Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Confronting Popular Narrative about the Taliban in Pakistan— I


Confronting Popular Narrative  about the Taliban in Pakistan— I

Last week, one got the opportunity to be on a television talk show with General Hamid Gul and Oria Maqbool Jan, a civil servant turned hawkish columnist for Urdu language newspapers, on the panel. Both have a long, indomitable record of being Taliban apologists and proponents of the infamous 'strategic depth' policy in Afghanistan. A lopsided panel it was, no doubt, but the host still insists on being 'neutral'. Well!

What came up during the discussion was not something new, for one is quite familiar with the arguments usually thrown up by the likes of Mr Jan and General Gul. But how the 'educated' middle-class reacted to the counter arguments against those by the two gentlemen was quite astonishing.

One would expect a violent backlash from our misguided youth after you loudly challenge the relevance of the Two Nation Theory or maybe stand up for the rights of religious minorities and oppressed social classes. But when even the advocacy of a rational approach in reviewing foreign policy becomes a threat to the 'existence' of Pakistan and amounts to 'treason', based on which you call for 'public hanging' of the challenger, hope is almost lost.

We have a brand of liberal and progressive 'analysts' who will join us for the equal rights for religious minorities, women's empowerment, no persecution of Ahmedi Muslims, etc, but the same coterie will go the extra mile to justify the Taliban and how important it was/is to keep our link alive with the Haqqanis.

One would not want to blame the Hamid Guls and Orya Jans who have been clearly putting forward their dream, which is Islamic glory and defeating the imperial US, Hindu India and the infidel West by a glorious Islamic rule first in Afghanistan through the Taliban, and then in Pakistan through — well let us figure it out — whom?

I am worried about the 'saner' sections of the intelligentsia that enjoys the freedom promised by western civilization and believes in a progressive world, but still prescribes to a medieval solution to conquer the region.

A queasy fetish of 'supremacy' inherited from a delusional united-Indian Muslim has engulfed Pakistan's educated classes; while the system at home runs on money borrowed/begged from the West, society continues to suffer from unfathomable oblivion leading to sick denial and the people bear the brunt in the form of collapsed state writ to provide for basic needs and ensure rule of law.

What General Gul claimed in the said programme is a very simple narrative that is now the popular understanding, thanks to a hypocritical and venal media, which is an accomplice in the radicalization of Pakistani society and gives uncompromising coverage to these thickheads only to misguide a people with slightly less than zero percent literacy rate when it comes to history, international politics and Pakistan's own role in violent South Asia for decades.

The storyline on Pakistan's streets is as follows:
The Taliban's was a peaceful reign. The US made these jihadis during the Afghan jihad and then they got together under the banner of the Taliban. The US stopped supporting the mujahideen after the Soviet withdrawal lest Islam gain power in the region. 9/11 was an inside job to be used as a pretext to enter Afghanistan and then Pakistan.

The US attacked a sovereign Afghanistan in 2001 and the Taliban came forward to defend their homeland. They are thus freedom fighters, not terrorists. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is against Pakistan and is funded by India.

More than 70 percent of Afghanistan is being controlled by the Taliban right now. The Karzai government is just an American puppet and does not represent the Afghan people. Afghans love the Taliban and want them in power.

It is the indisputable right of the Taliban to rule Afghanistan. India is fuelling the 'insurgency' in Balochistan through its massive presence in Afghanistan via "hundreds of Indian consulates" along the Durand Line.

Pakistan will get a huge advantage against India if the Taliban come to power. The Pakistani Taliban are just our brats who should be spoken to in order to remove their 'grievances' and to mainstream them into Pakistan's society and state. Terrorist attacks started happening in Pakistan after we announced our support for the global war on terror.

One would need several columns to deal with every single myth listed above, some of which are so insulting to average human intelligence that one cannot even laugh at them. If the Pakistani Taliban is the handiwork of our all time villain, Hindu India, how can the same Indian agents be our bigray huway bachay (spoilt children)? If some of our brats have been conspiring to implode our country in connivance with our supposed enemy, how and why should we negotiate with them in order to mainstream them into Pakistani society?

It might be useful to recall here that the Taliban's was not an internationally accepted sovereign government. Recognized only by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, Kabul did not have any embassy during that gory regime save Pakistan's.

