First Person | Assuming Victimhood

Pakistan has built Taliban as a monster to highlight its helplessness

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

There seems to be greater concern about the growing power and audacity of Taliban in India than in Pakistan. Fuelling our fears of the Taliban are Pakistanis themselves, who instead of quivering in their living rooms, are warning India instead. Even Ahmed Rashid, who is considered the best authority on Taliban and is currently among the group of advisors the US consults from time to time on Afghanistan, has said that India should not wring its hands in glee as the Taliban make progress inside Pakistan, because if they succeeds, the next target would be India. For his credentials, Rashid is taken very seriously.However, in Pakistan, there is another entity that needs to be taken seriously. That is the army, which despite the opprobrium of having virtually ceded ground to the Taliban in parts of the country, does not appear to be much daunted by what seems to be a mortal threat to the country. Even now, according to the head of the US Central Command that deals with Pakistan and Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, Pakistan considers India to be a greater threat than Taliban.Addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2009 to underline President Obama’s AfPak strategy, he said, “Many Pakistani leaders remain focussed on India as Pakistan’s principal threat, and some may even continue to regard Islamist extremist groups as a potential strategic asset against India.”

Read Pakistan Army for leaders, because there is no bigger leader than that in Pakistan. In the early days of Asif Ali Zardari’s presidency, when he exhibited some promise of change, in an interview to Wall Street Journal in October 2008, he said that, “India has never been a threat to Pakistan.” He obviously took his presidency very seriously and didn’t check with the ‘real’ leaders before shooting his mouth. For the last 60 years, the Pakistan Army has diligently built a constituency for itself primarily on the back of the ‘India threat’; against which only the army is the saviour. The most recent example of this was seen after the November 26 attacks in Mumbai. The immediate reaction among the average Pakistani, which was reflected in most of the media there, was shock and empathy. But once the Pakistan Army raised the spectre of an attack by India (following intemperate remarks by some of the Indianpolitical class), the country rallied behind the army, silencing Zardari and company.

And here unwittingly, perhaps, Pakistan exposed the reason why it does not fear the Taliban. Neither the Afghani nor the Pakistani. Accused of assassinating former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), added to the jingoistic cacophony. His deputy Maulvi Faqir Mohammad issued a statement saying, ‘If India launches a war on Pakistan, we will divide the fight into two parts. The air defence will be the responsibility of the military, and the Tehrik-e- Taliban Pakistan will fight the war on ground.’

Despite the proverbial cat being out of the bag, some people were surprised by this and considered it a change of position of the Taliban; a position that the Taliban changed again once the war clouds receded and it went back to fighting the Pakistani state.

Actually, Taliban have been consistent in their policies. They remain as loyal to Pakistan Army as they are to Islam. Only the army has been misleading (and pretty successfully) the world on what Taliban actually are and what they want. Taliban are Pashtuns on either side of the Durand Line. In Afghanistan they want to throw out the outsiders and reinforce their control, while in the tribal areas of Pakistan they want a degree of autonomy, which they always enjoyed. They want the Americans out and the drone attacks to stop. The spurt in Taliban attacks in Pakistan is a recent phenomenon. In the aforementioned October 2008 interview, Zardari had also said that the US was carrying out missile attacks in Pakistan with his government’s consent. In his words, “We have an understanding, in the sense that we’re going after an enemy together.”

The enemy is retaliating now. It has just been a few months since that admission by Zardari, who has since been relegated to the back room. Prime Minister Geelani has capitulated and the army is running the show. Even the pattern of the attacks shows how symbiotic the relationship with the Taliban is. Apart from the easy targets like the Shiites and the foreigners, the Taliban have essentially attacked the police and the Paramilitary and not the army itself. By raising the level of the threat posed by the Taliban, Pakistan has ensured that the strings that were to be attached to the US aid are not too tight, Pakistan becomes increasingly indispensable to the US, some kind of accommodation with pro-Pakistan Taliban works out in Afghanistan and international support to India against Pakistan after 26/11 attacks wanes. On his Delhi stopover a few weeks back, US envoy Richard Holbrooke, said that, for the first time, US, India and Pakistan face the same enemy. So instead of India being the victim of Pakistan-perpetrated terrorism, Pakistan is also a victim now. Funnily enough, we seem to believe it too.


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