COMMENTARY
 
The Third Wave of Talibanisation
Weekly Pulse
April 27-May 3, 2007
It may just be just an incident, but not an incident that can be easily overlooked. For the gory dimension it entails may have harrowing consequences for the country: A young mother, with her two kids, is driving her car stops at a major inter-section in Islamabad, as the traffic light is red. She is wearing a scarf, but not over her head. From nowhere comes a bearded man with a stick in hand and starts hitting the car, repeatedly shouting at the young lady: “Cover your head with scarf.” In deep shock and fear, she obeys and then drives away the vehicle as soon as the green signal is on.

This happened last week, one of the tales of terror that citizens of Islamabad are gradually becoming accustomed to. Ever since this Burqa-clad brigade of female neo-Taliban has taken over a Children Library in the heart of the city in January, a reign of terror has increasingly gripped the traditionally civic climate of the Capital.

Reign of Terror

Since then, two successive appeasement bids by Religious Affairs Minister Ijazul Haq and PML President Chaudhry Shujaat seem to have further encouraged the sons of Maulana Abdullah, Maulana Abdul Aziz and Maulana Ghazi Abdul Rashid, who are leading the deadly neo-Taliban force numbering thousands, to take the law into their hands, establish an independent Sharia Court, issue un-Islamic Fatwas, attack CD and DVD shops in Islamabad, and kidnap and harass its residents.

Jinnah Super Market, Super Market, Melody Market, Aab-Para Market are some of the important spots for public shopping and entertainment. Since there is no cinema or theatre in town, the only place where people in Islamabad hang around in the evening with their families or kids are these few markets, or respective Markaz in sectors such as F-8, F-10 or F-11. In all of the former four places of shopping and entertainment, incidents of harassment at the hands of these neo-Taliban are numerous, and they are growing.

Even before the well-reported incident of alleged brothel-runner Aunti Shamim’s day-light kidnapping by the female militia took place last month, their male counterparts had started to harass shopkeepers selling music and movies and terrorize citizens who had come for shopping on the way. Even in Jinnah Super, a market that has long been a place of attraction for thrill-filled youngsters of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad, ladies without scarf were scorned at, DVD and CD sellers were thrashed, and their shops emptied.

When all of this happened, it was but natural for local people to ask questions such as: How could these religious thugs take the Capital city and its populace hostage? How can they establish a ‘state within a state’? How can they continue to violate the writ of the state with such impunity? As they attempted to answer these questions, all sorts of speculations arose. Such speculations are still abound—as the state, instead of acting tough, as it normally does in such cases, has only attempted to appease the two Emir-ul-Mo’mineen of Pakistan’s neo-Taliban.

The situation is indeed volcanic, and it has to be reversed at all costs. But reversing it requires a rational understanding of the trail of Talibanisation that first gripped Afghanistan, then our Malakand Division as well as tribal and settled Pashtun areas, and now it has come to haunt us in the federal Capital.

The First Wave

This is a thirteen-year old trail, which began with the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan back in 1994-95. Having covered the rise of Taliban and Taliban-inspired Islamist upsurge in Malakand for a national newspaper, I am quite familiar with how the process of Talibanisation takes shape, then gains momentum as well as how it is eventually reversed.

I aptly remember Mullah Umar, the Afghan Taliban Emir-ul-Momineen, telling me proudly in Kandahar back in February 1995—the time when Taliban had captured only a handful of Afghan provinces—that some hundred Taliban had already reached Chechnya for jihad against the Russians. Indeed, the Taliban rose in full fury, capturing Herat, Kabul, Mazare Sharif and ruining whatever came their way, the women rights, the Afghan minorities, the Budha statutes. In the enforcement of their brand of Sharia, they spared no one, not even those from among them who disagreed. The Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue was perhaps the most notorious leg of the Taliban reign of terror in Afghanistan.

They Sharia Courts would pass stone-age verdicts. In a video that I got hold of, and which no news channel at the time agreed to air, a woman carrying a knife in her hand severed the head a man lying on the ground with his hands and legs tied with a rope. This was the Sharia punishment for a man who had allegedly killed her husband. And the entire gory dram took place in the middle of a football stadium, amid hundreds of blood-thirsty, cheering spectators.

I also remember the verdict with the officials of the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue issued, when a Pakistani football team visited Kandahar to play a friendly football match with an afghan team. The team members were beaten up, made to run for their life in the ground, then caught and head-shaved, and sent back to Pakistan, humiliated and terrorized. President Musharraf is absolutely right when he says in his memoir that the Taliban leadership had stopped listening to Islamabad long before its demise occurred.

And the demise occurred only when massive force was used against it by an international force, against whom the Taliban could not stand for even days back in late 2001. Two successive UN sanctions failed to reverse what I call the first wave of Talibanisation. It got reversed only when force was effectively used. That Taliban are still very much active in Afghanistan has very much to do with the post-Taliban failures of the Karzai government and its international partners. But this is not a subject that I wish to explore here.

There are, however, some key lesson to learn from the first wave of Talibanisation and its reversal: that without effective use of force, this heinous process will most likely grow and get out of hand; that it is in the very nature of extremist religious organizations, their leaders and militants to become independent. If they are not checked in time, their ability to take hostage entire people, nations, regions and even the world is most likely to grow unabated.

The Second Wave

The same lessons could be learned from what I will call as the second wave of Talibanisation, which made its first appearance in our Malakand Division back in late 1995, a development that I am personally witness to as a correspondent of a national daily at the time. I remember when the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Sharia-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) under the leadership of Sufi Muhammad captured Saidu Sharif airport and other important buildings around the town of Mingora, the generally peaceful people of Swat Valley were asking the same question which many people in Islamabad are asking now. “Who are these people? Look at them? Do you see any resemblance between them and us? From where have they come?”

