‘The Taliban are not us’

Published: January 17, 2012

The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban

The globally accepted stereotypical image of hawk-nosed men, swathed in flowing turbans and chadors, the latest model AK-47 slung over their shoulder as they stride through rugged, mountainous territory in Pakistan and Afghanistan couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to defining the word ‘Talib’ as, in real terms, such a neat and tailored definition is nothing more than a potentially dangerous illusion.

During a recent visit to Afghanistan, I saw a group of men congregate on the outskirts of a ramshackle, treacherously muddy bazaar in the ‘one horse town’ known as Phul-i-Kumri in Baghlan province in the country’s north. The day was dark and miserable, persistent rain swelling scummy puddles dotted with the half-submerged carapaces of imported Pakistani oranges and indigenous pomegranate rinds. The men of various ages, with facial characteristics suggesting Central Asian, Pathan and an intermediate mix it is difficult to name, wear mud-splashed shalwar kameez, trailing chadors or brightly-striped chapans whose empty, elongated sleeves, flap in seeming frustration in the bitterly cold wind blowing in from steppe country to the north. They look, to the uninitiated, just like a bunch of men discussing the topic of the day as men in groups habitually do in this part of the world.

“Taliban” says the bodyguard glued to my side. “Hide your camera. Look away. If they see you there will be trouble.”

“How do you know?” I ask later. “They look just like everyone else.”

“We all know” my companions respond. “These criminals have been among us long enough for us to learn what they look like, how they stand, how they walk, how their eyes work and even how they smell. We know, and they know that we know. The situation is increasingly dangerous. The hatred is simmering and will boil over again like it did before”.

“Taliban do not belong in Afghanistan” — they are adamant on this point. “Their ideology is completely different from ours. Such ideology is alien to all that is Afghan. If an Afghan wants to pray then he does so. If he doesn’t then that is between him and Allah and nothing to do with anyone else. Forcing people to pray, to follow certain codes of conduct is not our way. We have always been a free people. Free to live as we please, practice our religion in our own personal ways. Our women, urban women at least, are encouraged to study, permitted to work if they want too yet, these so-called Talibs, most of whom have no education and no understanding of Islam, try to force Saudi Arabian style culture down our throats. It is alien to us. We do not want it. We do not want Taliban on our soil. Taliban are not ‘us’. They are not the Afghan way. They should go back to Pakistan where they came from and make their problems there. Pakistan deserves them after all that Pakistan has done and keeps on doing to us”.

The concept that all Taliban originate in Pakistan — still believed widely many years since they first appeared on the scene — is no longer true. However, the brutal truth that they did manifest here in the first place cannot be denied and if, and when they are pushed back, in full force, over our northwestern border, we have only ourselves to blame as their ideology does not belong here either.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2012.

Reader Comments (21)

  • Nagpuri
    Jan 17, 2012 - 11:33PM

    But your point is well made. Taliban are production of Pakistani army. No point in blaming America. If Pakistan didn’t want to do Saudi and American’s bidding during Soviet rule, no body could have forced it.
    In addition, your contention that the ideology doesn’t belong to Afghanistan or urban Pakistan is myth too. Ideologies change with time and socioeconomic circumstances. Once upon a time Afghanistan and Pakistan where Hindu and Buddhists, which has very different ideology as compared to now an arabized version of Sunnism.
    The minority argument (they are very small portion of society) doesn’t hold water too as most of the revolution are done by violent minority as apposed to silent majority e.g. Bolsheviks, communist, Sunni invaders in subcontinent, British in subcontinent etc.Recommend

  • Roflcopter
    Jan 18, 2012 - 12:31AM

    nice try but a simple fact that Taliban have survived more than a decade in face of powerful enemies clearly shows Taliban not only belong to Afghanistan but they clearly represent the majority. This crazy propaganda that Taliban are Pakistani is laughable to say the least.

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  • Jan 18, 2012 - 12:32AM

    The Pakistan Taliban are not us…but Afghan Taliban are mujahids.,.. they are fighting against injustice…while the Pakistan Taliban are fighting against justful Pak Army….
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  • John B
    Jan 18, 2012 - 12:39AM

    Taliban are already in PAK. Let the people not forget what happened in Naval base, Rawalpindi, and Taseer. It is only a matter of time for PAK but this time around they will come to power through ballot boxes and will pull the strings.

