Take the war to the next generation
Even as Pakistan declares tactical victory against the Taliban in its North West Frontier Province, it is clear that this war will be long drawn and will need more than just the military might. Taliban come with the lethal combination of tribalism, religion and war experience. Each of these individually is potent enough, but together they form a lethal mix, which has as much of a social consequence as military. Take tribalism first. Tribes all over the world have social orders and cultures different from the urban societies. In several places tribal societies are considered primitive and not civilised enough, which is why one finds Christian missionaries working among various tribes to bring them into the folds of civilisation. Moreover, in patriarchal tribes, women come very low in the social hierarchy, both at home and outside. This is not exclusive to the Pashtun tribes of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Therefore, it is short-sightedness to blame Taliban for being cruel, primitive and unjust to women. All patriarchal societies in South Asia are cruel and unjust to women; Taliban are worse, no doubt, but this has nothing to do with their religion or their war with the world. Women have always been at the receiving end of any society which is yet to embrace what we call the modern, civilisational way of life.
Even in India, like Pakistan, honour killing of women is not uncommon. The status of women is very peculiar. While on the one hand, they are expected to be the repositories of family’s honour, on the other hand, they are the handy targets to punish the family with. The example of the now famous Mukhtaran Mai in Pakistan is a case in point. In India, we had our own Mukhtaran in the form of Bhanwari Devi in Rajasthan in the Eighties. In fact, as recently as earlier this year, when a young college student was gang-raped by some village boys adjacent to the National Capital Region of Delhi, the parents and family members defended the boys saying that, ‘what’s a big deal, its only a rape.’
In certain sections of South Asian societies, subjugation of women is not only acceptable but is considered necessary for the smooth functioning of the society, often by women themselves. My case is not to defend such systems, but only to point out that Taliban are also a product of this mindset, only they are several degrees worse, because of the following two mixes: religion and military power.
Not only are Afghans patriarchal people, for centuries they have lived by the sword. In warring tribes, women always have a secondary and subordinate role. So while, according to their tribal customs, they had a very weak position in the society, religion only reinforced it further. This is not to say that Islam subjugates women, but Islam does create a little confusion about their exact position in the order of things. When Prophet Mohammed first started preaching Islam in the 7th Century, Arabia was a primitive, warring, faction-ridden, debauched society. To bring about a change in the way people thought and led their lives was obviously not easy. So while Prophet Mohammed tried his best, he could not rid the early followers of Islam completely of their tribal ways.
Since Quran and Hadith were compiled after him by those who accompanied him, a lot of contradictory verses crept in, both on Jihad as well as women. The compilers of Quran belonged to various Arabian tribes, and it is quite possible that often they did not get the context of a particular pronouncement by the Prophet correct, which is why there are various interpretations of certain verses. Groups like Taliban deliberately chose the version that conforms to their existing tribal mindset and have concocted a deadly ‘tribal-religious mix’. Now since their tribal rituals have got the respectability of Islam, they have a wider acceptance among their own people, including certain sections of women. Even without Taliban, Afghani women are relatively conservative, barring a few who have been exposed to the West. The final icing on this cake is the Taliban’s military power, their exposure to the war against Russia, US and Pakistan.
Military defeat of the Taliban, if at all it comes about, will be at a huge cost. And even then, no one knows what kind of dispensation will succeed it. Relentless exposure to brutality and violence diminishes other value systems which give any society its soul. You cannot develop art and culture, music and poetry when you are scurrying around trying to save your life.
For the complete defeat of the Taliban, the war has to go beyond military, and that will be a long haul. But perhaps, a beginning can be made. The world collectively can make an effort to ensure that the children of millions of refugees who are trooping into Pakistan do not end up in the madrassas run by LeT, Jamaat-ud- Dawa and company, which will only create future foot soldiers. Let them get the best of secular education that the international aid can buy. And they can then defeat the Taliban monster within.