VIEW: Of interventions —Gulmina Bilal Ahmad

Courtesy to "Daily Times"

We are not fighting only a military war. It is a war against mindsets and attitudes that are discriminatory and bigoted. It is actually a war against a paranoid mindset

Comedy of errors or a case of what goes around comes around? For years now, human rights activists have highlighted the plight of the ‘missing persons’. From demonstrations to contacting politicians to even approaching the Supreme Court, the families of the missing persons have continued their protests and agitation. It is alleged that the missing persons were and are in the custody of the security agencies, specifically the ISI. The ISI initially denied the charge but then accepted having some people in its custody. However, now the boot is on the other foot. A former ISI agent, a foreign journalist and, ironically, a defence lawyer of the missing persons have gone ‘missing’ as the media put it. In reality, they have been kidnapped by a group called the Asian Tigers who apparently are ‘avenging’ the way the Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz was ‘deceived’ into wearing a burqa and trying to escape.

According to media reports, the three men had gone to the tribal areas to make a documentary on the Taliban. A legitimate reason. The presence of the former agent, ‘Colonel Imam’ perhaps was necessary as he is reputed to not only know the tribal areas like the back of his hand but is considered by many Taliban as a teacher, given his work during the 1980s and 1990s. Thus, it came as no surprise that the Afghan Taliban are now trying to secure his release from the Pakistani Taliban. However, apparently there are various factions within the Pakistani Taliban and one faction that appears to be inspired by the Lal Masjid clerics looks upon Colonel Imam as a spy. According to media reports, “The Taliban commander said that the Punjabi Taliban groups, including the one led by Ilyas Kashmiri, were extremely annoyed with the former ISI agent, because they believed that he played an important role in the arrest of all their operatives and leaders.”

In another instance, the Swat Taliban claimed responsibility for the recent suicide bombings targeting the police in Timergara, Dir, and the killings of five anti-Taliban activists in Swat. The Taliban spokesperson in his statement has warned the people of Swat and the general public to refrain from interacting with the security forces, police and other government agencies. According to media reports, “He threatened the military that the death of each and every Taliban militant would be avenged and that Allah’s writ instead of the government’s writ would be restored in Swat and the whole of Malakand region.” The spokesman also asked the people of Swat not to buy the property of Khans in the district, as their lands were disputed and the Taliban had to settle scores with the landlords.

The operation in Swat and the Lal Masjid operation were two different operations, at different times, by different military and civilian commanders. They affected two different groups of the Pakistani Taliban. The Swat operation directly affected the Tehrik-i-Taliban and the sub-faction of the Swat Taliban, whereas the Lal Masjid operation affected the Punjabi Taliban more. The Lal Masjid operation was carried out in July 2007 whereas the Swat one is of course recent. However, we are still confronted with the residuary implications of both these operations. The recent killings by the Swat Taliban and the kidnapping of the former officers of the intelligence agencies underlie the point that I have tried to make previously too in this space. Military operations on their own are not enough. We are not fighting only a military war. It is a war against mindsets and attitudes that are discriminatory and bigoted. It is actually a war against a paranoid mindset. Dr Ayesha Jalal while speaking at the Concerned Citizens Forum a few days back hit the nail right on the head when she pointed out how our mindsets and attitudes are partially based on paranoia and partially on a bigoted worldview. This is true, tragically for most of us, but for the Taliban more so than others. The statement of the Swat Taliban spokesman said it all when he said, “Allah’s writ and not the government’s writ will be established” in Swat. Does he mean to state that the rest of the country is Godless? If I were a religious scholar, I might flirt with the idea of actually inviting the spokesperson to defend this remark of his. By saying that the Swat Taliban want to establish “Allah’s writ in Swat and Malakand region”, he can be suspected of saying that actually Allah’s writ, i.e. His will, is not prevalent in other parts of the world. Is he cognisant of the full implications of this statement of his?

This is actually a war of mindsets and attitudinal change. It cannot be won by military action alone. Military action is an important first step. However, other steps are needed in this process of behavioural change such as debriefing of the captured militants, facilitating them to re-examine their worldview, providing them alternate forms of thinking based on diversity and pluralism. In other words, as the military actions rage on in North and South Waziristan and as slowly citizens and internally displaced people resume their lives, a comprehensive rehabilitation programme for the Taliban needs to be also developed and rolled out. Only military action will just cause resentment and hatred, leading to even more intense militant and extremist attitudes. Cases in point are the recent tragedies of kidnapping of the former agents and foreign journalist as well as the tragic killing of the Timergara police and five anti-Taliban activists. The tragedies of today are the direct result of yesterday, i.e. The Swat and Lal Masjid operations. In order to avoid tomorrow’s tragedies resulting from today’s actions, we need to focus on military and social interventions. Just what exactly these interventions can be or how to design and develop them are pertinent questions, which need to be discussed at least. Military interventions are not sustainable in the long run, nor have they ever produced attitudinal changes. The sooner we realise this the better.

The writer is an Islamabad-based consultant. She can be reached at