The following are some of the articles I have recently had printed in the DAWN Newspaper.

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Do we know our identity?

By Aqab Malik
Tuesday, 21 Apr, 2009 | 12:55 AM PST |

I HAVE been watching the situation develop for quite some time now, and am faced with the reality that the draconian ideology of the Taliban may win a decisive victory in the ‘battle for Pakistan’.

The first time I went to Afghanistan was while conducting research in 1997. It was a time when the Taliban had been in power for not much more than six months. Initially, I was hopeful that Afghanistan’s trauma was starting its final chapter and the whole tragic episode would soon come to an end.

This was also the view of many hopeful Afghans from a multitude of ethno-cultural backgrounds who sought an end to the barbaric civil war that had erupted soon after the Soviet forces left the country in 1989. However, retrospectively, hope was also all-enveloping as the Taliban entered Herat in 1995. As soon as hope appeared it vanished when the Taliban began imposing their draconian dogma on the city’s relatively liberal population. Kabul began to realise that it would not be an exception as it suffered the same fate.

But what does it all mean? Many are quite confused about the whole situation. Some — and they are not few in number — still see the Taliban as a Robin Hood righting the wrongs of the current system — even as they creep closer to the capital. Confusion about the Taliban is further increased by the presence of western forces in Afghanistan, since the differences between the ‘Muslim Taliban’ and the ‘Muslim rest of us’ don’t seem so great when we compare the Taliban to the West. Or do they? What do we really think we are?

Fundamentally, we need to look at where we are and where we would like to go as a community and a nation. In this respect, I have several questions: what do the Taliban offer that is so inviting to the masses; considering they originally emerged as a direct response to the socio-cultural insecurities of the Afghan civil war (1989-1994) what are the root causes of their emergence in the relatively peaceful tribal areas of Pakistan; and, what short-term and long-term decisions need to be made to resolve this crisis.

We need to look at the structural and systemic flaws in Pakistan to get an idea of why the Taliban have become so successful. Pakistan is without a doubt a feudal society that has had a succession of sprouting buds, in the form of institution-building, quashed in their embryonic stage as soon as the emancipation of the country’s masses challenged the status quo.

However, this is not to imply that the Taliban are the solution. Far from it, the Taliban represent the most uncivilised form of governance that has emerged from the limited imaginations of the feudal and industrial elite. Their form of justice may well be quick but it is also brutal and not representative of the general Pakistani mindset. And this is the point I would like to drive home.

Pakistan was created as only one of two nations with religion as the basis of its origins. The other, Israel, is also suffering from its identity as a Jewish state, and has made mistake after mistake, irrespective of the history of its people, in the maintenance of its identity. Israel declares that it is a democracy with secular Jewish values. Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

Whilst Israel is primarily a ‘Jewish’ state, how can it also be a secular state? So too for Pakistan. It was created as an Islamic republic; yet, ever since its creation, it has espoused values that parallel secularism under so-called democratic governments and dictatorships, but it claims to be the defender of Islam.

The only time that this was not the case was when Gen Zia promoted the Sharia to condition society to the ‘jihad’ being fought in Afghanistan whilst advancing his notion of ‘strategic depth’ (vis-à-vis India) at the expense of the long-term stability of Pakistan and the two million Afghans that perished during the Soviet occupation. Nevertheless, Pakistan is a society that has always suffered a contradiction in terms of its identity.

The fundamental question that Pakistanis face is: do we want to be an Islamic or a secular state? The answer to this basic question is very simple, as it is only when we recognise how we would like to live (not just exist) in Pakistan in the future that we can answer it.

There is no confusion in my mind as to how I would like to live. That is, in a peaceful, pluralistic and democratic environment free from the threat of physical and/or mental violence or subjugation. In essence, it would be a society that allows me to express myself and my thoughts freely within socially and consensually accepted limits through a free and unrestricted media and press; to be able to form a political party that may be in direct political opposition to the ruling party, and contest free and fair elections without the threat of intimidation and violence.

It would be one where there would be freedom of association; where my human and civil rights are protected but where I can protest when my rights are being infringed on; where I can live free from discrimination of any sort. Here I would be able to fulfil my potential. In other words, there would truly be the freedom to select a government of the people, for the people and by the people.

Now, this is a tall order. To achieve democracy, civil institutions are required which are not quashed at the slightest inconvenience to the ruling elite. However, to have democratic elections, the government must facilitate education for its populace for it to understand the democratic process and make accurate decisions based on the merit of those being elected to office and not their ties to power brokers.

As such, can we truly say that the elections for the present government were held in a democratic manner? Do we have a leader that was directly elected by the electorate? I do not believe so.