Why I call that regime gory is verifiable from the news files of that period. When hundreds of Shias were killed, women were violently subjugated, girl children were denied education and basic health services in case a female doctor was unavailable, anyone who did not accept the authority of the Taliban was brutally killed and non-Pakhtuns and 'rebellious' Pakhtuns were butchered, calling such a period as the 'most peaceful' one amounts to a shameless partisanship with the killers.

This unrecognized government by a group of barbarians who came to power through the gun (provided by us and not by the US) and not the vote, had zero credibility in the first place. They were loathed internationally for their opposition to and violence towards even aid groups working for humanitarian causes.

They hosted militant sectarian organizations that killed the Pakistani people just for saying or not saying their prayers in a certain way. There were training camps of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other militant outfits that were involved in the killing of urban Pakistanis — ironically, the same class that is today supporting the Taliban as 'freedom fighters'.

They were hosting bin Laden, the most wanted terrorist who was being claimed by the US and Saudi Arabia as well. It was not very long before 9/11 that then Prince Abdullah visited Pakistan (and later Kabul as well) for negotiations with the Taliban, with the Pakistani authorities a part of the process, to hand over bin Laden.

This was before 9/11.This rogue Taliban government not only committed crimes against humanity and stubbornly overturned the world's repeated requests to not harbor terrorists (belonging to al Qaeda and Pakistani sectarian outfits), it also started antagonizing Pakistan.

Press conferences by Mullah Zaeef, Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, are on record where he accuses Pakistan of not only interfering in Afghanistan's internal matters but also levels allegations of Pakistan eating up donor money that came to Pakistan in the name of Afghan refugees. Mullah Zaeef's book shows the Taliban's hatred for Pakistan where he calls Pakistan a hypocrite state that plays double games with everyone.

Pakistan's strategic culture follows a bizarrely predictable course: develop a hypothetical security situation, make an internationally unpopular policy decision responding to it but officially say things opposite to it, start mythmaking at public level to generate a popular demand for the decision you have already made, tell the world it is not your fault, it is the stupidity of the people who want that decision. Pakistan's strategic elite has been following the same course in building popular sympathy, if not support, in order to legitimize the Taliban in the name of our 'strategic interest' in Afghanistan.

This mythmaking factory has been working overtime for many years now. The impact can be seen in unquestioned mythical assertions and popular belief that the 'good Taliban' and 'bad Taliban' are mutually exclusive and Pakistan's long-term interest rests in helping or at least not offending the former. In this process, little has been realized that this brutal murder of historical facts and simple reason would only result in spilling over chaos into Pakistan itself.

When in the war of narratives, Pakistani right wing media habitually asserts that it was the US that made these jihadis in the first place, and then stopped supporting them once the Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan, there is no one to challenge the underlying mendacity.

When they say that Islam had better chances to spread under the Taliban and that is why the US disengaged itself for its sheer hatred of Islam, there is no one to confront it. This potpourri of brazen falsehoods keeps growing and influencing public opinion (another fictional term used frequently to legitimize an untruth) in the absence of a counter-narrative that sets the record straight. In order to do that, someone needs to remind them what happened during and after the Afghan 'jihad' to bring the windmill of trickeries and fabrications to a halt.

One needs to remind Pakistan's strategic elite, who keep fuelling public emotion against everybody antagonistic to the Taliban, that just because the US stopped disbursing money using the ISI tarmac does not mean Afghanistan was left alone. If memory serves, Saudi Arabia, the US, Russia, Iran and India kept pouring money into the Afghan civil war and Pakistan continued brokering Saudi and American support alongside providing the mainly Pakhtun warlords with logistic support.

If Saudi and American money is put together, the Muj (affectionate name given to the mujahedeen by the Americans) got half a billion dollars in the second year of the civil war, which is exclusive of Russian, Indian and Iranian money flowing to the 'renegade' non-Pakhtun Muj factions.

Historians must record how this kaleidoscope of international interests turned Afghanistan into a permanent theatre of war and bloodshed. Just when the Americans were celebrating the capture of Khost by CIA's favorite and ISI's beloved, Jalaluddin Haqqani, as their victory against pro-Soviet Dr Najibullah, no one realized how Pakistan had defeated all the competing states in Afghanistan.

