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Khan and the Taliban

August 09, 2012


IMRAN Khan wants to lead a ‘peace caravan’ to South Waziristan to protest drone strikes, but the TTP is having none of it. Speaking to the Associated Press, a TTP spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan has condemned Khan and his ‘liberal’ politics and declared that if the PTI does try to hold his political rally in South Waziristan, the TTP shura will convene to decide how to respond. While the spokesperson did yesterday reject that he had threatened to kill Imran Khan, the crux of his accusation against the latter and the democratic system stand: the PTI chief is a liberal infidel and the democratic system is un-Islamic. To some, the TTP’s outrageous claims will be a definitive rebuttal of the oft-repeated allegation that Mr Khan is soft on terrorism and that he misrepresents the real reasons for the existence of Islamist violence in Pakistan and the region. After all, how can ‘Taliban Khan’ be a friend of the Taliban if they denounce him in emphatic terms?

But that would be to miss the point. The TTP’s loathing for the way Pakistani state and society is organised is so extreme that even flawed political narratives that are part of mainstream Pakistan are viewed as repugnant and worthy of elimination by the TTP and like-minded militants. The denunciation of the PTI’s political platform by the TTP is first and foremost about the danger that violent radicalism continues to pose in Pakistan — nobody is safe, not even those who take up causes, such as opposing drone strikes, that would seemingly work to the benefit of militants themselves.

There is, however, another, perhaps more subtle, point at work here: the politics of Imran Khan, the religious right and even other mainstream centre-right parties in Pakistan help perpetuate the confusion and uncertainty that prevents the public from truly understanding the threat militancy poses to the state of Pakistan and the fabric of society. When Mr Khan argues that if it weren’t for the ‘foreign occupation’ of Afghanistan, militancy in Pakistan would be a virtually non-existent phenomenon — a historically and factually incorrect theory — it only serves to deepen the societal confusion about Islamist militancy that has been nurtured by the security establishment since the days of the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. The Taliban want to remake Pakistan in their own frightening and grotesque image, as TTP spokesperson Ihsan proudly stated. Until they are defeated and the mindset they represent decisively rolled back in society, Pakistan will be in danger. That, more than anything else, is the message the political class should be sending Pakistanis.