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  • TightChuddi
    Jan 18, 2012 - 2:25AM

    Yes they are not Pakistani…they are from star wars as Dr Rehman Malik mentioned. this is a conspiracy by Darth Vader and his friend Raymond Davis

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  • thinktank
    Jan 18, 2012 - 2:48AM

    A good article…I hope establishment realises the monster it has created and armed. The snake which was reared in the backyard(for biting neighbors) has now come inside the house and raises its hood.Recommend

  • UK
    Jan 18, 2012 - 4:02AM

    @John B:

    Sounds like you are afraid of a monster called “Ballot Box”, maybe after seeing results of Palestinian, Egyptian and Tunisian elections. That’s democracy. Let people decide. Let it be Taliban. If sharia law was practiced in Pakistan , Taseer’s killer would have been hanged by now.

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  • DB
    Jan 18, 2012 - 4:24AM

    Fascinating article by asking non-Pushtuns in Afghanistan if Taliban represent them or not. Next thing you know, the esteemed writer will ask Pushtuns in Afghanistan if Northern Alliance represents them or not!

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  • Mangal
    Jan 18, 2012 - 4:57AM

    Taliban bad or good is a reality, they exist in that region both in Pakistan and Afghanistan and they are mostly made of Pakhtoon people who love to fight… In a long run Afghans can deal with them because we are the same people although we don’t share the same ideology. The most dangerous and important issue is for Pakistan. Pakistan has nuclear weapon and it is a matter of time before Taliban take the power down there… Taliban with nuclear weapon mean good bye to world’s peace and hello to very dark and scary world…. What to do? To defeat Taliban is impossible and the history can be witness of that, no power can defeat Pakhtoon/Afghans… To let them take Pakistan? No, because of its nuclear arsenals… So what to do? The US and NATO must divide Pakistan by 4 states (Panjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Pashtoonistan) so Pakhtoons can have their own land (Pashtoonistan) and to be contain there. That is the only way!

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  • Babloo
    Jan 18, 2012 - 5:16AM

    Taleban are a establishment export , just lijke LeT, JuD. Some exports are meant for the western neighbour and some exports for the eastern market.

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  • vasan
    Jan 18, 2012 - 6:30AM

    More important than the facts is how the facts are perceived. Whether the talibans are from Pakistan or not, if majority of the afghans think that they are from Pakistan, then they are from Pakistan.

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  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Jan 18, 2012 - 10:26AM

    @Zaid Hamid:
    In near future your name shall be immortalized a an adjective:)
    @Roflcopter:
    LOL! Man you have great imagination and sense of humor.

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  • Ahmand Ali
    Jan 18, 2012 - 11:34AM

    there is only one way to deal with the Taliban, just easily divide this unnatural country (Pakistan) in three states, Pakhtonistan, Balochistan, and Pu-sind, the world will be safe, if two states eliminated from the world map, the world will be peaceful, one, Pakistan and second, Israel. they both have made by British and America.

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  • Ali Mardan
    Jan 18, 2012 - 7:43PM

    I still remember Pakistani scholars praising Taliban and their ideology in various TV shows during Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Some of them even advocate establishing Taliban-style rule of law in Pakistan. There is no doubt that these were nurtured in those thousands of madrassas all around Pakistan. The common Afghan people have nothing to do with this barbaric brigade who is getting billions of dollars from their Saudi masters to destabilize the region. Recommend

  • UK
    Jan 18, 2012 - 7:57PM

    @Ahmand Ali:

