COMMENTARY
 
Muslim Khan: A Taliban Celebrity in the Dock
Weekly Pulse
September 18-24, 2009
In the heyday of the extremist movement in Swat early this year, Pakistani TV anchors would spare no opportunity in making him a celebrity. Muslim Khan, the spokesman of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi in Malakand Division, could be seen almost daily sitting with an anchor out in the open, mostly beneath a tree with his legs crossed, propagating his poisonous extremist views. In one such instance, the lady anchor had to wear a Burqa to broadcast his Jahiliya thoughts live to us.

And in a country like Pakistan, where majority wishes to live as peaceful and prosperous a life as people elsewhere in the world do, we always felt ashamed for whatever he would say so defiantly in defense of Taliban’s jihadi agenda. We also wondered how he could speak so freely, with each word uttered by him adding to the general perception of Pakistan in the outside world that its government and state authorities were not serious at all in combating extremists and terrorists.

Then, on the eve of the eighth anniversary of the terrorist events in America on September 11, we received the encouraging news: Muslim Khan, along with Mahmood Khan and three other low-ranking Taliban leaders in Swat, had been captured a few days ago in an army operation. Why we allowed him to preach extremism for so long still remains a mystery, but at least we can take a sigh of relief now that the self-proclaimed ideologue of the Taliban movement in Swat, for whose arrest the government had offered a head money of Rs. 10 million, has finally met the fate he deserved.

Stark Contrast

The stark contrast in his physical appearance as a Taliban celebrity until a few months ago and his Saddam-like despondent outlook after the recent arrest is a reminder of the ultimate fate that a preacher of extremism has to meet eventually—right here and not in the hereafter. Like Baitullah Mehsud, ‘Maulvi’ Umer, ‘Sufi’ Muhammad, ‘Maulana’ Fazlullah and scores of other Taliban figures, dead or alive, captured or still on the run, Muslim Khan was surely a stigma for an otherwise open-minded and friendly nation of Pakistanis.

As long as Muslim Khan was alive and kicking, he was a source of great shame and embarrassment for all of us. Kudos to Pakistan Army for silencing filthy souls like Muslim Khan, who must face the very laws of the country they opposed in the name of ‘Shariah’ and must be held accountable for their terrorist deeds. Our special thanks and prayers for the brave soldiers currently fighting against extremists and terrorists in Swat and tribal areas and rendering great sacrifices for our safety and security from terrorists like him.

Muslim Khan is no ordinary hunt for our security forces. He has a pretty long track-record of calculated mischief in the name of religion. Since the summer of 2007, Swat had become the center-stage for terrorism in Pakistan, with Muslim Khan defending each terrorist attack against security forces and innocent people on behalf of TNSM chief Fazalullah, the Radio Mullah, including the burning of almost all the girl schools in the valley, the lashing of a 17-year old girl in public shown in a videotape released in April, and the declaration of war against security forces in May.

Controversial Past

As it happens in the case of most extremists, their life history is full of contradictions and quite often shrouded in mystery. For instance, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan, was fascinated by Marxist ideals during his early education before actively participating in Islamist politics at Kabul University in late 60s and early 70s. Sometime in the 70s, Muslim Khan received his intermediate degree from Jehanzeb College Saidu Sharif in Swat, where he led People’s Student Federation, the student wing of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party. He then joined a religious party while also selling electronic appliances in Mingora market until early 90s. Then, he joined merchant shipping as a seaman, a service he soon abandoned and moved first to Dubai and then to Kuwait. From there, he moved to the United States in late 90s, where he worked as a house painter in Boston until 2002, when he returned home to join the TNSM.

In 2007, he replaced Faridullah as the extremist organization’s spokesman, and it is from then onwards that he became one of the most recognized faces of the Taliban in Swat valley, frequently speaking to local and foreign journalists on behalf of Fazlullah in Urdu, Arabic and English. Thanks to electronic media revolution in Pakistan, marked by recurrent instances of irresponsible reporting amid a worsening wave of domestic terrorism, a low life like Muslim Khan was instantly turned into a celebrity figure.

Even though in his articulation of violent jihadi thoughts, Muslim Khan was no match to the great ideologues of militant Islamism like Hasan al-Banna, at least he shared with the founder of Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen in Egypt his experience of Western living.

Mouthpiece of Extremism

In an interview this spring with The Wall Street Journal, Muslim Khan, for instance, recalled during his years in Boston telling a friend who was attending a college in New York to abandon his studies because he would learn nothing. He said the US education system “did nothing but spread obscenity and immorality.”

In the same interview, Muslim Khan called the US “the source of all the trouble for Muslims.” He said he had a list of Pakistanis in Swat whom the Taliban planned to execute, including a woman who he said would be killed because her husband worked for the American army.

Speaking with British Channel 4 Newsin April, Muslim Khan complained about the presence of white Western women among NATO forces. “As long as these infidels are present in our land, it is our duty to fight them,” he said.

