Punjabi Taliban

Published March 6, 2011

IT is difficult to say who is guilty of hurting the Punjabi sensibility and compromising Punjab's security more. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has warned Interior Minister Rehman Malik against using the term 'Punjabi Taliban'. The federal minister initially gave the impression that he was ready to take on Mr Sharif over the issue, going so far as to declare he was not a subordinate of the chief minister. But then he capitulated in the manner his party, the PPP, seems to have perfected. Mr Malik has promised Mr Sharif an explanation; however, others may not share the interior minister's compulsion and would be more tempted to raise the critical question of what is so irritating about the term 'Punjabi Taliban' that has made the chief minister livid. His angry response — time and again — to the 'Punjabi' tagging of terrorists betrays a lack of understanding that does not quite suit the head of a provincial government. There is no insinuation that the Taliban enjoy the active support of the entire population of a province. It is only Mr Sharif's interpretation that appears to give that sinister, all-encompassing meaning to a term a set of terrorists — many of whom have received training in Waziristan — have boasted of in recent times.

Rather than taking it as an attack meant to be countered forcefully, the mention of the Punjabi Taliban should lead to a bit of searching of the soul and territory at Mr Sharif's command. There have been far too many allegations for him to continue to ignore the issue. The pamphlet left at the site of Minister Shahbaz Bhatti's murder in Islamabad recently had the Taliban from Punjab claiming responsibility for the dastardly act.

If this is not the right time and the right sign for Punjab to act, there never will be. A lack of action on the part of the provincial government will only add to the impression that it, or some of its members, had a soft corner for terrorists on a killing spree. Their victims include people from all ethnic groups and a number of politicians and political activists belonging mainly to the PPP and the Awami National Party. During his attacks on Mr Malik, the chief minister has once again, and rightly so, pointed out that it was irrelevant as to which ethnic group a terrorist belonged to. He would be doing Punjab, and coincidentally Pakistan, a great service if he could move beyond simply cleaning up the Pathan areas in Lahore in his attempt to pre-empt terror strikes. He must look deeper and must not discriminate.

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