How then can the Taliban be defeated? by Zafar Hilaly

Taking on the Taliban

Taking on the Taliban
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Zafar Hilaly

The first battle of a war is psychologically an important one. Pakistan has lost not only the first battle, that for the control of Waziristan, but also the second, for Swat. Agreements cobbled together following both battles have attempted to mask what is a patent fact: the defeat of the army at the hands of the Taliban and the passing of these areas and their inhabitants into the Taliban fold. Further setbacks are likely unless the instruments of war are forged again and a leadership emerges that has the wisdom and will to confront the challenge.

But all is not lost. As they move further east, the Taliban will meet greater resistance from the populace, especially in the cities, where they are loathed. The Wahhabi brand of Islam that the Taliban espouse has never managed to gain traction beyond the deserts of Saudi Arabia, not even among the Arab Diaspora. Had Zia-ul-Haq not embraced it Pakistan too would have been spared. In the 30-or-so million Shias of Pakistan the Taliban face a determined enemy, as they do in Punjab and Sindh and beyond where Sufi Islam predominates. Hence, the danger that the murderous and fanatical cadres of the Taliban pose is less to the creed of the masses and more to the political and economic stability of the country and the institutions of the state.

Had the Taliban been willing to participate in the political life of the country by holding public meetings and jalsas, instead of having recourse to Qurbani Chowks to convey their bloody message or to project their agenda through the media, some sort of compromise might have been possible. (Although that too is doubtful, considering that even the moderates of their ilk, like Sufi Mohammed, believe that democracy is a pernicious Western import and balloting to choose leaders un-Islamic.) Instead, the Taliban are emphatic, as their actions over the course of six years proved in Afghanistan that only their concepts of governance, law, religion, justice and politics will prevail. Happily, their determination to inflict their credo on the country is no fiercer than that of the majority of Pakistanis to resist as the Swatis proved by their brave resistance before they were sold out by the ANP, whose leader remains in hiding in Islamabad. Fortunately, the Taliban by their actions have left few people in any doubt that Pakistan will not be rid of the presence of foreign forces, be able to attract foreign investment, become a hub for regional trade, avoid isolation, ridicule and contempt, and develop, unless they are repulsed. And, likewise, their terrorist ghettos recaptured and cleansed.

The Taliban wage war much as they guard their peace through acts of terror, rape, executions and murder like some other insurgencies such as the ongoing one in Somalia and that of the erstwhile Mau Mau in Kenya. They seek to engender hate and fear amongst the populace so that the government appears helpless, unable to afford protection to the citizenry and hence undeserving of loyalty or support. Specifically targeted are those essential to the functioning of an organised political society such as the police, teachers, health workers, district officials. Having driven away or killed them they create an alternative administration to which the hapless population turn for their needs. The insurgency meanwhile continues until a weak government capitulates or sues for peace which is what happened in Swat and FATA.

How then can the Taliban be defeated?

There is no prescription for certain success. Genocide or the relocation of the entire population, a tactic used by Stalin against the Chechens eight decades ago is unthinkable, for obvious reasons. The “nation building” advocated by counterinsurgency experts is a panacea presently in vogue, but given Pakistan’s dismal record of nation building in peaceful areas, to say nothing of war zones, it is a tall order. “Killing every insurgent” is also not the answer because it is normally accompanied by the excessive use of force resulting in collateral damage which generates resentment, gives rise to cries for revenge and acts as a recruiting spur for fresh Taliban inductees. What the Americans term as “legitimation”–i.e., the creation of an authority comprising persons acceptable to both sides–is a more promising idea. As the Taliban refuse to recognise any authority but their own as legitimate and regard Pakistanis as foreigners, it is a non-starter. What therefore remains is to confront the Taliban politically and militarily, and to do so with gusto, imagination and skill, in other words, to fight fiercely when necessary and negotiate purposefully when so required in the hope that eventually reason and reality will win out.

Pakistan is doing neither at present. The fighting effort thus far has at best been half-hearted; and capitulation aptly depicts the current negotiation strategy. Sentiments such as “we cannot fight our own people” are excuses and explanations rather than reasons for the lack of determination in prosecuting the war. And irresolution is responsible for the haste to sue for peace. Surrender of the Swat type will no doubt bring peace. History shows that defeat and surrender do indeed usher in peace but that of the victor not the vanquished, which Pakistan cannot afford. We would do well to remember that when the Taliban conquered Afghanistan in 1996 we too celebrated the peace that ensued. But, as Afghans will confirm, the peace that the Taliban brought was that of the grave. And it is to the grave that our dreams of a progressive, tolerant Pakistan now seem consigned with each Taliban success. The government still has the time to prove its mettle; but if it fails to do so it is more than likely that the populace will take matters into their own hands to ward off the Taliban scourge. There are signs that this dreadful prospect is already happening in at least one of our major cities. The resulting civil war could be catastrophic for Pakistan’s well being. (The News)

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:


Scot-free in Swat?

Scot-free in Swat?
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Sufi Muhammad Khan has announced a ten-point peace plan for Swat, under which militants would not display arms, troops would withdraw from some key positions and schools would re-open. We have been told repeatedly that the truce and the agreement on the imposition of Sharia law mark big steps forward. But the whole issue leaves open questions that demand answers. There is nothing in the peace plan about punishment for those who committed all kinds of atrocities for months in Swat. Nor is there any mention of amnesty.

The extent of the depravity of these people is almost unparalleled. Dead bodies were dug out from graves and hung in public; women accused of being prostitutes were made to dance in streets before being killed; anyone who challenged the militants, including the elderly, was ridiculed, beaten and in some cases driven out of the valley.

Is there to be no accountability in Swat? Will those who carried out these atrocities walk away scot-free? Will the rapists of women walk gaily past their families in the streets of Mingora? Will the murderers of young men scoff at the parents of victims? The message such a situation would send out could have grave repercussions. These must be considered by the authorities. Do they really wish to give confidence to criminals that they have impunity for all kinds of horrible offences?

We have been told these people demanded Sharia. Many accounts are emerging to suggest nothing could be further from the truth. After all, just over a year ago, in the election of 2008, the people of Swat had voted out religious parties in favour of the ANP. They would hardly have done so had they wished for Sharia rule. Like their counterparts everywhere in the country, the people of Swat seek order in their lives and a just, efficient judicial system. This continues to be denied to them. Those who should be punished for the most grotesque acts of inhumanity have instead reaped rewards under the peace deal. They have made it clear they intend to stay in command in Swat, dictating terms under which girls can attend school. The omens are not good. The purpose of punishment, under the law, is of course to deter further crime. This deterrence has not been put in place in Swat and in the future we can expect the adverse consequences of this to be felt across a valley stained with unwashed blood. (The News, Editorial)

Malakand agreement: necessary but insufficient

….. there are three objectives the government will seek to achieve to actually demonstrate that the Malakand peace agreement has actually ‘delivered.’ One to not allow the TTP-Swat to implement its own interpretation of Shariah, within and beyond the public space in Swat. Two, the government should debilitate organizationally and resource-wise, through establishment of check-posts, terror and public trials etc of organized and armed militias in Swat and beyond. Three, to prevent the TTP from functioning as a deadly and armed militia which pursues the objective of forcing its own version of Shariah through terror.

The only viable effort to re-establish the writ of the state requires that the government does not compromise on these three objectives. The Malakand agreement is proving to be a first positive step, but clearly an insufficient one. (Nasim Zehra, The News)