The real threat
The other day, some of the people I work with were having a
discussion about the Taliban and who exactly they are. Most of them were
young professionals and many of them are quite devout and adhere to
Islamic injunctions about prayer and fasting. When I was asked the same
question I started to ponder on it. Luckily for me one of the people in
my department walked in just then.
The Al Qaeda terrorists
He is from the northern areas, wears a long flowing beard and is a
practising Muslim. I looked at him and asked him if his daughter went to
school. He replied that she did; that perhaps is the defining action
that separates the devout from the Taliban. And I pointed to this person
and said that as long he was willing to send his daughter to a regular
school, he would never be of the Taliban nor would he really support
That is the conundrum facing us today. How to separate the devout
from the extremists and then rally the former to the cause of fighting
against those very extremists. Unless we can mobilise those among us who
are good Muslims, send their daughters to school and are opposed to
extremism, we can never win the war against those that use our religion
to intimidate and subjugate.
And that has been my major beef with the nine-year rule of President
Musharraf. He espoused the cause of “enlightened moderation” (may it
rest in peace) but only paid it lip service. Moreover, in spite of all
his trips to the Holy Land and the House of God, he was never really
able to convince ordinary Muslims of his sincerity to the cause of
The fact that President Musharraf and his establishment dealt with
the Taliban only in terms of ‘strategic depth’ rather than as a menace
to society allowed them to flourish to the point that they today pose
the biggest threat to law and order that Pakistan has ever seen. Frankly
unless the Taliban threat is seen as an anti-Pakistan movement nothing
can be done about it in a definitive way.
Having lived in Pakistan for the last five years I am convinced that
most Pakistanis do not subscribe to the Taliban philosophy.
Pakistan always had a strong pro-religious element and in the very
first few years of the country’s existence an outpouring of sectarian
religious fervour brought us the first martial law.
Today the Taliban-Al Qaeda nexus incorporates three important
aspects. First, an extreme interpretation of Islam; second, a desire to
establish this form of Islam as the primary arbiter of all social and
political activity; and third, an anti-Imperialist (anti-US and
anti-west) activism. The latter is a result among other things of the US
action in Afghanistan.
As such Talibanisation is no longer just about religion but has a
strong political element to it.
It is this political element that brings this movement in
confrontation with the Pakistani state. One of its major aims has to
some degree been achieved and that is to create autonomous areas outside
the control of the Federal Government within Pakistan. In these areas,
the extreme form of Islam is being established as the law of the land
and more importantly these areas are being used to stage armed activity
against the State.
The important thing then is to realise that the Taliban-Al Qaeda
nexus is not unlike the Marxist rebels in the eastern Indian states or
the Tigers in Sri Lanka. The only way to isolate and eventually defeat
them is to emphasise that it is not Islam but well defined political
goals that motivate them.
The fact that they do not kill ‘infidels’ but fellow Muslims is a
point that needs to be brought up for discussion in the national press
and the electronic media.
One must point out that whenever a NATO action causes the loss of
civilian life in the areas adjoining Afghanistan a great hue and cry is
raised against such action.
Yet I have not seen a single Urdu newspaper or a ‘private’ TV channel
bemoaning or emphasising or dwelling upon ‘collateral damage’ when a
suicide bomber hits ordinary people, the recent attack in Wah being a
Neither do the talking heads on TV ever dwell on this issue; they are
either mortally afraid of being targeted by these extremists if they
oppose them or perhaps are essentially in agreement with them.
Evidently, one of the interesting developments in extremist thinking
based upon fatwas from their supporters is that it is acceptable if
ordinary Muslims are killed in suicide attacks. The idea being that
these victims are automatic participants in jihad and if they die they
are martyrs and therefore destined for heaven.
For most Muslims it is extremely difficult to separate politics from
religion even under normal circumstances. But in these perilous times
when terrorist attacks within Pakistan are becoming a major problem, it
has indeed become imperative to separate the purely political from the
religious. Only then can the problem of extremism be tackled
And yes, the Government does need to get over with the irritants that
confront its coalition partners and put its house in order to confront
the real problems facing Pakistan.
What is clearly needed then is a coherent national policy about
terrorism that is acceptable to even the most conservative Muslims
But the public face behind that policy has to be someone whose
probity and Islamic credentials are impeccable.
What Pakistan needs badly is a politician who is popular and at the
same time is capable of mobilising majority of Pakistanis against the
extremists. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be anyone of that sort
Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He
can be reached at [email protected]