It is the ideological contradiction between what the elite say and do that is divisive. Unless resolved quickly, the Pakistani public may come to view the Taliban as a credible alternative without realising the detrimental long-term impacts of their decisions to the state and their basic freedoms.
Copyright © 2009 - Dawn Media Group

Who is really winning?

By Aqab Malik
Thursday, 23 Apr, 2009 | 02:32 AM PST |

THE political machinations of the ruling elite and power brokers of Pakistan have left a bad taste. This was to be expected after a decade of dictatorship.

Nevertheless, we must see the present government more as a transitional government, one that will no doubt make many more mistakes before the public loses complete faith. It is at this point that the democratic process, if not stultified, makes its presence known by facilitating a process that encourages the population to decide whether or not it wants to change the ruling party through free and fair democratic elections.

In contrast to this seemingly utopian yet readily workable paradigm of political freedom, we have before us a political ideology based upon a particular interpretation of Islam as set forth by the Taliban and their supporters, and originating in the Indian town of Deoband (about 100 miles north of Delhi). This purist interpretation of Islam was a reaction to British colonial rule in India, emphasising a complete rejection of western materialism.

No doubt the present economic system has many failings. It has been a bitter disappointment that world leaders did not take advantage of the present crisis to radically change the global economic system to prevent a future economic collapse. However, economic change at a global level will be an evolutionary process that is multi-generational at the least. So, what do the Taliban propose as an alternative?

In essence, and from my experience of living in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan under the Taliban government, I found their political rejection of the global economic system unworkable. In fact, the Taliban continued to trade in the international market in accordance with market conditions and realities during their rule. Nevertheless, it was their autocratic method of governance that shook world opinion to the core.

The Taliban rejected fundamental human and civil rights, imposed harsh draconian laws and regulations and enforced them with brutality. Half the population of Afghanistan ceased to exist as human beings, whilst the remainder was forced to adhere to their interpretation of a purist version of Islam. The freedom to challenge their ideas was harshly curtailed. In fact, freedom of expression does not even exist as a notion in their ideology; nor do any of the freedoms of a democratic society.

In threatening to declare anyone opposing the imposition of Sharia in Malakand Division as apostates (a label which carries the death penalty), the Taliban have exemplified their complete rejection of the democratic ideal. Now that the Swat deal has been signed by the ruling body of Pakistan, what is to become of the notion of free expression in Malakand? Reports of the imposition of harsh measures are being received continuously.

However, although such issues have paramount importance, what is particularly chilling is that both the NWFP and the federal governments (led by the secular ANP and PPP respectively) so easily gave away a large portion of the country to ideological and political opponents because of their actual use of violence and further threats of violence to intimidate the leaders of this country. I was under the assumption that when you start giving in to threats by extremists and those groups wishing to use terror tactics more threats will inevitably come in to secure further concessions.

The Taliban have consolidated Swat, taken control of Buner and are looking to increasing their stranglehold of the Northern Areas and the NWFP. The Taliban have a holistic, focused and concrete military strategy working in tandem with its operational and tactical one in order to fulfil their overall political objectives, which are defined, decisive, comprehensive and without contradiction.

In contrast, the present government is plagued with political divisiveness, corruption, nepotism and indecisiveness. It does not have a clear policy about what to do with the Taliban.

This is also true when it comes to the insurgency in Afghanistan. On the one hand, the president signs agreements with his counterpart in Afghanistan concerning their mutual obligations in opposing the Taliban and appeals to the world for economic assistance, while on the other, he also shakes the Taliban’s hand in an obvious attempt not to deal with the dire and immediate threat that they pose to the civil liberties and human rights of the citizens of Pakistan.

I’m beginning to believe that the current government has become an overgrown ostrich, and in burying its head in the sand is not willing to recognise the dire ground realities that this country is facing. The Taliban are sure to secure more territory.

The truth of the matter is that, with the exclusion of exceptional officers such as Gen Tariq (who has gone it alone), the military has had its hands tied. I wonder whether there is a deliberate policy to do nothing and debate minor issues, or that there may be another plan afoot. However, after talking to a number of senior officers, I have come to the conclusion that the government does not have a clue as to what to do.

No doubt, what we may define as the Pakistani Taliban, may well be people of the soil. So why not bring them to the table for dialogue? To think of it, this may be their policy. However, I just want to point out a rather small contradiction. When a smaller contesting party lays down demands and threatens to use violence to achieve its goals, the much larger national party (the government) usually concludes the talks (as talks infer discussion and not demands through coercion) and pursues the vast array of other means at its disposal to settle the argument.

