Wednesday 25 February 2009

The Danger of Pakistan's "Hidden Taliban"

M.D. Nalapat

Manipal, India — Attendees at the numerous parties held in Lahore, Islamabad or Karachi would find it difficult to accept that Pakistan is heading toward Talibanization. Alcohol and the attentions of the opposite sex are there in profusion, while the passports of those present would testify to their global footprint.

Unfortunately, the gilded individuals whose aftershave has so charmed legions of otherwise hardnosed U.S. officials – be they spies, military or civilian – have almost no influence over the base of that country's social pyramid.

At the base, two generations of indoctrination have created a perception that what is needed to bring progress, absent all their lives, is the practice of the "pure" version of their faith. Of course this is only possible once the "impure" have been driven from office through terror and intimidation.

This idea was fostered by General Pervez Musharraf in an agreement with the so-called “Pakistan Taliban” – a formulation that ignores the unity of command and operation between those functioning on either side of the Pakistan-Afghan border drawn by British colonial overlords in 1893 and dividing the Pashtun people.

On Nov. 12, 1993, an agreement between the British and the Emir of Afghanistan lapsed, and fears were raised within the Pakistan military that Pashtun nationalists might demand a reexamination of the border. The Pakistan military sought to supplant such nationalism with the same brew of religious fervor that animated its extremist legions against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

Today, even the "Afghan" Taliban are, in effect, controlled by their counterparts within Pakistan. This includes the tens of thousands of so-called "hidden Taliban," those who clandestinely back the militia, but give no outward sign of fealty.

Millions within Pakistan have been indoctrinated – in conventional as well as religious schools – with suspicion and hatred for "the other,” defined as any human being who does not practice the Wahhabist version of the faith that began in the deserts of Arabia three centuries ago.

Products of this extremist logic were given precedence in army recruitments in Pakistan by General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1970s. Since then they have spread within the Pakistan military and now account for nearly 80 percent of the junior ranks and close to 37 percent of the higher ranks.

In Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani they have found a kindred soul, as the new chief comes from the same humble social background as Zia-ul-Haq. This social stratum has been almost completely indoctrinated with a sense of "religious supremacy" – the perception that their faith is superior to that of others, who belong to an inferior universe and deserve to be dominated by the "superior" group.

Despite Kiyani’s background and his demonstrated closeness to the social vision of General Zia, almost every Western analyst has seen him as a "moderate," an individual who could be expected to empathize with victims of Taliban terror bands and join in efforts to destroy them.
In reality, it was Kiyani who was instrumental in getting the more modern Musharraf to agree to a 2006 ceasefire with the "Pakistan Taliban," a step that emboldened the militia into establishing a monopoly of control over large areas in the Swat Valley and tribal areas in Pakistan, the way they already had within southern Afghanistan.

Musharraf's ceasefire was the equivalent of the Franco-British refusal to take countermeasures against Hitler's 1936 occupation of the Rhineland, while the 2009 Kiyani ceasefire can be compared to the 1938 occupation of the Sudetenland by Hitler – whose cruelty and pathology were similar to that found in the present-day Taliban.

Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who reportedly takes pride in being compared to Darth Vader, and his successive defense secretaries have behaved more like benign versions of Mickey Mouse in dealing with the Pakistan army, which has been nourishing the Taliban since 9/11. U.S. policy has been characterized by a myopia similar to that shown in its dealings with Reza Shah of Iran.

The U.S. failure to grasp the reach of the “hidden Taliban” within Pakistan could impact the security of the United States and the entire civilized world, dwarfing the malefic effects of the 1979 takeover of Iran by the Khomeinists.

Relying on a force honeycombed with sympathizers of the Taliban – from the chief of army staff down to the common soldier – to do battle with the deadly force that now covers so much of Pakistan and Afghanistan is to concede defeat in advance.

Pakistan's civil society has been loud in its wails that the pinprick attacks on Taliban targets indulged in by George W. Bush and now by Barack Obama are "alienating the people of Pakistan" from the coalition. In reality, such alienation already exists, and can be reversed only by the defeat of the Taliban in the field. This would involve taking at least the air war into Taliban hideouts within Pakistan, and the destruction of the opium crop in Afghanistan.

The peoples of that region respect the strong and have contempt for the weak. They need to know through defeats in battle that the fanatics that have captured their imagination and their fealty belong to the latter camp.

Unfortunately this was shown to them for only a painfully short length of time in 2001, before the end of November that year, when George W. Bush followed the examples of Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in outsourcing the War on Terror in South Asia to the Pakistan army.

-(Professor M.D. Nalapat is vice-chair of the Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair, and professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. He can be reached at ©Copyright M.D. Nalapat.)

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