Defining the Taliban – By Muhammad Ali Siddiqi

WHILE President Asif Ali Zardari says we are in a state of war, it is amazing that the government and the media have not yet clearly spelled out how the enemy is to be defined.

Normally, an enemy is an enemy. But every war has, and must have, a well-developed jargon that conveys to the world and to the people the idea of the enemy as perceived by the belligerent power.

We know that in the First World War, Germany was the principal enemy. But the western allies told their people that they were fighting a “war to end all wars”. In the Second World War, Germany and Japan were the main foes, but to prove that they were not waging a war for territorial gains, the western Allies said their aim was to rid the world of fascism.

As for the Cold War that waged with full fury for more than four decades, it spawned a lingo that would remain surpassed for long for its venomous contents, astonishing variety and mind-boggling abundance. The media on both sides played a major part in denouncing the other bloc’s way of life.

Much of it has been forgotten — iron curtain, bamboo curtain, free world, brainwashing, rectification camps, gulags, communist subversion, double-speak, anti-people forces, exploiting classes, comprador capitalism, imperialism, classless society, class struggle, the Party, and much more.

In 2001, following 9/11, America coined a term which the Bush administration saw to it the world accepted — a ‘war on terror’. The shibboleth has caught on.

Today, Pakistan is at war, but who are we fighting and who is the enemy? The answer is the Taliban. But does the word Taliban convey to our people the contempt and revulsion attached to an enemy? For many, the Taliban represent a religious movement, not necessarily hostile to Pakistan and not necessarily an enemy of the people. For some, the Taliban are merely misguided zealots, who can be tamed and won over through dialogue and reason. Many people in this category — and they are a powerful segment of society, state and media — are not prepared to accept the Taliban as the enemy of the state of Pakistan.

The reason behind the government’s inability to evoke the cooperation of the vast majority of the people against the Taliban is its failure on the propaganda front. In fact, the government can hardly be said to be aware of the need for developing an intelligent and well-coordinated strategy for a media blitz on the enemy; on the contrary, it is the Taliban who are waging a very successful propaganda war against the government, advancing their cause insidiously and winning supporters through sections of the media with deep sympathy for them.

One popular channel calls the Taliban mazahmat kaar. This is a newly developed translation for resistance fighters. Mazahmat kaars is a term that can be applied to the Kashmiri guerillas in the Indian-occupied Valley and to the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territory. By no stretch of the imagination can Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Peshawar, D.I. Khan, Charsadda, Mingora and large tracts of Swat be called occupied territory.

In these cities and elsewhere the Taliban have murdered Pakistani soldiers, including a general belonging to the medical corps, have attacked military and civilian installations, mosques, Eid congregations, a peace jirga, at least one funeral procession and crowded markets, and blown up army, navy and air force buses carrying students. Chinese nationals are their favourite targets, because China is Pakistan’s “all-weather friend”. They have also slaughtered captured Pakistani soldiers. To call these criminals and rebels mazahmat kaars is to honour them and betrays a very clever attempt to whitewash their criminality.

The government has not bothered to evolve an appropriate term for the enemy. The state-controlled PTV refers to the Taliban as askaryet pasand — a very awkward translation for ‘militants’, as if we are talking not about a rebellion at home but about the distant Tupamaros in Uruguay.

There is only one and obvious term for the Taliban enemy — rebels in English and baaghi in Urdu. The Taliban have gone beyond terrorism; they are no more, like the Basque separatists in Spain, part-time terrorists. They have an army — a highly motivated one — and their sources of funding are unlimited; procuring arms is not a problem for them, some of their arms come from powers known to be hostile to Pakistan, and the sophistication of their weaponry has surprised our military.

Their intelligence system has been working efficiently, and often they hoodwink the Isaf and Americans on the other side of the Durand Line by disinformation. This has led quite often to wrong targets being bombed, with civilians being the casualties. This earns them sympathy points and the American-Isaf leadership loses.

They believe they are a state within a state, they have set up a parallel judicial system and are bold enough to show their judicial system in action to the media. Pakistan, thus, has to accept the challenge and crush the rebellion. For that it is essential that the Taliban and their supporters are stripped of the halo of respectability and presented to the people of Pakistan in their ugly reality for what they are — rebels. Helping crush these rebels is the duty of all Pakistanis because the Taliban are waging war on the Islamic world’s only nuclear power. (Dawn)