What it does not do is bury its head in the sand and give up control of a large piece of territory, which would become a state within a state, without a fight. In other words, give up the rights of the people it says it protects to a group of ragtag insurgents and village mullahs who will openly persecute such citizens of the state. What is it that the people of Swat and its adjoining districts have done to deserve this betrayal, and where was the much-hyped judiciary in this matter as a rather large part of the country was thrown to the lions?
Copyright © 2009 - Dawn Media Group


By Aqab Malik
Monday, 27 Apr, 2009 | 07:27 AM PST |

The fact that Pakistan is a nuclear-armed state does not go unnoticed by the outside world, neither does the situation in Swat, Buner and now Shangla. What is stopping the West from saying that enough is enough? The truth of the matter is that it fears that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal may wholly or partially fall into the hands of insurgents or those that sympathise with them.

The fear is linked to a grand strategy to reduce any opposition to its supremacy in the world. Nevertheless, when looked at from the realist perspective, this is just what states have to do in order to survive. This is true for any state — if we want to see things from this perspective.

With the appointment of President Barack Obama, the realism of the Bush era was thought to have played its final note. The hope was that there would be a period of reconciliation, compromise and bridge-building — an extended hand of friendship as it were. However, parallel to this were some hard realities, considering that a bitter enemy of the US was not only seeking but also facilitating the fragmentation of a nuclear-armed state.

So one questions why no serious effort is being made by politicians and the military to repel the insurgents.
I have no doubt in my mind that the military has many contingency plans to secure the arsenal, but why let matters get to such a dismal point in the first place when an armed force can threaten the future existence of Pakistan, even foreign intervention, to acquire or secure the nuclear arsenal?

Is it that we have become so used to being on the brink of an abyss and in a constant state of crisis that we can no longer function without pushing ourselves to the precipice of extinction before cooler heads prevail?
We have faltered many times with this mindset with several wars prior to nuclearisation. That begs the question: what is really afoot? What do the Taliban really want? What do the politicians really hope to get by waiting until Islamabad falls? Wouldn’t it be too late then?

Pakistan’s main asset that provides the state leverage in the global community is its nuclear arsenal. In this respect, I refer to leverage in terms of deterrence where the threat of foreign invasion, on the part of India or some other party, is concerned. If this leverage is under threat or relinquished, what does Pakistan really have to defend itself from foreign intervention?

Furthermore, we must consider the intention of the Taliban at such a dangerous time. What is it that motivates them to move so far forward that they threaten the strategic stability of Pakistan at a time when it could well provoke outsiders to intervene?

As to this point, one would like to ask whether the Taliban actually want to, indirectly, invite foreign intervention, or foreign forces en masse on Pakistani soil? If this is the case, I can only presume that such a strategy is being pursued so as to induce Pakistani masses to make a choice under circumstances where few acceptable alternatives are perceived in the case of foreign intervention. That is, join us or join them. Join your Muslim brothers or side with the foreign invader who will occupy your lands.

No doubt, at such a crucial time, one could assume that under the threat of foreign invasion or bombing, the population would take the decision to set aside differences (if there are any) with the Taliban and join them against the foreign invader.

However unbelievable and farfetched this scenario may appear to others, it is not without reason. It has taken time for the momentum to evolve, but this is exactly what is happening in Afghanistan, especially amongst the Pakhtuns.
If this country were to come to such a point, I do not believe that the masses would accept a foreign invader, especially since the Taliban have been conducting an active recruitment drive throughout the country and have a credible presence in every city, town and village.
Their ideology focuses on the growing dissatisfaction of the masses. The latter are unhappy with the inept governance that they have endured for the past 60 years and which has done virtually nothing for the vast majority of the citizens of this country. They are undergoing a hand-to-mouth existence with millions destitute. All they have seen is the rich getting richer and lining their pockets, whilst the poor get poorer by the day, especially in these times of economic crises.

It is the loyalty of these masses to their cause that the Taliban are concentrating on. The Taliban have adopted a straightforward approach that has proved successful in recruitment to their ranks. Why this success? Well, because what have those who are recruited have to lose? After all, the Taliban are just like them. They come from their families and live like they do — a basic existence, but with hope for something better. This ‘something better’ has not been provided by the elite to any but themselves; and after all, the Taliban are Muslims who are providing a perceived form of absolute (heavenly) justice that these masses have not been given by the status quo.

What are the solutions then? Well, many politicians keep on saying, ‘It will take a long time to change the system, and ‘we have to win the hearts and minds of the people’, in regurgitated chorus without making any definite or practical effort towards this end.

What they fail to see is that there is an immediate threat that will not wait for years and must be tackled now. There are structural and systemic flaws that have to be tackled and yes, we have to win the hearts and minds of the people. But in order to avoid the chaos that is knocking at the door, we must take urgent steps now, not tomorrow or later.

There is an imminent threat and alarm bells have been set off around the world. Unfortunately, the government appears to be in a state of deep sleep even as a civil war begins to envelop us.
Copyright © 2009 - Dawn Media Group


By Aqab Malik
Wednesday, 06 May, 2009 | 08:33 AM PST |

Many young men and soldiers hailing from diverse societies identify with the concept of dying for honour, the latter term referring to a willingness to die in battle. One of the ways of building up such an idea is through the process of indoctrination — as in the case of those who are recruited for the task of suicide bombings by extremist forces in the country.

