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The blood of innocents

November 22, 2008

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AISHA Ibrahim Duhulow was 13 years old when she was buried up to her neck in the Somali port city of Kismayu on Oct 27 and stoned to death by 50 men belonging to the Islamic group Al Shahab.

A truckload of stones was brought to the field where this murder took place. When a few members of the thousand-strong spectators tried to save the girl, Al Shahab gunmen opened fire, accidentally shooting a little boy.
It did not take long to kill Aisha. She had been accused of fornication, although according to her bereft father, she had gone to complain of being raped by three men. Her rapists remain at large, and there has been no attempt to apprehend them.

A fortnight later, outside Mirwais Nika Girls High School in Kandahar, a group of 15 schoolgirls were attacked by two men who threw acid at them, blinding two and injuring the rest. All the girls had been covered in all-enveloping burkas, so they could not have been accused of dressing immodestly. We remember all too well that the Taliban had closed down all schools for girls when they were in power. To date, they have blown up 123 schools in Swat alone. Nor should we forget that our home-grown Taliban have been blowing up educational institutions for girls wherever they can.

Gruesome crimes against women are not uncommon in other countries, but nowhere else do those responsible claim religious sanction for their viciousness. Presumably, both the Somali and the Afghan perpetrators of these cruel attacks claim they acted in the name of their faith. Unfortunately, they get away with this patently absurd argument time after time. No religion condones such hideous acts.

I also mention these crimes here despite the fact that they have been reported around the world simply to identify the enemy. Far too many people here have taken to shrugging off such excesses committed in the name of Islam, while foaming at the mouth about the inequities of the West. For instance, I do not recall any religious group or leader condemning these vile crimes against innocent young girls. Indeed, I would be happy to know if these attacks were even brought up on any of the TV chat shows that feature so many studio warriors who threaten to take up cudgels against the world in defence of our sovereignty.

There is incessant talk in our media about the American drone attacks. Another constant refrain is about the need to `talk to the Taliban`. And yet hardly any voices are being raised against these criminals who are killing Pakistanis, disrupting the lives of thousands across the tribal areas as well as elsewhere in Pakistan, and butchering anybody who opposes them.

I mentioned last week that for the first time since 1965, I find myself supporting our army as it fights to protect us from the armed gangs of terrorists on the Afghan border. At the same time, I find it puzzling that those who have always supported the army politically have now turned against our soldiers who are risking their lives against a ruthless foe. Another irony, of course, is that many liberals and leftists are implicitly supporting the Taliban by demanding that western forces quit Afghanistan. Do they seriously think the Taliban would lay down their arms and return to their villages if their demand was met?

So great is the fury of millions of Pakistanis against the West that they are making common cause with the most reactionary forces in the country. While they do not support the Taliban openly, they would rather have these stone-age holy warriors take over large swathes of the country than have Pakistan fight them in concert with western forces in Afghanistan. The reality is that just as the enemy is united in its efforts to take over Kabul and Islamabad, fighting them will take greater coordination and cooperation between our troops and Isaf and American forces in Afghanistan.

The examples of fanaticism I gave above are directly linked to the ideology that drives the Taliban. And while their supporters in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world would like to distance themselves from such extreme manifestations of religiosity, their refusal to condemn these acts encourages the forces of darkness.
Often, Taliban supporters justify this complete disregard for civilised norms by citing the many (and deplorable) accidental deaths caused by western forces in Afghanistan and, through drone attacks, in Pakistan. But surely, young Aisha in Kismayu, or the schoolgirls in Kandahar, cannot be blamed for collateral damage caused by foreign forces elsewhere.

It is this moral relativism that has come to characterise so much of the thinking in the Muslim world. Thus, the American invasion of Iraq is used to justify atrocities committed by the Taliban and their clones from Turkey to Indonesia. Indeed, as the jihad has gone global, these holy warriors are being cheered on by myopic Muslims around the world.

So where is this conflict headed? Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Frankly, I can`t see any. A major problem in this kind of war in which one side seeks total victory is that there is very little room for negotiations. In our case, the Taliban do not have territorial claims in the classical sense they are not demanding the creation of a `Greater Pakhtunistan`, for instance.

Had this been their goal, I, for one, would certainly recommend that we consider this option. But what they want is nothing short of the imposition of their benighted version of the Sharia in all of Afghanistan and Pakistan. And their mentors in Al Qaeda have even more extreme demands, none of which are negotiable.

Clearly, we are caught up in a war without any end in sight. And yet, fighting against our own people is always a painful proposition, not that the enemy has any qualms at killing their countrymen in the most brutal ways imaginable. There has been much talk about bringing socio-economic development to the battle zones on both sides of the border. But how do you implement such projects when these terrorists slaughter any aid worker they find?
So whenever somebody supports the Taliban, just remind him about Aisha, and the schoolgirls blinded in Kandahar.
irfan.husain@gmail.com