Imagining the Taliban
by Farzana Versey
The News International, April 30, 2009
If you do not look at the candidates, the manifestoes and the daily dose of quotes, then you might begin to think that India is voting in the Pakistani elections. Sorry if this sounds insensitive, but the Taliban crisis is what has made the marketing guys tout these as the most important elections in India.
Of the times I have visited Islamabad, I had never heard of Buner. These days, Indian news channel anchors talk about Buner as though it were something in their exclusive backyards. Is this fear psychosis, the ragged remains of the Mumbai attacks which are raked up by every group with chiffon saree and pearls and cotton-silk kurtas and striped ties? These are women and men who are rolling the word 'Bun-air' blithely and lithely off their tongues.
Isn't that why if we cut through the swathe of national issues, then the real vote is against terrorism? The only terrorism we seem to recognise comes from across the border. The more serious media show us scruffy-looking men, heavily armed and bearded, crossing hills. Their destination, we are told, is India and they are supposedly the Taliban. When they realise this sounds ridiculous, they change it to jihadis. The subtle difference having raised the bar of their consciousness, they become eligible to be considered with more gravitas.
It is shocking to hear intelligent commentators hallucinate that if the Taliban were to reach Karachi, they could threaten us. We now even have a reason: some of the 26/11 terrorists did use the sea route. But are they interested in India? The Taliban, or at least Pashtun elements, have always been an important source of anxiety and anger among the Karachiites. They have business dealings there and this would be a part of their spreading the message and taking over Pakistan agenda, if it is that. India does not matter to them politically or even strategically.
I am, therefore, surprised that a retired colonel joined the bandwagon and sought to write an open letter to General Pervez Kayani stating: "Sir, it is imperative that we recognise our enemy without any delay. I use the word 'our' advisedly – for the Taliban threat is not far from India's borders. And the only force that can stop them from dragging Pakistan back into the Stone Age is the force that you command… the future of humankind in the subcontinent rests with you." This is utterly debasing not only to Pakistani civil society but also to the Indian electorate that is being brainwashed with such damaging information and homilies. Interestingly, the onus is being placed on the army, an army that was sought to be thrown out in democratic elections.
While the army in Pakistan has had running tenures for long periods of time, it is in fact often a puppet in the hands of the democrats. After all, it was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who asked Yahya to arrest Mujibur Rehman. He then took over as leader and promptly released Mujib and arrested Yahya! The only common fallout was that India has had to deal with Bangladeshi immigrants and Pakistan with the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet incursion.
Pakistan, and not merely the extreme north, has had to deal with bomb blasts; these were not engineered by the Taliban. There are regional and linguistic issues. How serious can a discourse be if it chooses to use an American newspaper's puff prophecy? The CIA had branded Pervez Musharraf as among the ten worst dictators. None of these certificates or crystal ball gazers bothers to provide even broad definitions of what they mean by 'dictator' and, more importantly, 'collapse'.
The economy has collapsed, starting with the west. Did they anticipate it? Elected governments collapse when they are voted out of power. There is a collapse when Israel puts a blockade around Gaza and denies its people basic facilities. Essential services collapse when there are strikes by trade unions – legitimate dissenters. How many more examples of collapse should be provided to explain in perspective that New York Times cannot be taken at face value?
Pakistan, the Taliban and jihad are catch-phrases that might work, especially during election time, but it is rather tragic that so soon after the Assam blasts and the Naxalites going on a killing spree, we have moved on to the Taliban. There is something called ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) that has been in existence for years and they in fact are working on a separatist notion that there is some feeble stipulation for and the Naxal Maoist forces constitute the extreme wing of the left, a big party in the electoral process.
One is waiting for an open letter to our army chief regarding the 100 terrorists who have reportedly 'sneaked into Jammu and Kashmir' (one had no idea they would seek permission!). The only thing in our favour is that we are still a democracy with no constitutional provision for a theocracy. Maybe, the good colonel would like to convey that to those propagating dreams of a Hindu Rashtra.