    You did not mention how to deal with Afghan Taliban. How about separate countries or their mergers with their respective brethren of Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmens. And separate countries for Hazaras and Pashtoons. Or Merger of Afghanistan in Pakistan. That makes it 5 right there for Afghanistan. You definitely do not know your facts about Pakistan. After all half or more Afghan population lives temporarily or permanantly in Pakistan. By your definition India is in the same boat. In its present form was united under British, it was a patchwork of various states and small kingdoms. When was last time a ruler in Delhi had control of what is now India before British united it in this way. Same goes for Baluchistan which is a unnatural province by your definition, it was carved out by the British. There are 45% Pashtoons in Baluchistan. Although they make a smaller percentage due to large population of Punjab, in numbers there are more Baluch living in Punjab than Baluchistan itself. Similarly there are more Baluch in Sindh than Baluchistan itself. President of Pakistan is a Sindhi of Baluch origin. Leghari was a Baluch from Punjab. Governor of Punjab Khosa is a Baluch from southern Punjab. Karachi in Sindh is world’s biggest Pashtoon city, not Peshawar, Kandahar or Kabul. Not to mention several million Afghans in all major cities of Pakistan.We are happy the way we are, and can fix our issues within. Taliban are a reality in Pashtoon areas, learn to live with it. I am glad US has realized that and is talking to them. They are rulers of Pashtoon areas of Afghanistan in next few years (either by bullet or ballot) , get ready for that. I admit it was a mistake by Pakistan to push Taliban all over Afghanistan. They should have only extended to Pashtoon dominated areas. Best solution is to make smaller provinces in Pakistan and give them autonomy to run most of their affairs, same goes to Afghanistan, they have enough provinces but need to give them autonomy and have people elect their governors. One Taliban commander last year said in an interview that his campaign for 6 months in a certain area did not generate as many recruits as were generated by one drone strike on that village. Lack of social justice, corruption and foreign invasions (Soviets and USA) in both countries generate support for Taliban. Taliban emerged due to corruption of warlords in 90′s and now are expanding due to strikes and door knockdowns in Afghan villages.

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  • NAVEED TURKMAN
    Jan 18, 2012 - 10:39PM

    @Zaid Hamid: What a ridiculous, Pakistani Taliban is enemies of Pakistan while Afghan Taliban is Mujahids. Both are the tools in the hand of agencies. Do not make foil.

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  • Arya
    Jan 19, 2012 - 12:51AM

    @ UK

    “After all half or more Afghan population lives temporarily or permanantly in Pakistan”.

    You mean the 40 million Pashtuns that live in KP, Baluchistan, FATA and elsewhere in Pakistan. An Afghan is a Pashtun and by that definition all Pashtuns are Afghans.

    The colonial powers strategy of divide and conquer divided the Pashtuns and created the Durrand Line, to keep the Afghans in check but not for long.Recommend

  • UK
    Jan 19, 2012 - 2:20AM

    @Arya:

    Term Afghan is used to describe both a linguistic group as well as nationality. Pashtoons every where including ones on Pakistan side are considered Afghans as a linguistic group. However when term Afghan is used in contest of nationality then all citizens of Afghanistan including Tajiks, Hazaras, Aimeks, Uzbek, Turkmen and Pashtoons are called Afghans. What I meant (which most of the people seem to understand) is Afghans (by nationality, regardless of their ethnic or linguistic background) live in Pakistan on permanent or temporary basis. Wiki is down for the day today, you can read up on that on later day but hope this clarifies your confusion about the term Afghan to some extent. You are right about Durand line. Considering culturaI ties as well as dependence of Afghanistan on Pakistan, I am in strong favor of a provincially autonomous federation of Pak-Afghan. I am Pakistani for last 3 generations however have relatives living on both sides of the border and would love to remove that artificial barrier or wouldn’t mind a relationship similar to US-Canada.

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  • Jan 19, 2012 - 10:27AM

    when they are pushed back, in full force, over our northwestern border, we have only ourselves to blame as their ideology does not belong here either

    Not quite. The taliban ideology reflects strains of Saudi-style Islam, but it was invented in Pakistan. There’s always been factions in Pakistan who embraced this ideology. Earlier they were marginalized. Recently, the ideology has pervaded all sections of Pakistani society to varying degrees. You’ll find it reflected in the PTI manifesto. Imran Khan’s anti-American views and positions on Afghanistan and Taliban are heavily influenced by the same ideology. It is a matter of time before it comes home to roost.

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  • Arya
    Jan 19, 2012 - 5:46PM

    Taliban ideology is rejected by all Afghans including most Pashtuns. Pashtuns are religious but not fanatics and they don’t care to adhere to an imported ideology that is alien to their way of life. Pashtuns are fiercely independent and do not like to be told how to live their lives.

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  • Muhammad Akram
    Jan 20, 2012 - 8:45AM

    @Mangal:
    Just remember the Taliban rule era before USA invaded Afghanistan. Peace, hormony and anti-norcotic state though some ill practices were performed like some restrictions on women education. The present scenario developed only by invasion of USA and NATO for OIL. So who is bad? decide by un-diased data.

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