First Person | Don’t Sweat over Swat

We need to focus on terrorist groups that are targeting India

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

We all hate the Taliban. Their regressive social behaviour, cruel polity and distorted view of religion are a threat not only to their own countries (Afghanistan and Pakistan) but Islam in general. Their attitude towards women and whosoever disagrees with them is galling and completely unacceptable in the civilised world. In fact, purely on the basis of their beliefs and practices, they can almost be called terrorists as they terrorise everyone around them, especially in the Swat Valley of Pakistan where ‘Mullah Radio’, (an epithet Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban leader in Swat, earned because of his daily broadcasts) used to announce the names of the people who have been killed by them because of the non-conformity to their diktats and of those who will be killed the following day for the same offence.Yet, despite all their misdemeanours, likening them to al Qaeda is not correct. There is a fundamental difference between Taliban and al Qaeda, even if there is convergence of their views on Islam and what constitutes an Islamic society. Al Qaeda is a conglomeration of non state people for whom almost the entire world is the enemy, even if the immediate one is the United States and now by some accounts India. Muslims of various nationalities draw inspiration from al Qaeda to wage their respective battles against their perceived enemies

Till most of its leadership went into hiding, al Qaeda used to operate as a multinational corporation with al Qaeda operatives in the US, Europe, North Africa and Asia.Not so the Taliban, who may be straddling the Durand Line (Pakistan-Afghanistan border), but are essentially of the same ethnic stock. They are all Pashtuns and native to the area where they are operating. They are not conducting out of area operations, but are fighting for the control of their land. Hence, what they are running is insurgency in Afghanistan and the northern tribal belts of Pakistan. Given that they have been holding their own with their less than sophisticated weapons against the combined might of the US, Nato and Pakistani forces clearly points to the ground support they enjoy.

It is a fallacy to use the same broad brush to taint al Qaeda and Taliban. Al Qaeda can be defeated, killed or thrown out of Afghanistan and the restive Pakistan border areas, but not Taliban, because it is their country. Everyone, including the US understands that sustainable peace (a relative word in these areas) in Afghanistan will have to factor in the Taliban. For the sake of convenience, one can identify certain factions as moderate, — as was done when certain Talibani elements were co-opted in the Karzai government — and do business with them.

Peace in Swat has to be seen in this context. Sufi Mohammed who has brokered the peace deal with the Pakistan government is not only the father-in-law of Maulana Fazlullah, but also represents the moderate face of the Taliban as opposed to his son-in-law, who is a hardliner and a murderer. There has been a lot of hand-wringing in India over this peace deal and the implementation of the Sharia rule. Swat is not the first place in our neighbourhood to implement Sharia. The entire Arab world, including the United Arab Emirates, follows the Sharia. This has not deterred us or the world from doing business with them or even to live in those countries for economic reasons.

Talibans are hated for their mediaeval thinking, which we judge by the way they treat their women and mete out punishments to their opponents. Yet, how vastly different is this behaviour from what the richest Islamic kingdom does to its women, who are not allowed to appear in public without a full veil or a male escort who has to be either an immediate blood relation or husband. When Saudi Arabia recently announced the appointment of (Mrs) Nora Al Faiz as deputy minister in charge of girl’s education, it made not just news but history. And King Abdullah has been hailed as a progressive person for finally allowing a woman to participate in politics.

Yet, we are lamenting Swat. Why? It has always been a traditional society, more conservative than fashionable Lahore. How will implementation of Sharia change the lives of the people there? Sharia does not forbid education and employment of women. And already a girl’s school has re-opened after the peace deal. Sufi Mohammed says that more will open as they start the process of re-building the area. Thousands who fled Swat didn’t do it because of Sharia, but relentless fighting and daily threats of death from Mullah Radio. At least that would end now. We are worried because we view the development in Swat as the capitulation by Pakistan Army and not strategic retreat. And we see Taliban, al Qaeda, Lashkar-e- Taiyyaba, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Jaish-e-Mohammed as a contiguous whole, which is not correct. They may draw inspiration from the same stock of fundamentalist thinking, spawned by Saudi Arabia, but their focus and goals are different. Unlike LeT, JuD and company, Taliban have no designs on India or Kashmir. Instead of sweating over Swat, we need to differentiate between these and expend our energies in the right direction.


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