By Sonya Rehman and Khaver Siddiqi
Evil has had many faces. During the 20th century alone, we have seen it in many forms. It has been shocking, it has been horrific, but most of the times it has always been close to home.
It was perhaps after the Second World War when the forces of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ realized that war was a profitable commodity, but it had to be re-branded. So the forces of evil were ‘re-branded’ and along came the Cold War, which had Communism as the face of evil. Communism went on to star in many sequels and is still, the star of the Korean peninsula.
But over time Communism began to wane and wilt and so a new ‘evil’ was introduced. Harvested and bred by the forces of good themselves, this ‘evil’ has proven that war is here to stay and the forces of good and evil can continue to profit, no matter the consequences of any inflation. The face of evil for the new generation is the Taliban. Once the gallant heroes of the Soviet-Afghan War, now the enemy of states across the world – the Taliban (much like the Communism of its time) are everywhere.
However, nowhere around the world is it more close than it is in Pakistan. Or is it?
Is the threat of total domination by the Taliban real, or is it concocted and thoroughly sensationalized by media houses both at home and abroad? Is the peril of ‘Talibanization’ within Pakistan a shock and awe strategy being implemented by internal and external forces for the achievement of an ulterior motive?
Up until the year 2000, the Swat valley and the areas surrounded it, were havens for tourists and travellers from around the world. Travellers from Europe, and even the United States, frequently visited these areas – soaking in the scenery and the culture.
Then came 9/11, the ‘War on Terror’ and Osama Bin Laden – and all of that changed. Suddenly, the once precious valley became volatile and off-limits, to foreigners and to the people of the region alike.
And it is dealing with this new-found threat that has become tricky with the Pakistani government.
After first making a deal with the Taliban, the Pakistani government decided to bomb them.
In an article titled ‘Alarmism does not help’ by Aasim Sajjad Akhtar (published in a local daily), the author subscribes to the notion that: “…the jihadis have cultivated significant pockets of support (even while employing outrageous brutality and coercion at the same time) by representing themselves as an alternative to incumbent state and class power, throughout invoking a divine mandate. Trying to bomb them into submission will serve only to make their millenarian mission into a self-fulfilling prophecy and increase their popularity.” This holds rather true. Those that empathize with the Taliban and their ‘cause’ must realize that the Taliban aren’t Robin Hoods. There is no reasoning with them.
Yet, it must be understood, and never forgotten, that the Taliban’s inception and the subsequent spread of militia within Pakistan was the result of the war in Afghanistan against the Soviets in the 70s. And therefore, the United States has had quite a large hand to play in the sculpting of this explosive militia.
In April this year, the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, stated: “We can point fingers at the Pakistanis. I did some yesterday frankly. And it’s merited because we are wondering why they just don’t go out there and deal with these people. But the problems we face now to some extent we have to take responsibility for, having contributed to it. We also have a history of kind of moving in and out of Pakistan. Let’s remember here… the people we are fighting today we funded them twenty years ago… and we did it because we were locked in a struggle with the Soviet Union.”
As long as the Taliban posed no imminent threat to the main cities within the country, the Pakistani government had nonchalantly assumed a backseat. But as the news reports of trigger-happy Taliban started seeping in, along with the mounting pressure from the United States, the Pakistani government snapped into action – resulting in an almost zero-tolerance, ‘wipe out’ policy of the Taliban in the Northern areas of the country.
Not very long ago, spine-chilling rumours regarding the threats given to established educational institutions by the Taliban had started doing the circuit. Apparently, educational institutions such as the well-known, all girls Kinnaird College (KC) in Lahore was under threat by individuals who had stood outside the campus and warned the students to cover up or else acid would be doused on them.
A host of other schools and colleges in Lahore too, were faced with similar threats resulting in the imposition of certain dress codes for women (no jeans, or Western attire could be worn) and both genders had to keep a certain degree of physical proximity from one another.
Overall, it is Lahore and Islamabad that are now facing the brunt of these attacks. Perhaps it is the proximity or perhaps the Taliban are now sending us a signal. That no matter where we are, and no matter who we are, the Taliban can (and will) reach us. Even the local police and rescue services are no longer safe.
In May, the country suffered its third bomb blast in as many months, when the Rescue 15 building (in Lahore) was completely levelled as the result of the blast. Twenty-six people, including an ISI colonel and 15 police officials, were killed and around 400 people injured – when an explosive-laden vehicle rammed into the Rescue 15 building.
For that matter, even those scholars that decry the Taliban movement are not safe either, as in the case of Sarfraz Naeemi who was killed in a recent suicide attack in Lahore. A leading Sunni Muslim scholar opposed to the Taliban, Naeemi was known for his outspoken views against suicide bombings and militancy. Being one of the few scholars who had openly supported the ongoing military operation in Swat, Naeemi had also labelled the activities of the Taliban as “un-Islamic”. He was a vital part of a conference of Islamic scholars, convened by the government in May, which criticised suicide attacks and the beheading of innocent Muslims as un-Islamic, stating that the Taliban were “misusing” religion for their activities and were bringing a bad name to the Islamic faith. His words seem to indicate that the Taliban were being used, rather than acting on their own.
And regarding the staggering number of internally displaced families, currently? It is heart-wrenching.
Abdul Basit, a young Pakistani who happened to visit the IDP camps stated: “I get shivers down my spine every time I step into a camp because of the agony infront of me. From Swabi to Mardan, the story is the same; the IDP’s are afflicted with troubles related to health, sanitation and the scorching heat. While I was there, I heard of an incident where a father and son were trying to cross into Mardan from Malakand during the curfew. They were attacked and the son died on the spot. The father however, managed to cross over. The son was only six – he didn’t deserve this…”
Mobisher Rabbani, another youngster (based in Dubai) who has been heavily involved with collecting aid for the IDP’s, said: “I’m proud of our soldiers who are bravely fighting these terrorist and criminal elements within the country. We should pledge all our resources into helping the IDP’s get back on their feet. Whenever I visit the camps for distribution of relief items, I apologize to the people for coming to their aid so late as they’ve scarified their today, for our tomorrow.”
Our police have been attacked, our rescue services have been attacked, and our very faith has been attacked by the Taliban. Whatever the Taliban may be, a part of them is a part of us. After all, we were a part of the forces that made them who they are now. Technically, we are a parent to their destiny and we have to owe up to that, unlike the other parent – the United States – who conveniently walked out of this ‘family’ only to walk back in; guns blazing.
Only history knows the outcome of this conflict, but the sad part about that is that, history does not write herself, for she is written by the victorious.
In the final analysis, it is the soldiers of war, the preponderance of internally displaced families and the young men (roped in to fight for a ‘cause which isn’t as black and white as it’s made out to be) who are made to endure the repercussions of a ‘war’ gone horribly wrong – that are the truest of all casualties. And whose lives will never be the same again.