To give apologists of the Taliban and jihadi groups among the politicians and journalists the benefit of the doubt, let us presume that either they are politically naïve or they are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Their usual refrain is that the Taliban’s terrorism would go away if the government stops taking foreign dictation. I wish it were that simple. Statements of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Saad Rafiq, Imran Khan and many fellow journalists reflect this mindset and one is amazed how they tend to forget the historical and ideological background of the rise of militant Islam in Pakistan. Blaming the government in this regard is just political point scoring, though sadly on a wrong issue.
Nobody can deny their assertion that interference in the national security policy should not be allowed. But for a moment let us assume we have no US interference in deciding our policy regarding the local and Afghan Taliban. And there is no pressure to wind up the India-specific terrorist networks. Suppose the PML-N is in power trying to work out the national security policy, if at all the GHQ would permit them to enter this sacred zone. In this situation, would they be able to deliberately gloss over the historical and ideological basis of the terrorists’ war against the state?
They will have to analyse the objectives of the people of Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban and the local jihadi organisations and then see whether these objectives are reconcilable with the interest of the majority of Pakistanis.
Once burdened with the power to rule, their analysis would have to be dispassionate, not idealistic. Their government’s ultimate responsibility would be to protect the democratic rights of the people and work towards raising their living standard. I am sure the PML-N realises that in a country where almost every third person lives below the poverty line, we cannot afford to fight the world in the name of promoting an Islamic caliphate.
So let us see what the major actors of this sad saga want:
1) The people of Pakistan: end of Talibanisation and religious extremism in the country; putting a stop to interference in Afghanistan; protection of Pakistan’s legitimate interests in Afghanistan; good relations with the Afghan government and the US; normalisation of relations with India.
2) The local Taliban and jihadi organisations: control over all the tribal areas to begin with, and enforcement of their version of shariah by force; support of the Afghan Taliban’s war against the US and Afghan government; fighting with Pakistani forces if they try to stop militants from joining the Afghan war and entering India for terrorist attacks; continue to support to al Qaeda; bring down the Afghan government; oust the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan; and liberate Kashmir through an armed struggle.
3) The Afghan Taliban: Take over Afghanistan by force and establish a government with their brand of shariah; resist any move by Pakistan to stop them from using its territory as a hinterland.
4) Al Qaeda: Help the Taliban in restoring their government in Afghanistan; continue using Afghanistan as their headquarters to export Islamic revolution through the barrel of the gun to the world; bring down the Pakistani government, which does not support al Qaeda’s ideals.
Now if we look at these demands keeping in view the interest of the people of Pakistan, it is clear that whether we listen to the US or we make indigenous policies, no compromise can be made with the Taliban and jihadis.
First, the people of Pakistan are Muslims, but they do not approve of extremism. They support democracy, which in essence is pluralistic and means tolerance of dissent.
Second, it does not suit Pakistan to help the Afghan Taliban who want to enforce religious fascism in Afghanistan and annoy the West.
Third, Pakistan has to stop interference in Afghanistan. There can be no two views about it. The UN Resolution 1373 “decides also that all states shall: refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts, including by suppressing recruitment of members of terrorist groups and eliminating the supply of weapons to terrorists.”
True, Pakistan should neither support the Taliban nor the US and NATO forces. But this would only be possible if the Taliban stop using Pakistan as their base and join the Afghan democratic process.
Fourth, Pakistan’s legitimate interest can only be protected in Afghanistan if there is a stable government in Kabul. A prerequisite of achieving this objective is to find a regional solution instead of a Pakistan-India proxy war in Afghanistan.
Fifth, we have to have good relations with the Afghan government. Those who suggest that we should stop supporting the Karzai government tend to forget it is recognised by the entire world and the UN.
Sixth, Pakistan cannot afford to have adversarial relations with the US and other Western countries. There is no reason that we should be fighting with them. Almost the entire economy of Pakistan is dependent on these countries. Over 50 percent exports go to these countries, leave alone the investments and loans, which we get from them. Any conflict with them would lead to sanctions that would mean closure of industries and immense damage to the economy — directly hurting the poor.
Last, no country is supporting the al Qaeda agenda because it is not in sync with 21st century political, social and economic values. Also, their terrorist means and Salafist ideology is unacceptable to the majority of Muslims around the world.
Apologists of the Taliban should realise that no matter who is ruling, it is high time that these terrorists should be dealt with. There should be no confusion that it is the agenda of the people of Pakistan. This is what Pakistan needs. Just because the US is saying the same thing does not mean we should foolishly tell the Taliban that we are on their side. There are no two options. Of course talks with the local and Afghan Taliban are possible if they renounce violence and join the democratic process in their respective countries. The interest of the people of Pakistan should be at the top of our list instead of anti-government and anti-US emotions. The Taliban have offered a deal to the Punjab government. It has a Faustian choice that no apologist can afford to make.