the Taliban. The crucial question is will the Taliban agree to give up such abhorrent stone-age norms and practices of their brand of Islam? If they will not budge an inch, then the question arises will the Government of Pakistan or the supporters of the Taliban in Pakistan accept, adopt and implement most obscurantist and oppressive laws and practices of the Taliban.
I am afraid that under the policy of appeasement and encouragement of the bigoted militant sectarian religious groups, followed by their creator General Zia and promoter General Pervez Musharraf and their allies, Pakistan is being Talibanised gradually. This policy of appeasing and supporting the Taliban, either under the most ill-conceived notion of them being ìstrategic depth of Pakistan or the so-called repeated peace agreements with Taliban, signed by Musharaf regime and also by our present elected rulers, have only resulted in rise and rise of terrorism and influence of the Taliban of which, there are so many shocking instances and trends one can point out. To name a few, I may remind, the MMA Government had attempted to impose their brand of Islam under the garb of the unconstitutional ìHasba Bill. During the same period, shops selling musical instruments or music and audio videos were destroyed in Peshawer and a respected scholar and author of a book, ìShaitan Moulvi was murdered in Swat. A woman singer was killed in Peshawar. In several parts of the Frontier women were physically prevented from casting their vote repeatedly with the agreement of the national level political parties, both during the tenure of MMA rule and even now in the most recent by-elections under the present elected Government, who claims to be enlightened and progressive. During the Musharraf regime, we witnessed an alarming mushroom growth of madressahs, who were also allowed to store lethal weapons and receive arms trainings. Even in the Federal and Provincial capitals, Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, women wearing jeans and t-shirts or half-sleeves were warned and intimidated.
One cannot also ignore or deny alliance of PML-N with the banned and bigoted militant organizations such as the SSP and Jamaat-ud-Dawa in the latest by-elections held in the Punjab. Shocking is the fact that the PML-N which claims to be the most popular party of Punjab has to seek support from these undesirable banned extremist outfits. It is also a fact that until very recently, important ministers in the Punjab Cabinet have been denying the very existence of the Taliban in any part of Punjab, perhaps to provide them with covert support and mislead the people that they represent. It is not surprising that according to reports, Taliban are willing to accept Chief Minister of the Punjab as the mediator and have offered to him a ceasefire, as reported in the national dailies. Will that ceasefire be on imposing the brand of religion of the Taliban? Will this ceasefire, through PML-N or any other leaders of political parties, guarantee an end to terrorism in Pakistan? The people need answers to these questions. The people of Pakistan will under no circumstances accept the Talibanís brand of religion which is against the very basic tenets and injunctions of Islam nor do I foresee Taliban giving up their obscurantist and oppressive religion and practices. Nor are they likely to surrender arms and give up terrorist activities in Pakistan. There should be no doubt or confusion about the real aim and agenda of Taliban.
Their clear object is to takeover the state of Pakistan, all its resources, wealth, weapons particularly the nuclear arms, in the name of religion. Some of the segments of the Taliban have already pronounced these aims. In fact in April 2009 the Taliban had proudly expressed their determination to takeover Islamabad as well, after they had established their control over 11% of the territory of Pakistan, according to reliable published assessments.
Pakistan is already at war from within with Taliban. Never before, neither in any war with India, nor otherwise, have our top brass Army officers, along with the brave soldiers of our Army, paramilitary forces, police and thousands of innocent citizens, faced martyrdom in such a large number at the hands of Taliban. Each suicide attack and explosion causes irreparable loss of not only life, but also to our already detoriating economy. The need of the hour is that the people of Pakistan must express their determination that they are not prepared to accept the injunctions, norms and lifestyle of the Taliban under any circumstances or for any petty gain or consideration. Ceasefire with an end to terrorism is acceptable but not on the terms and agenda of the Taliban.
Some of the political parties wearing the label of religion or not, must not lend any moral or material support, covertly or overtly, to the Taliban for minor gains or victories in elections. Why should we blame India, when we have within Pakistan such well-wishers, protectors and supporters of extremist militant banned obscurantist religious organizations such as the various segments of Taliban, SSP, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and several other militant Lashkars who are enough to destroy our peace and progress.
We must rise against the nefarious aims and objects of Taliban and their terrorism which is threatening not only the integrity of Pakistan, but also peace and prosperity in the South Asian region. Instead of pursuing a blame game with our neighbours which will only help the Taliban in spreading their influence, we must adopt the policy of cooperation and collaboration not only within Pakistan, but also with our neighbors particularly India, Afghanistan, Iran and China to defeat the inhumane objectives of the Taliban, through concerted efforts on a national and regional basis.
The author is a former senator, senior advocate of the Supreme Court, former attorney general and ex-minister for law, justice, parliamentary affairs and human rights.