A few days ago, our federal interior minister, Rehman Malik thanked the Taliban for heeding to his request and not killing innocent civilians on the Ashura. Notwithstanding the obscenely obvious silliness of the statement and the blatant manifestation of the Stockholm syndrome, I attempted to resist the temptation of making a crack at it. The primary reason for my reticence was probably the fact that I often find the good minister as a hopelessly unchallenging target.
Now, it seems that the statement might have been part of a larger scheme of making nice with the Taliban. A spokesperson for the TTP has confirmed that negotiations between the group and the federal government are currently underway. The federal government has not confirmed the existence of the negotiations, hence one cannot say with any certainty that talks are underway. However, the trajectory seems to be pointing with evident inevitability to the possibility. The generic question of whether any negotiation or compromise with the TTP should be conducted is met with the even more generic answer of everyone agreeing with the general principle that the war cannot continue forever, and so on.
A couple of months ago, an all parties’ conference, apparently after intense deliberation, came up with the conclusion that peace be given a chance. The one positive aspect of the conference was that now we officially acknowledge the Pakistan Army as a political party, along with the Sunni Tehreek of course. One is conflicted in the reasons for detesting this high school-like slogan: is it the naiveté, the disingenuousness or that it is unbelievably unimaginative which really irks one. The benefit of this hippie slogan is singular; it is too general and too noble sounding for any meaningful opposition.
There are various permutations and combinations of this argument often veiled in foreign relations and policymaking rhetoric, yet the basic premise remains fairly clear. The argument for talking with the terrorists is that it was essentially America’s war and it is now impossible for us to win. The argument is not prima facie illogical and is by all means capable of being defended, and it has proponents from all sides of the political spectrum. Yet I am afraid they seek to deal with a phenomenon they do not completely understand or do not want to.
At the risk of belabouring the obvious, I hope that the Swat peace deal has not been erased from our memories. One of the images that are hardest to dislodge from our recent collective national memory is when the thuggish appeal to theocratic fascism made by Sufi Muhammad was broadcast uninterrupted by almost all television channels. The speeches and the rhetoric by the terrorists only became more and more vicious once the Swat Valley, along with its peace-loving inhabitants, had been handed over to them on a platter. The conventional logic of ‘giving peace a chance’ would dictate that terrorists should have been appeased or even subdued by the mass human sacrifice. The Swat example is not a case of the specifics of negotiation gone wrong; it displays the basic fallacy in conducting any such negotiation. Faith-based terrorism is by its nature expansionist and hence to expect a piece of paper or a word of honour to restrain them misses the point of them resorting to terror in the first place.
Another major argument is the human dimension, the cost in terms of innocent lives both civilian and military. Let us be very clear on the point, we have lost thousands of our citizens because they were murdered by those who believed that they are cementing their place in heaven. All this gibberish about fighting the Americans war and Pakhtun nationalism is just that, gibberish. The Pakhtuns have a glorious tradition of resisting tyranny with honour and bravado without resorting to stoning women to death. To conflate this bloodlust with Pakhtun nationalism is contemptible and ignorant. The way we capitulated without a fight to the United States in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 was shameful; we should have resisted imperialism then. Yet it does not make the Taliban, or any plagiarised version of the murderers, any less murderous. It is dishonest to deny the existence of an ideology that not only sanctions but glorifies that wanton killing of innocent women and children.
Imperialism is a concept which has our public intellectuals in knots, especially the liberals. The Taliban are not anti-imperialists, they are anti-civilisation, and, if anything, they, if given a chance, would be imperialist in a manner the world has not seen before. American imperialism needs to be fought but not with the aid of the terrorists. September 11 was a tragedy in more ways than the obvious loss of life — for me, personally, it made Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali less readable, often unbearable. They sought to do the impossible, defend the indefensible, in their attempt to explain terrorism as solely a function of American foreign policy. Many in our academia, remaining true to their creed, attempted to uncritically copy them. As I write these lines, Christopher Hitchens is dead and the world today is slightly worse off for it. Hitchens, when he was wrong he was horrendously wrong, but when he was right he was right, and he so often was. I would have said rest in peace, but it would have meant nothing to him.
The terrorists are fanatics who wish to destroy society and life as we have known it. The cliché “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” is overrated and in any event they are nobody’s freedom fighter. If all this sounds as dreary sentimental nonsense and hollow distant bravado to you, remember it is in our self-interest to fight and defeat them. Any capitulation or one-sided peace deal with them is by its nature doomed to fail and once it does, they will come back with a vengeance as they did after Swat. The precedent of negotiating and ceding to the edicts of people threatening to kill is one which is susceptible to permeate and will be applicable to your local gangster before you know it.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2011.