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Confronting the Taliban apologists

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Ammar Zafarullah

The time has come for the silent majority to break its silence and speak out loud against the blatant atrocities of the Taliban

“Terrorism is the tactic of demanding the impossible and demanding it at gunpoint” -Christopher Hitchens.

The aforementioned rationale is not shared by many here who are staunch advocates of making peace with the demons. Every now and then a violent act claims several cherished lives. As we mourn the lost ones and seek refuge in the rituals burial, a sense of vulnerability and frustration keeps on mounting and most start losing hope in the political system, in the faith and, more importantly, in civilisation.

It is absolutely deceitful of the apologists and supporters of the Taliban to now suggest that the Taliban should not be given a taste of their own medicine. Why were these torchbearers of people’s rights tight-lipped when innocent men, women and children were being slaughtered, beheaded and flogged? These sympathisers shed no tears when self-righteous zealots torched down thousands of schools for those institutions were a symbol of modernity and free will.

The Taliban apologists continue to claim that the Taliban are not terrible creatures and that we should try to ‘understand’ them and address their ‘demands’. They, however, forget to address the inconvenient truth that we did so in Swat and it backfired. Operation Rah-e-Rast demonstrated that if all the Taliban within Swat are not dealt with with an iron hand, we would be sowing the seeds for their return in even greater numbers.

The tactic of holding peace talks/negotiations have failed on numerous occasions and such strategies only serve as short-term appeasement exercises for the militants. The Laal Masjid saga is a perfect example in this regard. The state did not react persuasively when they illegally occupied a children’s library and then assumed the role of morality police by detaining foreign nationals. This appeasement led to an unavoidable showdown for which many would rightly blame the state.

This war is now not just being fought on our territorial frontiers but has evolved as a ‘psychological battle’, unlike conventional warfare. No state agency is up to fighting this battle. Thus, the responsibility falls upon us – the socially and intellectually responsible citizens of Pakistan – to defend the ideological liberties of our country. The very first step in this regard is to deconstruct every myth and misconception spread by these quarters to effectively counter the propaganda being dinned into us. The standpoint we opt for is clear, logical and firm, with no intention to retrace our steps, for there are likely chances of ‘Taliban-bashers’ being labelled as hawks.

The time has come for the silent majority to break its silence and speak out loud against the blatant atrocities of the Taliban. However, the dilemma of such individuals is that many of them believe that their sentiments against the apologists are not shared by many. The fear of defying the populist mindset is an obstacle in doing so. The Taliban sympathisers capitalise on the silence and the opponents are termed as ‘marginalised elites’ who have no roots in the masses. Nevertheless, the fear of social isolation should not prevent the thinking population from making themselves heard. The writing on the wall is clear: the self-appointed representatives of the public are cancerous to society; while some of them may genuinely be mistaken, others either covertly or openly subscribe to the Taliban ideology or are being used by politically-driven terror outfits, all of which are bad, without exception.

Religion along with the notions of brotherhood is propagated in favour of being lenient with the miscreants. The sympathisers would want us to consider that the Taliban are either doing the right thing or have the right idea about things and they are merely using the wrong means to achieve the ‘holy goals’. Without any doubt, this segment is gradually losing its case, but such elements are nevertheless still in abundance. They have the edge of being public figures with strong credentials, as print journalists or media anchors with the support of like-minded friendly politicians. They have the audacity to cite the Holy Quran to justify the lashing of girls by the Taliban or blame social injustices as reasons to glorify the Taliban as modern-day Robin Hoods.

A similar breed includes the academics who suffer from the ‘Blackwater syndrome’. The presence of agencies such as Blackwater is quite plausible, but their operations here are due to our incapacity to protect foreign missions from the ongoing terror assaults. Moreover, India has always been an easy target; being an archrival it is almost always the natural choice to point an accusing finger at. What is amusing is that these bakers of half-truths often put forth allegations such as, “Zionists and Hindus are working in collaboration with CIA to destabilise Pakistan”. In short, the whole world is conspiring against Pakistan! This mantra has always been over-played to keep the already clueless masses in a perpetual state of denial and to engrave in their minds that it is the state that lies at fault and needs to rethink the strategy to fight this war.

Though the argument of ‘root causes’ is significant, can one devise a precise definition of such causes? The causes are mutually cohesive so they cannot be studied separately. The most commonly listed reasons are poverty, lack of education, social injustices and ineffective governance, to name a few. However, these factors are prevalent in almost every other third world country. The foremost reasons then are perhaps not socio-economic factors but the growing hold of religious extremists and their sympathisers who tactfully exploit such deprivations.

While the perceived ‘root causes’ need to be addressed, they call for a long-term reform agenda. It is imperative that the distorted ideology of hate is mended by spreading the word of rationality, humanity and tranquillity. Disillusionment with the extremists must be incited into a plan of action at this very crucial juncture. Well-executed counter-terrorism strategies that capitalise on the ‘mistakes’ of the terrorists, particularly when they kill innocent civilians, can go a long way in winning the psychological battle against terrorists. These strategies should focus on generating repulsion and changing minds when these extremists attack their own people.

Ammar Zafarullah is a development practitioner, working with a non-profit organisation on issues pertaining to governance and socio-economic reforms. He can be reached at ammar.zaf@gmail.com

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