The different faces of Taliban jihad in Pakistan
Dr. Mona Kanwal Sheikh has an interesting post at the OUP blog:
“Many of the inhuman struggles that have divided the human race would hardly have occurred if the situation had been one of completely righteous men confronted by undiluted and unmitigated crime”. These are the words of the historian Herbert Butterfield who several decades ago commented on the tragic patterns in human conflicts.
Back in 2008, when I first travelled to Pakistan in order to understand the grievances and religious worldview of the new Taliban movement that arose in the northwestern tribal areas, I wearily met the ambivalence that Butterfield had pointed out. Had I just encountered pure evil, it would probably have been less troubling for me and for others who are trying to comprehend, how to respond to the growing number of terrorist movements that is currently challenging not only Pakistan, but also Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and various parts of Africa.
All simplistic hypothesis about “what drives terrorists” falter when there is suddenly in front of you human faces and complex life stories. The tragedy of contemporary policies designed to handle or rather crush movements who employ terrorist tactics, are prone to embrace a singular explanation of the terrorist motivation, disregarding the fact that people can be in the very same movement for various reasons. It is not about either politics, religion, vulnerable mental health, or socioeconomics, but more often than not, it is about all of these in mixture. For some, their embracement of violent movements has more to do with their mythic worldviews than their grave analysis of world politics, while for others it has everything to do with the west’s policies and colonial behavior. Again, other cases reveal that unjust socioeconomic structures produce highly vulnerable individuals in search for material gains and personal acknowledgement.
During my years of research into the Pakistani Taliban movement, I have met aged ideologues who were highly preoccupied with the hypocrisy of the west, and for whom it seemed to be an utmost pleasure to repeat the fact that the west was once sponsoring some of the same people, the mujahideen, that they are now stigmatizing as terrorists. As one of the militants, that I interviewed, told me “back then we smelled awfully of sweat, and today we smell awfully of sweat” – he saw no difference in who the mujahedeen were at that time and what the Taliban stand for today, but the change had come from the west, who well-willingly traded principles for power gains. The fight, for this type of militant, is about confronting the superpower-ambitions of the US and the expansionist-colonialist ambitions of the west. The invasion of Afghanistan was about oil, influence or establishing the cultural hegemony of the west, and the US drone campaign that started in 2004 in Pakistan a reflection of the west’s reckless indifference to the sovereignty of Muslim countries. . .
Her conclusion is worth noting:
. . . Today, between 10-20% of Afghanistan is still in the hands of the Taliban. In addition to losing territory to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, the Afghan army has come under pressure from the Islamic State who has made its entrance into both Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Pakistan, 134 children were massacred at a school in Peshawar in 2014 by the Pakistani Taliban – this was months after the Pakistani army initiated a large-scale operation to eliminate terrorist in all shapes and sizes in North Waziristan, the hotbed of the Pakistani Taliban. Al-Qaeda, the movement that Bush promised to destroy “piece by piece” in 2001, never left the area, but only expanded piece by piece, to North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, and Iraq, and recently they also announced the establishment of a new chapter to operate in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. In fact, Al-Qaeda is more forcefully present than it was ever expected in 2011, when the death of Osama Bin Laden was celebrated as a huge victory of the war on terrorism.
There should be little doubt, that after more than a decade of fighting that started in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, and moved to places like Iraq, Mali and Syria, the mission of crushing terrorism does not only falter, but is producing more enemies and more terrorists. Until we are ready to face that the militaristic approaches are complicit in keeping the terrorist movements alive, we will never be able to turn the tide and develop better tools based on a deeper understanding of the multifaceted character of the enemy.