But the sad reality for the innocent Swatis was that they were there. I remember visiting a make-shift headquarter of the TNSM in Mingora, where Klashnikove-clad neo-Taliban forces with black beards and black turbans, who told me, as proudly as Mullah Umar had earlier in the year, that they would not stop until Sharia was enforced in Malakand—a goal they did not shy from envisioning for the rest of Pakistan.

The lesson that only force can work against these people was clear overnight. On my way to Mingora a day before, the General commanding the FC had told me that a military operation was in the offing, and, we, the reporters covering the neo-Taliban upsurge in the region, only have to wait for the night. Before the sun set, the FC operation indeed took place. I remember standing on a rooftop, with my eyes set towards the Saidu Sharif airport, observing the dark sky turning virtually white with mortar fire from the advancing FC troops. As we toured the area where hundreds of TNSM militants were having a field day before, all was clear expect piles of Langar and a few injured bodies. Virtually everyone from TNSM fled, without giving a fight.

Then in an armoured car, the FC brought Sufi Mohammad to villages and towns announcing the TNSM surrender. Yet the organization remained a potent force, as the government made some accommodation with its leadership. The genie of Sufi Mohammad only re-appeared in late 2001, when he misled hundreds of tribal Pashtun into a devastating mission in northern Afghanistan, leading to the death of hundreds of our tribal people at the hands of Rashid Dostum’s Uzbek militia.

This second wave of Talibanisation was forcefully crushed by the state, but it later reappeared in some agencies of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas, such as North and South Waziristan. Not just that, its ripple effect has also been felt in settled Pashtun areas such as Tank, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan and the Frontier Capital, the city of Peshawar. In scores of incidents, those disagreeing with the vision of the neo-Taliban have been murdered, including journalists trying to cover the regressive development, even doctors attempting to give precious polio drops to children.

The Third Wave

What has happened there has not yet occurred in Islamabad. However, if the state failed to act promptly, time is not afar when the people of Islamabad will get the same doze from the neo-Taliban forces of Pakistani brand, who have already speaking the language of the Afghan Taliban officials of the Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue. They are in violation of the basic tenets of Islam, by establishing a Sharia Court and issuing Fatwas—which are an exclusive prerogative of the state, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. What we are seeing in Islamabad constitutes—in my humble opinion—the Third Wave of Talibanisation.

What this entails is summed up in a recently-released report of an Investigation Committee of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement on Lal Masjid, Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Faridia in Islamabad. Its startling disclosures do not leave anything for me to add here. Here are some of its excerpts:

“Along with Jamia Hafsa, Jamia Faridia, the male and female students of Lal Masjid have been issued with separate instructions and directives. The female students of Jamia Hafsa have been ordered and instructed that as soon as they sight a woman or a female student without a burqa they must beat them with their sticks and bring them to the special cell, Mafi Khana, in the Jamia Hafsa and forcefully compel them to ask for forgiveness in the confession cell and if they refuse to do so then to take them into the very heinous and dangerous torture cells within the Jamia Hafsa and torture them until they beg for forgiveness and pledge not to travel again without wearing a Burqah.

“These burqah clad female students visit the wedding and birthday parties and use torture to force them to end the un-Islamic customs. Furthermore, in groups of 15 they enter into such houses which according them is not observing the Sharia of Maulana Abdul Aziz and Maulana Ghazi Abdul Rashid, torture them, ransack the homes and drag them by placing ropes in their necks and bring them to the Jamia Hafsa – and not only ‘teach them a lesson,’ torture them and compel them to confess that they are in the business of vulgarity….

“According to the instructions of the administrators of the Madrassa, to forcefully enforce the imposition of the Sharia, the male students of Jamia Faridia…openly roam around Islamabad, damage the vehicles driven by females, beat them up and claim that it is forbidden for a female to drive the car. They beat the females wearing jeans trousers on their legs and threaten them if they will be seen again in jeans trouser there legs will be chopped off.

“The same stick-wielding Sharia-imposing fanatics have also been seen stopping vehicles and taking the cassette and CD players out. They also beat up and harass the males wearing trouser-shirt or suits and threat them not wear this dress as this is un-Islamic. They grab their ties and threat them not to again wear this symbol of Cross or else they will be hanged by these ties…They also tell their abductees that at present they are only 7000 and wait for the time when their force increases to 70000 then they will dismiss President Pervez Musharraf, occupy the rule of the country and impose their Sharia.

“A large number of students living there are those engaged in the Afghan Jihad besides destitute who are there for the sake of free boarding, lodging and monthly stipends. They are trained for suicidal attacks…These men ostensibly number about 4,000 to 5,000. There exits stockpiles of modern weaponry including Klashnekov Rifles (AK-47) and Rockets and Launchers in Jamia Hafsa and Jamia Faridia.”

Post-Script

It is not that the MQM report is telling us something different. The residents of Islamabad daily come across instances of Talibanisation. One only has to walk across the area where a Children Library is under illegal occupation, and an un-Islamic court is in operation. At night, it is a commonplace to observe masked men wearing Klashnekov around their shoulders.

Is this a situation that demands appeasement, and more appeasement, from the authorities? Who has the first right over Islamabad? Those who have lived here most of their lives? Or these people who do not share anything, not even mentally but in physical appearance as well, with the residents of the federal Capital. Human shields or not, the state has many options less than that of using force?

These people can be easily “smoked out” of the illegal estate expanded in the name of regressive religion by cordoning off the area, cutting off its electric, gas, and water supply. Or, as I argued in a TV talk, by stopping the supply of food, meant to feed not just hundreds but thousands of male and female neo-Taliban.