This article was sent to Dawn in response to Cyril Almeida’s column Talibangate, but was not published, it has more recently been published in The News in a slightly edited version, but the actual rebuttal is reproduced here
Mr Cyril Almeida in his article in Dawn on 19th March, states that Imran Khan has cried hoarse opposing this war against the Taliban. We need to respond to the link being created by such assertions implying that being against this ‘War’ Khan and his party must be supporters of the Taliban. ‘You are either with us or against us’.
PTI is not a supporter of Taliban. Far from it. We condemn the violence perpetrated by Tehrik-e-Taliban or any other group against innocent people and those who murder and slaughter people. However, we also believe that the Taliban label encompasses a lot of others including those who are reacting to US presence in Afghanistan and their sympathizers in Pakistan; those who react also against the Pakistan army and on civilian population because of US presence in Pakistan; the fundamentalists who believe that Sharia should be imposed even against the wishes of the people; those who disillusioned with justice in Pakistan believe imposition of Sharia law will provide Insaf, little realizing that any law in the hands of the present unaccountable bureaucracy will not deliver; those who are affectees of collateral damage and want to take revenge (à la Iraq); those who are sponsored by ‘local’ and ‘outside’ agencies (including India) and finally the fundamentalist who has hijacked all this chaos and suffering. We can go on and on, different groups, even criminals, land and drug mafias which are taking ample advantage of this strife.
PTI and Imran Khan have talked about understanding the problem not supporting the Taliban. We are also opposed to this ‘War on Terror’ as not a primary solution. When the army calls the major shots prompted by foreign interests in a terrorist politico-religious-civil situation which is very grave indeed, it will always lead to heavy handed treatment of civilians and killing of innocents which increases hatred, ethnic polarization and frequently a worsening of the situation. The army has lost countless brave soldiers too and innocent civilians throughout Pakistan, so called Taliban areas included, have borne the brunt. We are going through a bout of senseless killings.
The civil government is not calling the shots because they are under US-Pentagon pressure, from people who live in remote lands and are running a ‘joy-stick’ war, the consequences of which are like earthquakes to us. Temporary gaps in this battle lulls us into thinking that things are getting better. By all indicators the situation is worse and it is still being justified as the terrorists’ last stand. We are afraid that this argument would burn out in a few years but by that time we would have caused enormous self inflicted damage to the Pakistan polity.
As human minds are different so are the reasons behind this ‘disease’ different. The semantic label of ‘War’ on terror allows for tremendous collateral damage and like war everything can be done circumventing every law which man has ever laid down in history almost debasing modern society. PTI and Imran Khan are not providing any excuse or justification for terror, they are just trying to communicate the multi-factorial origin of this terror. Looking for solutions, our US masters have started to identify these differences among the Taliban but we continue in a time warp of our own. Our policies and our elite opinion are just delayed echoes of Washington. PTI believes that as we understand the reasons, so shall we come up with different treatments for this malady, before it becomes terminal.
Somebody has to talk to somebody and find out their grievances. There are thousands of Taliban arrested in Pakistan. The media should access them and find for us their frustration. We have seamlessly adopted the ‘Bushism’ of yester years into our discourses that they are against our ‘freedoms and liberties’. The elite in Pakistan believe that Taliban have one extreme Sharia which they want to impose. This may be true of some groups but I am also sure that if the media is allowed to hear and then inform us of even the arrested criminal’s point of view, we will be closer to understanding the phenomenon. The whole country is confused as we see one extreme face which is very painful indeed, prompting one extreme solution.
A Rand Corporation study published in 2007, after studying all terrorist situations from 1968 to 2006 concluded that military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups, the phenomenon can only be handled through a range of policy instruments including negotiations. Army action has glaringly failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Palestine the original ‘War of Terror’. Pakistan is in trouble on too many fronts to be able to bear this colossal cost in human, political and financial terms. Since 9/11 Musharraf, like all muslims while condemning terror wanted to focus world attention on the causes of terror. Tragically the same argument was promptly forgotten when we were hit, and we became the victims this senseless ordeal.
Let us not take dictates because we lose our own perspective. Of course it has become our problem, but with reasons beyond our borders too. We should use our own medicine, but we are being pre-empted into this vicious cycle of terror begetting terror. Today it is more stick and less carrot. PTI and Khan are only saying… do more carrot and less stick. Talking and understanding does not exclude army action. I predict we will talk sooner rather than later as our masters have already started changing course, and have committed the small ‘heresy’ of grading the Taliban into different groups, the ultimate shall be talking to them. Let us be open to possible solutions for which we may need a paradigm shift and some lateral thinking as nobody has a clear solution, us included. It would be a long path to peace.
Almeida also wrote that ‘Imran Khan offers a vision of pure Islamic Pakistan, Islam first and everything else second’. Where did he get this from except hearsay? Maybe it is wrong to hope that like many other opinion makers he would not be shooting from the hip and investigating afterwards. We believe in Pakistan as expressed by Jinnah frequently and in his speech of Aug 11, and Islam as understood by Iqbal in his well enunciated ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’. Pakistan should be a non theocratic country, though seeped in its muslim tradition of humanity, emanicipation, equal opportunities, welfare and freedom for all to practice their faiths. Muslims should also fall back upon a historic Covenant signed and given by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to the Christians which is preserved in St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai, the translation of which was published in your editorial page and can be accessed through http://www.dawn.com/2006/10/24/ed.htm.