I got ambushed the other night on Dunya’s “Frontline”. The ambush was conducted in the usual way in Islamabad with the editor investigation of a rather raucous newspaper cutting off any discussion based on facts; and Dunya’s own chief reporter chiming in loudly so that one could hardly make one’s point. The matter under discussion was the Tehreek-e-Taliban’s ‘offer’ to talk through certain ‘guarantors’.
But how pray, did the Taliban become the force that they did, so that everyone and Charlie’s Aunt wants ‘negotiations’ with them? Things began to go very wrong when the Commando and his hamnawa (a term I prefer over Zia’s much-abused rufaqaa) — the coterie of generals closest to him — turned right on its head the time-tested way in which governments dealt with the tribes inhabiting Fata.
This they did in two-fold foolishness. First by sidelining the traditional administrators of Fata, the ‘political wallahs’: the Political Agent; the APA; the political tehsildars and their staff, and using ill-equipped and inexperienced army officers in their stead; and second by going over the heads of the tribal Maliks directly to the troublemakers.
Witness the disgraceful show put up in 2004 when a uniformed Lt General appeared at a meeting with the terrorist Nek Muhammad, unarmed at the Taliban’s insistence; while Nek Muhammad himself strode on to the stage wearing a sword and a pistol whose grip could be seen peeping through the side of his shirt. Whilst in the old regimen a political naib tehsildar should have met Nek Muhammad, here was the Corps Commander himself making a fool of himself.
As an aside, I had cautioned the Commando and his ‘hamnawa’ to please, please read just one or two of the many books written by British colonials who served in the tribal areas to learn some little thing about their mores and traditions: such as just how important appearances are in that society — off the top of my head, say The Frontier Scouts by Charles Chenevix Trench.
But no, the generals, answerable only to themselves and firmly convinced they knew/know(!) it all, went on making mistake after stupid mistake, all the while worsening matters progressively and steadily, with the quest for ‘strategic depth’ in a deeply hostile country (only our geniuses could have thought that one up) thrown in for good measure.
But back to the ambush. The argument of my fellow panellists was that because the Americans had been defeated in Afghanistan there was now no way but for Pakistan to make up to the Taliban, who were a part of the Pakistani family. With those two shouting me down, I could hardly get a word in though I did try to say that all of the TTP were not Pakistanis, that large numbers were Uzbeks and Tajiks and Chechens and even Uighur Chinese whose agenda was the takeover of the state and the start of the Global Jihad from this poor country.
I tried to say that there was no harm in negotiating but would the TTP give up the murderers of little children; the makers of the suicide jackets; the inciters of little children to commit mayhem; the axe-wielding barbarian who cut off the heads of our soldiers and appeared with the axe on his shoulder with the severed heads laid out at his feet?
I tried to say that the Taliban did NOT appear only after the American assault on Afghanistan, but here I will let a person more knowledgeable than I speak through his writings in this newspaper of record: the good Brigadier Asad Munir who served in the ISI in Peshawar for many years and knows his Fata takeover history backwards.
Here is an excerpt from his article “Allegations against the ISI” (Oct 30, 2010): “The local Taliban first appeared in North Waziristan and Orakzai Agency in 1998-99. The presence of foreign militants in Fata and their raids against coalition forces in Afghanistan, motivated people living in the tribal areas to raise a Taliban force in other agencies, in 2003-2004. The people, then at the helm of affairs, did not take this threat seriously .... Dialogues were preferred over army action. Various peace agreements, enacted between 2004 and 2006, enabled them to spread their influence to all agencies in the tribal areas.”
Again, on March 9th, 2011 he writes in “The real agenda of the Taliban”: ‘To correct the popular perception that the Taliban came to the fore in Pakistan after 9/11, in 1998 a Taliban force had appeared in the Mirali area of North Waziristan. By 1999, they were in control of Mirali and part of Orakzai Agency. Waves of Talibanisation spread... and, by mid-2000, the torching of video cassettes and TVs, considered as signs of obscenity, were a common sight in parts of K-P. After 9/11, the Taliban kept a low profile but resurfaced around 2003.”
My friends (dust in my mouth) just you wait for the Nato/US withdrawal and then see the balloon go up, with all of the Taliban guns pointed towards this poor country.
Now then, well done the PML-N government, especially the CM, for pushing through the metro-bus system in Lahore. It was needed and will do well as soon as the feeder routes are complete. Might I suggest that motor taxes be raised on all vehicles above 1300cc to discourage people from buying more cars? BTW I hope those who scuppered the import of well-made used cars know that some of the overpriced ones being manufactured locally have an ‘on’ price, i.e., that they are being black marketed?
And now a word of caution to my friend Nawaz Sharif: tread warily, sir: the TTP are not known to be men who keep their word; are cruel to a fault; are against our Constitution and democracy; are for their own brand of Sharia in a country that has various religions/sects.
BTW, it just was not you turning the President away from your home: remember the “Nawaz Sharif Zindabad” slogans from the crush of people at Naudero when you went to condole Benazir’s sad passing? I was there, as you know, and saw the moving scenes.... He should have been welcomed, and if he talked politics, could have been politely told this was neither the time nor place. It was just not you...
Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2013.