When Charlie Wilson was raising the slogans of Allah-o-Akbar (God is Great) with his Muj boys in Kabul after the withdrawal of the Red Army in the wake of the Geneva Accord only to be filmed by Peter Henning, little did the Americans realize that all they have been trapped in to contribute all through the jihad years was percolating the latent ambition of global political Islam.

None at the seventh floor of a Langley building ever realized that 30,000 non-Afghan, non-Pakistani men from around the Muslim world and thousands of Pakistanis that General Hamid Gul proudly boasted to have trained would redirect CIA's Afghanistan program towards hitting the World Trade Centre.

Despite Charlie's Allah-o-Akbar, the ISI's Afghan wing had never had any love lost with the CIA or the Yankees in general. During the jihad years, the Afghan wing continued to keep the Americans from direct contact with the Muj.

The hatred of an 'exploitative' and 'anti-Islam' Christian America — ironically — permeated silently and smoothly from the trainers to the young students from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan throughout the network of seminaries and training schools in Pakistan's northwest. Langley got a shock when tamed kids like Gulbuddin and Sayyaf stood against the US as soon as the Gulf War started.

The CIA, in close collaboration with the Saudis, was still running the Afghan program and had $ 400 million sanctioned in 1992 while hiding a secret appropriation in a $ 298 billion defense bill the same year with $ 200 million earmarked for Afghanistan, records George Crile. And that is just a year before the first attack on the World Trade Centre.

The meshwork of regional and American vested interest went all wrong when the dormant pan-Islamist ambition simmered into a full-blown war against the US. Once the 'goodness personified' — Jalaluddin Haqqani in partnership with other ISI-supported Muj kept on capturing one after the other point in Afghanistan, it was, to oversimplify it, an ISI proxy winning the war through American weapons and Saudi money over the boys carrying Soviet, Iranian and Indian money.

Victory made the ISI infamous, not the ideology, for none of the providers of that war had any moral ground to play with Afghan blood. The ultimate loser was neither the US nor any other contributor. The sole loser was none other than a Pakistani who had lost any value of her/his life in the eyes of each and every stakeholder as well as its own security establishment.

When over a hundred people of Islamabad died in the Ojhri 'accident' at the tail end of the jihad, Pakistan's president called his ambassador in Washington to get the Americans to replace every single weapon wasted during the Ojhri camp incident.

Callousness has run so deep among the Pakistanis that they have heightened their threshold to tolerate loss of life to the level of insensitivity. The figure of 3,000 dead bodies for the Americans is worth fighting a trillion dollars war for over a decade while a figure of 160 dead bodies is enough for the Indians to want to jeopardize 'peace' with Pakistan — if there is any.

But as high a figure as 35,000 Pakistani lives lost is not big enough to raise a single eyebrow. Not even our own security elite who only use this figure to get more concessions from the world and regional powers to play its games.

Someone needs to tell the mythmakers that their argument that the Afghan jihad was necessary to save Pakistan from a pre-emptive attack by a 'godless' Soviet Union is rubbish. During one of my Twitter scuffles in 2010 with Ijazul Haq, son of General Ziaul Haq — infamous dictator and Pakistan's man behind the Afghan jihad — he told me that had Pakistan not decided to be a part of the Afghan jihad, my name would have been Marvi Sirmedov — implying that the Soviets would have converted Pakistanis to atheism. No one is there to remind them of the real reason behind supporting and training the Taliban even after the fall of the Soviet Union when there was no threat of atheism to spread to the land of the pure.

When the Americans were going to bed with a dream of being the sole superpower, the Saudis were dreaming of heading global Wahabi imperialism, Iran and India were focusing on more of existential concerns of survival among hostile actors, Afghan warlords imagining Kabul — their homeland — to be under their own control, and trainers and students in FATA were fascinated with a global caliphate of Islam, while laying down the lives of thousands of Pakistanis and Afghans. Now go figure, who wins.

The writer is a rights campaigner and student of International Relations based in Islamabad. She can be reached at marvisirmed@me.com She tweets at @marvisirmed

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