A Battle of Ideas

by Abdul Majeed Abid

“When I knew that they were burning our schools, I thought they were burning education, they were burning books. I have to be educated. I’ll be educated no matter what the odds.”

Malala Yousafzai

Last Week’s attack on Malala Yousafzai, a 14 year old beacon of hope from Swat, garnered all sorts of reactions. Most people were shocked by the brutality of the perpetrators. The timing of that attack, in my opinion, was an extremely unfortunate one as it co-incided with the ending of PTI’s “Peace March” towards Waziristan. Attack on Malala has been construed as a stepping stone to military operation in Waziristan, a primer that turns public opinion towards a certain tilt. Conspiracy theories have been spun at an alarming pace about involvement of various Intelligence Agencies in the Attack(while the TTP has claimed resposnibility and no one from TTP ever denied that). Comparisons have been made between the coverage that Malala is getting and coverage accorded to victims of Drone Attacks. Recent photographs have emerged of Malala and her parents in meeting with U.S Officials. Even comparisons with Afia Siddiqi, the last woman to be throned as “Daughter of the Nation” have been made admist all the kerkuffle. Malala’s choice of Ideal personality(Barack Obama) has been construed as a sign of secularism. Different political factions have used the incident for advancing their own agendas. More than half the Twitter and Facebook population of Pakistan has put pictures of Malala as their Display Picture.  Proclamations(We are all Malala) and counter proclamations(We are not Malala) abound. Op-Eds about the incident and what it represents have been written by Major National and International Newspapers.

I don’t wish to repeat what has already been written and said. There are a lot of misconceptions flying around that need to be critically examined and discussed. I can go on about the fact that Afia Siddiqi is a U.S National and can thus not be “Daughter of the Nation” because our Supreme Court has strong reservations about “Dual Nationals”. Or I can point that pictures of all the important leaders of Pakistan, past and present, from Ayub Khan to Maulana Fazl ur Rehman and of all our military leaders, with the U.S Officials are present in official record, so what is the point in constructing conspiracy theories about pictures of a 14 year child with more heart than anyone of us? I can even say that liking Barack Obama, the first African American President of a country where African Americans could not go to the same school as White people 50 years ago, is not a particular crime. I would, however, like to clear misconceptions of the most improtant question about the incident. Can Taliban hurt innocent children and attack women? From what I have read over internet forums and heard in gatherings, the consenus seems to be that Taliban can not possibly do such thing as it is not according to Islam.

Taliban, contrary to the image of them as ‘Knights in shining Armor’, are adherents of a regressive ideology, one that strives to replicate events of 7th century. This regressive mindset does not allow any kind of individual liberties or education for women. Malala and girls like her openly defy this mindset and that was the biggest reason leading to the brutal attack on the girls. I would like to quote Eqbal Ahmed, one of the greatest minds from Pakistan, regarding the Taliban. He wrote in this very newspaper on 23th August, 1998:

The Taliban’s is the most retrograde political movement in the history of Islam. The warlords who proscribe music and sports in Afghanistan, inflict harsh punishments upon men for trimming their beards, flog taxi drivers for carrying women passengers, prevent sick women from being treated by male physicians, banish girls from schools and women from the work place, are not returning Afghanistan to its traditional Islamic way of life as the Western media reports sanctimoniously. They are devoid of the ethics, aesthetics, humanism, and Sufi sensibilities of traditional Muslims, including Afghans of yesteryears. To call them medieval, is to insult the age of Hafiz and Saadi, of Rabi’a Basri and Mansur Al-Hallaj, of Amir Khusrau and Hazrat Nizamuddin. The Taliban are the expression of a modern disease, symptoms of a social cancer which shall destroy Muslim societies if its growth is not arrested and the disease is not eliminated. It is prone to spreading, and the Taliban will be the most deadly communicators of this cancer if they remain so organically linked to Pakistan”.

This is not the first instance of Taliban attempting murder of innocent women and they have previously destroyed a number of schools in Swat, Waziristan and in Afghanistan. There are recorded instance of Taliban using women and children as Human Shields.Taliban have killed mercilessly anyone who dared oppose their rigid ideology over the years. The theory of Good Taliban/Bad Taliban is nothing but an Urban Legend. Pakistani Taliban(supposedly Bad Taliban), more inclined towards Takfiri ideology, have actively worked in tandem with Afghan Taliban(so-called Good Taliban). Mullah Fazlullah and his warriors retreated to Afghanistan during Pakistan Army’s operation in Swat. Similarly, Jalaluddin Haqqani and his warriors moved to Waziristan to escape NATO forces.

Our fight with the Taliban is not a war of weapons, it is a war of ideologies. There are too many people admist our ranks who are sympathetic towards the Taliban because they are under the misguided belief that Taliban are doing the right thing. A consensus has to be developed if we are to fight this war of ideas. The “justification” provided by the TTP about the Malala attack shows us to which limit they would go in their lust for blood. They have not given any direct reference to any scripture but have used examples out of context to prove that they are right. They have vowed to attack Malala again. Peace Deals with these bigots have failed innumerably, with great loss of lives. A comprehensive Counter Terrorism strategy needs to be implemented to counter the beasts. Since 2009, NACTA(National Counter Terrorism Authority) has been established but it has done little till daye due to conflict over its jurisdiction and ownership. It is currently overseen by the Ministry of Interior which according to Mr. Tariq Parvez(ex-DG FIA), is not the right move an NACTA should be under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Pakistan has no national counter terrorism strategy despite 20 years of experience in combating terrorism. Consequently, the current effort is ad hoc, lacks any national sense of direction, and has no long term plan to deal with such a crucial threat. There is no national counter terrorism action plan indicating what needs to be done, by whom, and according to what timeline. As a result, there is no unity of effort at the national level to combat what many consider an existential threat to Pakistan and a threat to global peace.

The war has to be fought on the military as well as the ideological front and we need to decide which side we support, once and for all.

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