Inviting Taliban to Cricket, Tea and Scones

Pakistan’s current leadership is, perhaps, unaware that when it shows camaraderie and weakness towards dealing with militants, it is sleepwalking the country into a dangerous ideological and political metamorphosis that could tear it apart. This is not a false alarm. It is getting clearer by the day that the Taliban, with the support of radical mullahs, a few naive politicians and a ratings-addicted media are successfully manipulating the state’s ideological and territorial contours. If the government continues to pander to them, it will alter the very nature of the state and undermine the genesis of its creation.
It is not merely a choice between the government opting for negotiations versus a military operation. It is much more. Maulana Aziz of Lal Masjid fame and his Taliban mentors consider the Constitution inadequate. Democracy, for them, is a Western concept and Pakistani laws are Anglo-Saxon laws and un-Islamic. Democracy is too liberal a concept for them. They want the replacement of Pakistan’s constitutional structure, (if necessary by force) with Sharia. Their ideological mentor is Mullah Omar and they draw inspiration from the Afghan Taliban and would like to replicate their model in Pakistan. While no one can claim monopoly over religion, when it comes to the Taliban, you have to fall in line with their interpretation of religion, or else! Declaring democracy to be incompatible with Islam, they want to revert Pakistan to a theocratic dictatorship of sorts about which they themselves are not clear as to how it will function. Their approach is no different from that of al Qaeda, when its leaders challenged their governments to be un-Islamic.
They ignore the reality that the largest Muslim states — Indonesia, Turkey and Malaysia — have all institutionalised democracy and Pakistan, too, has been successful in strengthening its democratic form. If we go back a little, Pakistan itself was created through a democratic movement, but the Taliban and its allies threaten to reverse the process and take us towards a theocracy. It is not their love of Islam, but their desire to capture power that is driving them, even if it means converting Pakistan into a land of suicide bombers and zealot mullahs.
It is an ironic twist of history that while the present military is fully supporting the democratic process and allowing the civilian leadership to regain its constitutional authority, the government, instead of purposefully curbing militancy, is succumbing to the dictates of radical elements. Through a well-conceived plan, the Taliban assassinated Benazir Bhutto, followed it by murdering ANP leaders and several others, including from the MQM, to suppress the voice of moderate parties. Notwithstanding its inherent weaknesses, the PPP stands reduced to the status of a provincial party. The ANP has been pushed into the background and the MQM remains constantly under threat. The TTP is now throwing rings round the PML-N leadership and through a brilliant manoeuvre, succeeded in embarrassing Imran Khan by nominating him as their representative on the negotiating committee.
On the contrary, our political leadership appears devoid of national will and purpose in dealing with this hydra-headed monster. It has, at every stage, yielded to the militants – giving them legitimacy and respectability. The interior minister has been indiscreet, making casual and irresponsible remarks – that the Taliban be ‘invited to play cricket’ and ‘not all Taliban are against Pakistan’— and repeatedly insisting that they engage in dialogue even when they continue slaughtering our soldiers, murdering innocent civilians and spreading their network of sleeper cells. For many politicians, years of Pakistan’s involvement in exporting jihad in Kashmir and empathising with the Afghan Taliban has numbed their political sensitivities and they are not even conscious of their extreme drift to the right. This, perhaps, explains their attitude of going to any length to accommodate the militants.
A wave of Talibanisation has swept FATA, large parts of K-P and is spreading across the country. Nawaz Sharif is hoping to prevent the Taliban’s influence from spreading into Punjab. Insisting on negotiations despite repeated terrorist attacks seems to be a part of this approach. But this could be a forerunner to splitting the federation because Sindh and Balochistan will not accept Talibanisation. And as Ayaz Amir and others have warned, it will accentuate the cultural and political divide across the Indus and lead to the fragmentation of the country.
Sadly, the fact that is not being recognised is that it is the innocent people of Pakistan who are the victims of Taliban and a vacillating government. At the international level, there is not much sympathy with Pakistanis because people fail to understand what is going on and how trapped we are between ruthless militants and a weak national leadership. Many assume Pakistanis sympathise with the Taliban and fail to appreciate the courage of Malala who is standing up to them. Mosques should not be used against any sect or minorities for spreading hatred and venom in society. Surely, the clergy should make their contribution in reforming societies, but not use the pulpit to propagate politics and spread Talibanisation.
Incitement to hatred at any level has to be discouraged and punished by the state to send a clear message that virulent attacks on sectarian, religious and ethnic basis will not be tolerated – they are an attack on everyone. When those who spread hatred and sponsor suicide attacks are jailed as child exploiters and murderers, then perhaps, the writ of the state will be established. When we ask our Muslim brother countries to stop funding sectarian violence in Pakistan, perhaps then only we will be able to tackle terrorism at its roots.
The challenge the government faces is enormous. It will have to muster the courage to fight terrorism at its source, if Pakistan has to survive… how many judges, innocent civilians and military personnel need to die before that will happen is the question all Pakistanis are asking.

-the writer is a retired Lieutenant General of the Pakistan Army, and has served as the Chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board
-by arrangement with The Express Tribune

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