There are many theories about the type of people who are inducted into the ranks of the extremists and those sections of society that can be most easily recruited, the disenfranchised, impoverished and destitute among them. What is particularly evident is that the Taliban and Al Qaeda recruit relatively young boys, in cases even girls, sometimes as young as 12 years old from the many madressahs in Pakistan and Afghanistan to do their dirty work for them.
Estimates of the number range from 12,000 to 45,000, but the actual number will not be known until the education ministry completes a comprehensive survey of Pakistan’s madressahs. However, although these are ideologically sound venues for the recruitment of Taliban fighters and suicide bombers, the vast majority of madressahs do not permit such activities. But the potential remains. In fact, the process of indoctrination is common to both militant fighters and suicide bombers. The latter are just taken further in the brainwashing process.
During one doctoral research visit to Afghanistan prior to 9/11, I was able to observe how students were indoctrinated by the Taliban once taken from the various madressahs around Pakistan. In one particularly rudimentary camp (actually a scrap yard of sorts for military vehicles) on the outskirts of Jalalabad, the classes comprised a variety of students of predominantly Pakhtun but also Punjabi, Sindhi and Kashmiri ethnicity.

The process of indoctrination is meant primarily to produce fighters, or Talibs, but as a consequence suicide bombers are also produced. A select few are taken from the ranks because they are particularly susceptible to further brainwashing. I use this term to refer to a higher stage of indoctrination as the whole process is catered towards producing lambs for a sacrificial slaughter.

The indoctrination process at the camp followed an intense curriculum comprising Quranic studies interspersed with motivational talks by senior students and fighters and combined with physical exercise and combat training in assault with live weapons, more religious, including Quranic, teaching, daily duties, and then more Quranic studies, motivational talks and prayers before resting. The content of the motivational talks and religious study focused primarily on anti-material, anti-western and anti-worldly sentiments as well as the injustices inflicted on the Muslim people in the past and present.

Much of this was done through the application of Quranic verses and the teachings of the Prophet (PBUH) pertaining to the paramount reward, the benefits of paradise and the absolute rejection of a worldly life. In addition, there was much focus on the dire consequences (such as a constant stream of molten lead being poured on the head of a citizen of hell) for not submitting to the extremists’ interpretation of Islam and jihad and of being a hypocrite or non-believer. In other words, according to their interpretation, the vast majority of Pakistanis and the rest of the world were damned anyway, so there was nothing wrong in taking out many of them. It was an exhausting process of intense indoctrination with the strategic aim of creating ranks of highly brainwashed students (Talibs) through what is called in-group consolidation.

The ones selected for higher sacrificial duties after this indoctrination had to go through intensified one-on-one fine-tuning to harden the students towards anything perceived as worldly. This was done to the extent of getting the students to reject any link with the world or anybody in it, including their parents, and to thus achieve in them a constant state of an induced trance.
The Taliban’s indoctrination process is without mercy because it is perceived as a strategic asset. In this respect, the intention is not only to inflict physical destruction through an easier route, but to also damage society’s psyche and instil fear in opposing parties exposed to the terror tactics of the extremists. In other words, the message they send out is ‘we are willing to die. Your lives mean nothing and you are insignificant to us.’ This can produce an enormous amount of stress for the targeted community that has no idea how far the militants will go or when the next attack will be or where it will come from. This causes a state of social paralysis brought about through sheer terror and results in the psychological cowering of a community.
Communities subjected to the communal punishments of the Nazis showed these tendencies.Unfortunately, this state of affairs is all too evident in Pakistan, as evidenced by the paralysed reaction of the government that appears to have ceded to the terrorists through the so-called Swat peace deal which was used by the Taliban only as a period of tactical consolidation within Swat and its surrounding areas. The people in Swat have no way to fight back, their families are subjected to intimidation and violence on the part of armed youth suffering from what can only be called a mental disease induced through intense indoctrination and brainwashing.
According to the philosophy of the Taliban and their foreign cohorts, ‘peace’ deals are fundamentally used only to secure short-term objectives for long-term goals. In this respect, the Swat deal is only a means to an end and can be discarded at any time, as indeed it seems to have been. The promises within the deal are written and signed, but are not being pursued on account of the Taliban’s delaying tactics.
There appears to be little doubt that the Taliban’s long-term strategy is to secure the whole of Pakistan, irrespective of what they say while making deals with the government. After all, if they are bereft of a conscience when it comes to killing innocent human beings, why would they care about the deals they make?
Copyright © 2009 - Dawn Media Group

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