In February, when the government agreed to enforce Nizam-e-Adl in Swat valley, Muslim Khan was quick to announce that Taliban's first responsibility was to establish Shariah in the Swat Valley to set an example. After that, he said, “It is our responsibility to go and establish Shariah anywhere in the country.” His public pronouncement of such expansionist ambitions on the part of TNSM in Swat in the months ahead was instrumental in the launching of the security operation in Swat valley in May.

It was Muslim Khan who declared the start of a war against Pakistani security forces, holding them responsible for breaking the agreement. However, faced with a surgical operation in an area where the military command imposed a news blackout, Muslim Khan’s voice gradually disappeared from wire services and TV channels. His last frustrating act before going into virtual hiding was to warn the same anchors and reporters who had made him a celebrity out of nowhere of “dire consequences” and “strict punishment” in accordance with “Shariah” in a faxed letter, which was widely condemned by the local media. In the letter, Muslim Khan had accused the media of “false” reporting and siding with the “infidels.”

Interestingly, the reason why he threatened the media was because it reported a glaring contradiction between his belief and practice: while Muslim Khan vocally defended the destruction of public schools by Taliban alleging that they were imparting Western-inspired learing or pleading that girls are not allowed to go to school under TNSM's brand of Shariah , his won son was enrolled in the Pharmacy Department of the University of Peshawar, which was a co-education institution. More interesting was the reply of Muslim Khan when this was pointed out, as he stated that “the study of medicine is allowed in Islam.”

Height of Shame

Muslim Khan’s deadliest exposition came to fore when he vocally defended the public lashing of a 17-year old girl named Chand by his son Adalat Khan in Kala Killay area of Swat. He justified the act, accusing the little girl shown constantly begging for mercy of “living for three years with her father-in-law instead of her husband.” The video of the tragic incident was published on Youtube in April, with Muslim Khan confirming the incident had actually taken place eight months ago.

In TV interviews, however, he did object to public lashing, saying an inquiry would be conducted to know why the girl was brought before public for punishment instead of awarding the sentence inside a room. Muslim Khan’s additional claim was that two men who held the hands and legs of the girl while being lashed were “her relatives.” He maintained that the actual punishment for adultery was stoning to death. However, as there were no Qazis available, the girl was awarded punishment of 40 lashes.

The video showing lashing of the young girl victim being beaten so savagely by a turbaned Taliban Mullah amid scores of stone-aged, blood-thirsty Taliban crowd, sent shock waves across Pakistan and the world. And this inhuman episode was instrumental in bringing about a credible public opinion shift against Taliban—just as consistent claims of Muslim Khan about destroying girl schools, killing security personnel and innocent civilians in terrorist acts, including several public beheadings in a Mingora square, were. This anti-Taliban swing in national public opinion encouraged the civilian government to fully own a security operation, and the country’s security establishment to undertaken a resolute counter-insurgency campaign in Swat and beyond from April until present.

During this time, one after another, Pakistan Army has claimed scores of successes, including the death of some 2,000 insurgents and capture of top leaders like Muslim Khan and ‘Maulvi’ Umar, his counterpart in the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in August in a US drone attack in South Waziristan. The security forces are currently tightening the noose around Fazalullah and other jihadi leaders in Swat and tribal areas.

Horrible Example

As the fast evolving trend in the ongoing security operation in the region shows, it is only a matter of time when Fazalullah and notorious thugs like Mangal Bagh will be captured alive or dead. Mangal is the leader of Lashkar-e-Islam in tribal areas’ Khyber Agency, and he was a bus conductor before, which is as menial a profession as Muslim Khan’s American job as a house painter was.

All those who have been arrested have to face the music now. Muslim Khan, however, deserves more than others insofar as the accountability process for captured extremists is concerned. He must stand trial under treason charges, for which maximum punishment is death, and it should be a trial open to the same media that gave him so much coverage. Let us see whether he makes his argument with the same courage and confidence he was quite used to before TV cameras some months!

If we wish to win the war against extremists, we need to expose self-proclaimed extremist ideologues like him and his jahiliya thoughts in the full public eye. For retribution’s sake, we need to make a horrible example of Muslim Khan so that no one from amongst our illiterate masses would ever be misguided by all those still committed to a heinous regressive agenda of al-Qaeda-inspired extremist organizations like TNSM or TTP.

The ideology they preach creates suicide bombers from amongst our misguided youth, poverty-stricken population and resource-stretched country. The extremist ideas that Muslim Khan preached and polluted our social environment with led to unprecedented incidents of Muslim-on-Muslim violence, which is a hallmark of al-Qaeda-driven terrorist wave that haunts the Muslim world today. Our state security agencies must show no leniency towards uncivilised terrorist ideologues like Muslim Khan. Why wait for so long, let the cancer of terrorism spread and make millions homeless, as it happened in Swat and tribal areas? Why not nip the evil in the bud? And, last but not the least, our media people must be careful when they report terrorism. They must realize that by turning a low life like Muslim Khan into a Taliban celebrity, they might have indirectly contributed to the countrywide wave of terrorism emanating from Swat and tribal areas.

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