The Peshawar massacre: Pakistan’s problems with the Taliban didn’t start with 9/11

5:19 pm - December 18th 2014

by Sunny Hundal    

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Tuesday was a hard day to absorb the news. All year I’ve seen some really horrible videos, mostly by ISIS, showing men being shot in the back of their heads, throats slit or being buried in mass graves. But that day… maybe it was the pictures that came out of Peshawar, the Facebook updates from friends or just the nature of the massacre… I was nearly in tears. You can try but you can’t always remain emotionless in the face of such news.

I wanted to wait at least a couple of days to collect my thoughts and write something about the politics surrounding this issue.

I can’t even imagine the horrors that Pakistanis are going through. The Taliban have attacked over 1000 schools in the last five years and they become more vicious every year. How can you even live a normal life when you’re not sure if your kids will come back alive from school?

I suspect this is a tipping point. The Taliban’s desperation is being driven by infighting, defections and losing more support from the public. In June the Pakistani army launched a military operation against the Taliban and other jihadi groups – Operation Zarb-e-Azb – which also seriously degraded their capabilities. Most Pakistanis will always support their army against others. From here on, the Taliban in Pakistan (also called the TTP) is headed for a downward spiral: less people will join them, help them, donate to them and defend them in public. They may successfully mutate into something else, but its certainly likely that the TTP is now headed for doom.

And then there is the international politics. I’ve seen several people since yesterday blame American drone attacks for the Taliban’s actions, or claim that this was all America’s fault anyway since Pakistan was relatively peaceful before 9/11. I want to knock these two fallacies on their heads.

First, the drones. Yes there have been drones strikes in Pakistan but the vast majority have actually been in Afghanistan. The two countries are not the same. Afghanistan has its own Taliban that is different to the TTP and the former does not attack civilian or government targets in Pakistan (unlike the TTP). There are complicated reasons for this, but the point is that drones strikes in Pakistan are rare. It is not unusual for the TTP to kill more Pakistanis in a month than the US government has killed in 10 years of drone strikes. And most of those strikes have been with Pakistani government approval. See more on that here.

Why does the TTP kill innocent Pakistanis when it opposes the killing of civilians via US drones? Because their stated aim is to take over the country, rip up the constitution and install a system of sharia of their hardline interpretation. I’m not making this up – this was in their list of demands. They are waging a war against the Pakistani government and won’t give up until their demands are met. The drones are a sideshow.

Then, the War on Terror. There’s no denying that it has created instability in Pakistan (although Afghanistan was going through a quiet civil war before as the Taliban forcibly took over territory like ISIS have done).

But the seeds of Pakistan’s instability were sown long before 9/11, when Pakistan was funding hardline groups in a proxy war against India. What frustrates me about the ‘war on terror’ argument is how western-centric and ignorant of South Asian history it is. The jihadi groups aren’t new to Pakistan – what’s new is their focus on creating chaos in Pakistan rather than India. (You may argue that the TTP is different to the likes of LeT and others that were focused on India, but the same infrastructure of hardline madrassahs, preachers and support in the Urdu media created the monsters).

I want Pakistan to be a safe, secure and prosperous country. I was also pleased, as someone of Indian origin, that India was the only country yesterday to mark the Peshawar massacre with silence, while not a single Middle Eastern country did the same.

But that safety and security will only come after enough Pakistanis realise that the Taliban itself is the problem, because they want to destroy the country as it exists and remodel it to their own twisted, hardline version of Islam. The United States isn’t helping but blaming them is like focusing on a gash while your body is being destroyed by cancer. The Taliban is the cancer and its about time it was rooted out before it destroys the body of the Pakistani state.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: a) Section ,Foreign affairs ,Religion ,South Asia

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Reader comments

1. EdificationOfTheIgnorant

” but the point is that drones strikes in Pakistan are rare. ”

Total strikes: 381
Total reported killed: 2,537 – 3,646
Civilians reported killed: 416 – 951
Children reported killed: 168 – 200
Total reported injured: 1,128 – 1,557
Strikes under the Bush Administration: 51
Strikes under the Obama Administration: 330

84 of the 2,379 dead have been identified as al qaida.

Thanks I needed a laugh.

Those figures are over a DECADE: 2004 – 2014. In one day the Taliban killed nearly as many children as drones did over 10 YEARS. So yes, they are rare and they are a sideshow for the extremists.

Did not the Pakistan intelligence service back the Taliban over the years, and therefore are we not dealing here with a typical example of ‘blowback’?

More generally, does not having a state that is constitutionally and institutionally based upon a particular religion — surely the basis for the formation of Pakistan in the first place — make it a playground for religiously-based political organisations and for opportunist politicians to play the religious card, therefore making the country vulnerable to religious extremists, who are adept at doing this?

I feel that if Pakistan is rid itself of religious extremism, it will have to become a secular state in which religion (any religion) is a private matter, and it will also have to rid itself of the corruption, social deprivation and gross poverty and inequality to which religious extremists can point as a mobilising factor in order to gain support.

The Taliban might well get hammered this time around, but so long as the social conditions which enable such currents to gain support and traction remain in place, Pakistan will remain vulnerable to religious extremists.

The Taliban are a cancerous growth, but they are feeding upon a highly putrescent body.

I fail to see the relevance of middle eastern nations commemorating the Peshawar massacre with a minute’s silence.

1) nobody in the middle east considers Pakistan as part of the middle east.

2) when has anyone in the middle east commemorated death with silence? Have you ever seen a Palestinian funeral for civilian casualties? Or an Iraqi one? They are very noisy affairs.

Something we will never ever have control over ! We will never ever have control over those deliriously deluded monsters in a million years.

So why not worry about problems closer to home :

You lot think the Daily Mail readers are a bunch of idiots but ask yourself why it has a BIGGER following ?

The Daily Mail bunch also cares more about us in the United Kingdom that are being screwed left, right and centre by this Government that only cares about it’s image on the world stage and not for it’s own population. Especially the plebs below them and their bullying Conservative ideology.

Pakistan has a long way to go before it enters the world as a moderate country, you only need to look at it’s law and the way it deals with people , the laws on death for crime. Pakistan has 8,000 people waiting for a death penalty for crimes we are told which you can be stoned I know that hanging is the major way of getting rid of people who have done something against the state, but stoning for rape or for adultery.

Not the man of course the women.

Sorry but Pakistani China Saudi Arabia and Iran have a long way to go before I would say we should call them civilized.

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