A few days ago, 27 different political parties reached the common conclusion that the best way to deal with the Taliban was to negotiate with them. I have no words to describe mycontempt for the worthies who attended that conclave. But I am reminded of the words a law school friend of mine once used to address opposing counsel: “If you were on fire, I wouldn’t waste the piss to put you out.”
Let me concede that I appear increasingly to be in a minority. Apparently, the burden is now on warmongers like myself to justify our continued opposition to talks. This is my attempt to do so.
Let’s begin with the obvious questions: who are the Taliban? And what do they want?
The word ‘Taliban’ is the plural of the word ‘talib’ which, in turn, is an Arabic word that refers to a student. The term ‘Taliban’ in its current form was originally used to describe the seminary-educated followers of Mullah Omar when he swept to power in Afghanistan in 1994 and has subsequently been used ever since to describe both his followers, as well as people who believe in his particular vision of Islam.
In the particular context of Pakistan, the term ‘Taliban’ is a misnomer. This is because the Taliban proper (i.e., the militants who follow Mullah Omar and who oppose the US presence in Afghanistan) are an Afghan-oriented group interested in seeking power in Afghanistan. At the same time, there are multiple religiously motivated groups in Pakistan who seek to replicate the Taliban’s efforts in Pakistan, one of which is called the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (the ‘TTP’). If we are talking about negotiating with the Taliban in respect of areas within Pakistan, then it needs to be understood that we are talking about negotiating with the TTP and other similar organisations.
Second question: what do the TTP want? The short answer is that the TTP want power; that they want to do in Pakistan what the Taliban did in Afghanistan. The slightly longer answer is that they seek a Pakistan in which the only law is their interpretation of the Sharia, in which music, dancing and all forms of joy are banned, in which women are effectively enslaved, in which Shias are wajib ul qatal and in which the penalty for dissent is death.
On what basis then do we negotiate with the TTP? Unless negotiation means persuading the TTP to surrender, there are only two options. The first is that we compromise geographically and allow the TTP to take over power in certain areas. The second is that we revise the Constitution and the laws of this country. In each case, the quid pro quo would be for the TTP to demand no more.
The problem is that any such agreement with the TTP would be treasonous. And I use the word ‘treason’ with deliberation.
Article 5 of the Constitution provides first that “Loyalty to the State is the basic duty of every citizen” and second that “Obedience to the Constitution and law is the obligation of every citizen wherever he may be and of every other person for the time being within Pakistan”. If I have accurately described the agenda of the TTP, there is no possible negotiated result acceptable to them that will not result in disloyalty to the State and disobedience to the Constitution.
The TTP have made it abundantly clear that they do not accept the Constitution of Pakistan as legitimate. To give power to the TTP is to, therefore, concede that the state of Pakistan is fundamentally illegitimate. And any citizen of Pakistan who makes such a concession is committing treason: handing over Pakistani territory to the TTP is no different from handing over Pakistani territory to India.
In his column from a few days ago, Nadir Hassan referred to negotiations with the IRA, the Afghan Taliban and Palestine in order to contend that we should talk to the Pakistani Taliban. So far as I am concerned, this argument proves my point. If you believe that Pakistan’s claim to dominion over Fata is as bogus as Israel’s claim to Palestine, then please do talk to the TTP. But then recognise that you are also conceding the illegitimacy of the Pakistani state.
What then about the alternative? Why not jettison the Constitution in favour of the Holy Quran and Sunnah?
The short answer is that unless one is a moron (or an apologist for the TTP) one has to accept that there are multiple interpretations possible of what is permissible under Islam; which in turn begs the question of how one is to decide the correct interpretation; which is why we have a democracy; and, more importantly, which is why we have a Constitution. The media stars who hail the TTP would not last 24 hours under TTP rule. The fact that they know it and yet continue to peddle their rubbish is despicable.
Ah, you may say, but we are not talking about changing the Constitution for the whole country, just for Fata and other tribal areas. My question is why does that make a difference? Leaving aside the stupidity of believing that the TTP will be content with ruling just a small part of Pakistan, what part of throwing the population of Fata to the wolves is morally defensible? Please understand that the TTP do not represent the indigenous culture of Fata any more than Hitler represented the indigenous culture of Germany.
The only argument we are left with then is the necessity argument; that we are too dumb, too corrupt, too stupid and too confused to fight back and so we might as well surrender gracefully. My response to that is unprintable. If that is true of us then yes, we deserve to be ruled by the barbarian hordes. But it is not true. The only reason we do not respond is because the gentlemen running our country can’t be bothered to take time out from vandalising the exchequer.
Pakistan is in crisis today not because we lack capability but because our leaders lack faith. We may or may not find the will to defend ourselves. But I promise you that surrender is not the option.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 19th, 2013.