‘Apologia for Taliban 101’

22 Oct 2012


NO sooner had the TTP’s heinous shooting of Malala Yousufzai hit the headlines than right-wing politicians and analysts flooded our TV screens. Before a debate could even begin, they started to spin the event for their politically expedient purposes.

Waving the flags of an Indo-Israeli-American conspiracy, the JI demagogues arrived first. They were quickly followed by an influx of their clean-shaven version, Imran Khan and his PTI, remorselessly decriminalising the dastardly act by blaming its ‘root causes’ on US drone attacks. Many PML-N leaders hardly fared better, condemning the ‘kufr’ but not the ‘kafir’. Some talk-show anchors and analysts sunk to the lowest depths of shamelessness, one going so far as to call Malala a “foot soldier” in the propaganda war against Pakistan.

As the Islamist-dominated monologue around the brutal incident rages on, it is important to see the ‘spin’ for what it is. Here are some of the key ways our Taliban apologists dissimulate, distort and divert:

1. ‘Whoever has committed this act should be punished.’

That’s right. Condemn the attack, but create enough ambiguity about its perpetrators to divert attention from the Taliban’s patent criminality. Better yet, call it ‘jihad’, especially when the ‘good’ Taliban kill people across the border in Afghanistan.

2. ‘Why aren’t the many more women and children killed in drone attacks given the same publicity?’

Whether innocent civilians die in drone attacks or are killed by the Taliban, both scenarios are equally condemnable. But two wrongs do not make a right. And as many people have noted, drone attacks had little to do with what the TTP did to Malala, or to scores of other innocent civilians in Swat. Malala was attacked because she challenged their version of the ‘right’ society where women have no voice and no choice.

3. ‘In fact, it is the government that almost killed Malala because it failed to provide her security.’

That’s true. The government failed. Indeed, the army and its intelligence agencies failed miserably to prevent this and many other terrorist attacks. But how does this vindicate the Taliban?

4. ‘We must talk to the Taliban. Previous peace agreements failed because they were sabotaged.’

Talk to who? Those who shoot teenaged girls in cold blood for spreading ‘secularism’, those who prize human heads as ‘kill’ trophies, those who consider democracy as heresy? Imran Khan and his ilk would do well to realise that the Taliban are not here to coexist, they are here to win. And remember the deal in Swat, or the several ‘peace agreements’ in Fata, the Taliban subverted virtually all of them.

5. ‘This is nothing unusual in a society that kills women for marrying by choice.’

This is truly offensive to the victims and survivors of terrorism. But let’s suppose for argument’s sake, it is true. Then, why did we not see similar barbarism — the lethal targeting of young girls and the destruction of schools — between 1947 and the 2000s. 6. ‘These people can’t be Muslims.’

Who is to determine who is and is not a Muslim? The Taliban think they are on the righteous path. They quote from the Quran and Sunnah to justify their crimes against humanity, so do their equally cunning apologists. What difference does it make to those maimed and killed in terrorist attacks whether these people kill in the name of religion or not? Murder is murder. Period.

7. ‘We don’t know whether those who are claiming to be the TTP are actually the TTP.’

This is a particular favourite of the JI. The Taliban brag about their kills, and make videos of their savage exploits. Yet their apologists in the religious right cast doubts on the ‘authenticity’ of these claims. Neither have any shame.

8. ‘The Indians, the Jews and the Americans finance the TTP.’

And the evidence is … zero. Amongst others, the PML-N’s Lt Gen Abdul Qayyum (retd) claimed on a TV show that ‘these’ people use Indian guns, Israeli bullets and so on. Very convenient, indeed. Accepting that the spreading cancer of terrorism is a Pakistani problem would of course turn the focus on the military establishment (and its right-wing allies) for using militancy as a tool of ‘statecraft’. Here is the problem: if these ‘enemies of Islam’ are so smart as to give the military atomic wedgies every second day, the generals should hang up their hats and go home.

9. ‘When America leaves the region, terrorism will decline.’

This is Imran Khan’s favourite mantra, which is as disingenuous as it is historically wrong. It is no secret that the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM), the militant organisation previously led by Sufi Mohammad, and since 2002, by his son-in-law, Mullah Fazlullah, was up in arms against the Pakistani state seven years before 9/11. There was no America in the region then.

10. ‘We must understand the disease, not just fix the symptoms.’

This one really takes the cake. Basically, it is akin to saying that doctors should let their patients suffer, even suffocate or bleed to death, until they can come up with a proper diagnosis. The disease, of course, circles back to the American occupation of Afghanistan. However, none of these mard-i-mujahids can tell us how the US exit from the region will prevent Taliban attacks on schools in Swat.

Here is a question for all those who think or would like us to think that Malala’s activism or the attack on her and her schoolmates was a foreign conspiracy, or that it must be understood only in a ‘broader’ context: what if Malala was your daughter? Would you still be talking about ‘root causes’? Would you still think this is not our war? Would you still be differentiating between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ Taliban? I doubt it.

The writer is a research fellow, Society of Fellows, Harvard University.