Idolising the Taliban (Published in Newsline October, 2008)

 

Babar Ayaz laments the fact that media celebrities are glorifying the country’s retrogressive forces as heroic warriors fighting an anti-imperialist war.

 

The country was witness to yet another devastating suicide attack, this time at Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel, in which 53 people were killed and nearly 260 injured. And, once again, several electronic and Urdu media journalists were, directly or indirectly, justifying the act instead of condemning it. It’s unfortunate that many politicians, columnists, TV hosts and self-styled analysts have become apologists for the terrorists. All in the name of anti-Americanism – and to protest an ‘imaginary war’ and a ‘conspiracy’ that is being hatched against Islam.

Precisely what is the role of the media in any society? The simplistic answer given by many is that its role is to inform the people about the facts objectively. If only it were as simple as that. You can invite 10 reactionaries and just one voice of sanity and profess to have covered both views objectively.

The media, especially the electronic media, in today’s world has evolved as the biggest opinion-making vehicle. It has taken the lead by initiating a debate on the burning issue of terrorism. But the choice of guests leaves a lot to be desired. The regulars, Imran Khan, Hamid Gul, Javed Hashmi, Jamaat-e-Islami and JUI leaders represent the lobby which has been dismissing the ‘war against terrorism’ as an American war. The result of this disbalanced choice of people is that the public is being misled and various jihadi groups are being glorified as anti-imperialist warriors.

Simplistic solutions are being presented by some popular talk show hosts and a number of politicians. An easy and populist line is to simply blame the government for conducting the American ‘war on terror.’ But one cannot walk away from the issue simply by blaming the US and its allies.

The trouble is that our media anchors and politicians are looking at this issue without any historical and ideological perspective. It has to be studied against the backdrop of the social, political and economic environment of our society and our geo-strategic conditions. Unless we understand this phenomenon in its domestic and international perspectives, the issue cannot be resolved.

Most politicians who appear on the television channels view this war as a reaction to Musharraf and the US actions. Moreover, most TV anchors and their preferred guests are of the view that we should hold talks with the terrorists. Mushtaq Minhas of Bolta Pakistan at Aaj TV, Javed Chaudhry of Aaj Tak at Express News and Hamid Mir of Capital Talk at GEO, all have one stance – that these Pakistani Taliban are our own people, who are fighting against the American intrusion in Afghanistan. They have a right to their views, but they should also invite those analysts who are bold enough to articulate the other point of view. Only a few TV comperes such as Nusrat Javed and Anjum Rashid are giving us a realistic picture.

Why are our journalists not informing the public that the Taliban want to work against Pakistan’s declared foreign policy, which is in conformity with UN resolutions? International law states that no country should harbour terrorists and allow its land to be used as a sanctuary for armed interference in a neighbouring country. Why are the apologists for the Taliban ignoring the fact that the latter have virtually declared independence?

Look at the list of their demands. They want that the government should not stop the Taliban from using Pakistan as a hinterland for their war against the Afghan government and its western allies, that it should not stop its people from joining jihadi groups, getting trained and participating in the jihad declared by Al-Qaeda and its associates against all such governments, which fall in the category of Jahiliyya. (See Sayyid Qutb’s Signpost and Zawahiri’s speeches).  Also, they want that Pakistan should support all Muslim militant groups such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad (now operating freely under different names) who fight in India and that it should let the local Taliban enforce their version of Salafist Islam in the country.

I am amazed at the short-term memory of our journalists and politicians who blame the government for breaking the accord in Waziristan under US pressure. No doubt US pressure existed. But one should not forget that after the accord, a local Taliban force emerged and started forcing people in FATA and the settled areas to change their way of life. Further, they did not honour their agreement to deny a safe haven to local and foreign Taliban in Waziristan.

Taliban apologists conveniently ignore the fact that the militant Islamists have a strong hold on the madrassas, where young minds are influenced and prepared for suicide-bombings. If these politicians and anchormen honestly don’t understand the gravity of the challenge, they should read an excellent book, The A-Z of Jihadi Organisations in Pakistan, written by Mohammad Amir Rana in 2004 on this subject, and Khaled Ahmed’s paper published by SAPNA to understand what we are faced with.

There is no doubt that many innocent people are dying in the crossfire, but talk show hosts are not asking the tough questions – perhaps deliberately. Why don’t we ask supporters of the Taliban why terrorist training camps were being allowed in Afghanistan? Why was the Al-Qaeda given a license to create havoc in Nairobi, Saudi Arabia, Spain, London and New York? Why don’t the Taliban join the democratic process and prepare to contest the 2009 elections to remove Karzai? Why are the Taliban giving shelter to the Sipah-e-Sahaba and promoting sectarian violence in Pakistan? Why have the local Taliban killed over 150 Maliks and elders, who have differed with them, in the last two years?

The apologists for the militants, who blame the government for the military operation, also need to ask why the Pakistani forces had to go into FATA in the first place, disturbing the age-old system? Was it not because the area had been taken over by the Taliban through brute force? You talk to ordinary Pathans from the tribal areas working in Karachi and they will tell you how moneyed and well-armed the Taliban are. They admit that anybody who speaks against the Taliban is killed the following day. In this intolerant atmosphere, our leading TV hosts go and interview people on the streets of FATA and ask them whether they like the Taliban rule or not. The obvious answer they get is, ‘the Taliban are great.’ Nobody wants to be killed for telling the truth about the Taliban’s ruthlessness.

These Taliban supporters believe that if NATO forces are withdrawn, peace would return to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now this is a wild dream as the situation is far more complex. The fall of the Karzai government and the withdrawal of the NATO forces would push Afghanistan into another civil war, and we will see a repeat of what happened when the Soviet forces were pulled out.

As for Pakistan, if Obama were to win the elections, he is likely to divert his attention from Iraq to Afghanistan, as stated by him many times. Once he is firmly in the saddle, he would start pushing Pakistan to seal the borders and shut down all Taliban safe havens.

So both ways we are in trouble. In order to manage such a tricky situation, Pakistan needs to build a consensus between the politicians on foreign policy. The decisions should now be taken by the political government, as the failure of the army-led foreign policy on India and Afghanistan is evident.

The media has to build public opinion against interference in Afghanistan’s politics and to isolate the local jihadi forces and the Taliban. If a policy of non-interference is not adopted, then Pakistan is in for trouble from the Americans, from the Indians and most certainly, from the Afghan government. We cannot hoodwink them by declaring that we are not interfering and then quietly encourage local or Afghan Taliban.

Overzealous media celebrities must realise that retrogressive forces cannot be idolised as great nationalists, who are fighting an anti-imperialist war. At the end of the day, the Taliban philosophy of life will hurt the poor people of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and impose social and political suppression. Our journalists have to choose between the religious fascism of the Taliban and democracy.

We cannot jeopardise the whole nation’s future just because we do not like American policies. The media and politicians must understand that they are the opinion-makers and not reactionary preachers.

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