Letting go of illusions —by Gulmina Bilal Ahmad

There is a need to differentiate between the Taliban and its allies as an organisation and the Taliban mindset. The Taliban mindset one can and should negotiate, question, argue and counter-argue with. It is as important to counter this mindset as it is the militant organisation. For the mindset yields cannon fodder for the militant organisations

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Information Minister, Mian Iftikhar, has offered the ultimate sacrifice in the war for freedom. His only son and four other family members were killed by the Taliban this year. Devastated by this loss, it is pertinent to mention that he was back at work within 10 days of this tragedy. This week, he made an offer to the militants that should be appreciated for the spirit it was made in but, perhaps, revisited for its content. In a political talk show in the electronic media, Mian Iftikhar declared that if the Taliban were to lay down arms, he would be willing to forgive the blood of his son and four other family members. For any father, even the thought of foregoing revenge and then publicly stating it must have required formidable courage. This needs to be appreciated but such courage and fortitude needs to be clubbed with some retrospective wisdom.

The Taliban will not lay down arms. This is a stark lesson that recent history and our present have taught us. Mullah Omar has time and again stated, “You have the watch and we have the time.” The core group of the Taliban and al Qaeda, as well as their marriages of convenience with groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Jaish-e-Muhammad and even radical groups like the Hizbul Tahrir, has always consolidated its power. They alternate between taking the lead at various times. Thus, one might find LeJ taking the lead in some areas but laying low when the trail becomes hot.

History has also shown that even when the militants have entered into negotiations and agreements, they have violated them. Zahid Hussain, in his recently launched book, The Scorpion’s Tail, reminds us of this fact. He warns against the “perils of appeasement” of the militant groups and how we have always suffered as a result of banking on them to hold up their end of the bargain.

For instance, in an agreement signed between the government and Baitullah Mehsud, the latter was given $ 540,000, which was “the money the militants said they owed to al Qaeda”. Soon after this, Mehsud violated the peace agreement. In the Shakai Agreement between the government and Nek Muhammad, the then militant commander, in addition to freeing militants, “war damages as compensation to the tribesmen” were also paid. In 2006, the Waziristan Accord was signed between the government, represented by the tribal governor of Orakzai and Abdul Khaliq who was leading the militants in North Waziristan. Through this agreement, again the security personnel were withdrawn from checkpoints, militants were released by the government and again compensation was paid to the tribesmen for those who were killed during the fight against the government.

What are the implications of these agreements? The implications are what we continue to reap today. While our security personnel unquestionably need to be trained in counter-insurgency methods, the fact that we bring the militants to the point that they agree to come to the negotiation table if the security personnel are withdrawn from the posts, indicates that the former have some impact on militant activities. Otherwise, why would they even consider the option of negotiation? If the security personnel were so futile and ineffective, as their critics would have us believe, why would the militants demand that they be withdrawn? However, just as we make them uncomfortable and get them on the run, we start negotiating with them, thus giving them breathing time. To make matters worse, we even ‘compensate’ them through war damages. What is this compensation for? For damages incurred challenging the writ of the state through militant means? However, time and time again, we have done so and unfortunately even today are flirting with such dangerous and futile ideas. In fact, Mian Iftkhtar, while talking about the volatile Karachi situation, even went so far as to say, “If we can negotiate with the Taliban, can we not negotiate with the MQM?” The MQM, for all its faults, has a political face. The Taliban are militants who have repeatedly declared that “fighting against the Pakistani security agencies is jihad and those killed in the battle against Pakistani forces are martyrs”.

This is not to say that one is against all forms of political negotiation. However, there is a need to differentiate between the Taliban and its allies as an organisation and the Taliban mindset. The Taliban mindset one can and should negotiate, question, argue and counter-argue with. It is as important to counter this mindset as it is the militant organisation. For the mindset yields cannon fodder for the militant organisations. It is the Taliban mindset that has unfortunately succeeded in declaring this as a war on Islam and has urged young minds to “fight the infidels”. It is the success of this mindset that has successfully framed the narrative in a way that the streets are inundated with protests against the killing of militants, drone attacks, etc. This mindset, propagated through jihadi media and jihadi philanthropy, as evidenced in the flood relief activities by banned organisations like the Falah-e-Insaniyat, etc, needs to be countered. A more sophisticated and organised effort of propagating this mindset through rallies, media, discussion papers and most dangerously youth work in our colleges and universities is being done by the Hizbul Tahrir that needs to be countered effectively by the liberal elements. The tragedy is that the liberal elements in this country are either not in the country or are too scared or disorganised to counter the Taliban mindset effectively. An article in some odd paper does not suffice nor does an obscure seminar somewhere in the country. The communication, propaganda, indeed the brainwashing by the jihadi organisations is a textbook study in its effectiveness. A befitting response by the liberal elements is missing. The result is a young citizenry that is ill-educated on Islam, their history and the present growing up in mental ghettos of conservatism.

As the Minister of Information, Mian Iftikhar would do well to focus his energies on countering the misinformation churned out by the jihadi media and organisations rather than expecting anyone to lay down arms. The longer we hold on to such illusions, the longer we will suffer.

Source: Daily Times



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