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Wednesday, August 04, 2021

‘I don’t think we have reached the stage when Taliban will take over Pakistan’

Four Pakistani journalists—<B><font color="#cc000">Rahimullah Yousufzai</font></B>,the veteran who reports for the BBC from Peshawar; <B><font color="#cc000">Beena Sarwar</font></B>,freelance journalist and filmmaker; <B><font color="#cc000">Saeed Minhas</font></B>,editor of the daily Aaj Kal; and <B><font color="#cc000">Muniba Kamaal</font></B> of The News—were at The Indian Express for an Idea Exchange. In this session moderated by <B><font color="#cc000">Associate Editor Mini Kapoor</font></B>,they speak about the <B><font color="#cc000">Taliban in Pakistan</font></B> and how there is nothing new about the <B><font color="#cc000">Sharia law</font></B> in <B><font color="#cc000">Swat</font></B>

April 19, 2009 1:15:46 am

&#149;Mini Kapoor: Mr Yusufzai,can you explain the implications of the peace deal signed recently,by President Zardari on the Swat region?

Rahimullah Yousufzai: The peace deal was signed in February and now the Pakistan government has to enforce the Sharia regulation in Swat and the rest of the Malakand. Parliament has ratified this Islamic law which is strange because the President of Pakistan is empowered to issue ordinances and laws for this semi-tribal area. In Pakistan,we have two different types of tribal areas. There is the federally administered tribal area,FATA,comprising Waziristan,Bajaur??? and Mohmand???. It is directly administered by the President of Pakistan. Parliament cannot make laws for this tribal area. And then we have got the PATA,Provincially Administered Tribal Area,which is Swat and Malakand. We have got 20 members of Parliament from FATA. They can make laws for the whole country but they can’t make laws for the tribal areas they represent. It is a very strange thing.

Although the President was empowered to issue this law he went to Parliament because he wanted all political parties to support it. He wanted them to take responsibility,in case it fails. The law is not something new. We had some kind of a Sharia in Swat and Malakand since 1994 and that law was given by the secular government of Benazir Bhutto,that,too,after a rebellion by the militants. At that time,Sufi Mohammad,who is also involved now,was leading the uprising and they forced the government to issue that law. When Nawaz Sharif was Prime Minister in 1999,there was an attempt to stage a rebellion and Nawaz Sharif was forced to issue an amended Sharia law for Malakand. So both the secular governments,at the time,succumbed to the pressure and issued this Islamic law. So there’s really nothing new here except that the old law has been amended in response to the demands of the militants.

There will be Qazi courts; we already have Qazi?? courts since 1994 but now they will have more powers and they will have to decide every criminal case within four months,every civil case within six months. The idea is to give quick justice and cheap justice. But nothing in this law is going to resolve the common problems of people,the problems of education,healthcare,and communication. It is only about giving them quick justice. The lawyers have no role in this new system. So the litigants will represent themselves in the courts. They won’t have to pay the fees of lawyers,they will argue their cases and the Qazi will then decide. We are skeptical about the success of this experiment. But the people of Swat were desperate for peace and they were willing to accept anything. If the Qazi courts,Sharia can resolve their problems they would be happy.

The judiciary in Pakistan is very unresponsive to the people’s needs. There is corruption,there are long delays in deciding cases,it’s also very expensive. That is why people in Malakand feel that if they have Sharia law it will reduce the cost of litigation,they will be get justice quickly,they won’t have to go to the lawyers to argue their cases — and they will have Islamic law. The argument goes that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam,so Pakistan should have Islamic law. If this doesn’t deliver,if people can’t get justice quickly and easily,then they will be disappointed. I think that the issue has only been partly and temporarily resolved. It may crop up again.

&#149;Rakesh Sinha: You were in the Kandhar in the early 90’s. Do you see any similarities in the manner in which Taliban advanced on Kabul and the way they are spreading out in Pakistan?

Yousufzai: I was in Kabul the day Kabul fell to Taliban. It was September 27th 1996. They had hanged President?? Najibullah that day. It is an armed group,Taliban. They have been using force to occupy the country. They managed to occupy 90 percent of it and they were removed by force by the Americans and their allies. They were defeated but they were not actually destroyed. They just retreated to their villages,mountains and Pakistan. It’s my belief that Taliban are the strongest group militarily in Afghanistan – the Afghan army is not that strong and its motivation level is not very high. So they need foreign forces. In Pakistan,it is not like that. Pakistan has got a large army which has not been able to defeat Taliban fully but it has been able to inflict losses on Taliban. Also in Pakistan,I don’t think state institutions have broken down. In Afghanistan,after a long period of war and the Afghan jehad,every institution had broken down. It was easy for Taliban to capture the whole country. In Pakistan we have a functioning Parliament,a democracy,we still have the army,the civil armed forces and the people of Pakistan,the majority of whom do not support Taliban. Taliban may be strong in certain areas and they can dictate terms. Out of fear people will listen to them and support them. They have been growing in influence in Waziristan,Bajaur,Khyber,Kurram?? and now Swat. And they can strike anywhere in Pakistan. But that would be suicide bombings,ambushes,rockets,etc. I don’t think they will be able to occupy a town or a city. This is a guerrilla group that believes in hit and run tactics. I don’t think we have reached the stage when Taliban in Pakistan would be able to take over the country.

Beena Sarwar: Just to add to that. In most of Pakistan,Taliban are not at all popular. People of Pakistan do not adhere to Taliban’s brand of Islam. There is widespread resentment and disagreement with them. The problem is that our army has always been indoctrinated to fight with the Taliban,with the jehadi forces which have now morphed into Taliban. To make a u-turn now is a bit of problem.

Saeed Minhas: This monster has been growing up in our backyard for the last 30 years. We were calling them the Mujahiddin,the liberators with the American backing us. In the process,our land has become a land of proxy wars. We are fighting all sorts of wars — the intra-religious war within Islam,Chinese and American wars of strategic interest,etc. We are getting punches from all sides and sometimes we don’t know who is hitting us or why. The majority of people are not against the liberal forces. They are actually against Talibanisation of the state,state institutions. But unfortunately our state has been complacent,successive governments,especially.

You in India are lucky to have a stable democracy. Every second year we wonder whether we will have a mid-term poll or military intervention. When that sort of situation emerges in a society,that society becomes depressed. And when we are depressed we cannot find a solution. Our leadership,the political leadership specially,has got so much stick from around the world. But the chief of army staff and the chief of ISI,are now at least saying that they are not supporting the 30-year old mantra of what is called the ‘ISI agenda’ of pan Islamism or spreading Islam. At least the top leadership is saying it is no more with that. For 30 years,these people have been living with that agenda — we can’t root it out of the entire ISI or the army within a month or six months or even six years. The army doesn’t have the vision that needs to run a country but somehow it is the only institution in Pakistan which is intact — at the cost of all the other institutions. It has sapped the energy of all the other institutions.

&#149;Shekhar Gupta: They have a vested interest in not letting the other institutions function.

Saeed: They know that if somebody else emerges,if some political force emerges then they will have to be subservient to that institution which is by law or Constitution,the supreme authority of any democratic state.

But there are unhelpful interventions from outside. Recently Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,issued a statement saying that the state of Pakistan is sponsoring terrorism. We’ve been hearing the same mantra from Washington. It is very important to understand that these kinds of remarks are strengthening all the militant groups. Their pillars of strength are anti-America sentiments and anti-India sentiments. These are the two strongest pillars. The army has been using them for the last so many years and now the militants have been going from strength to strength on these two strong pillars. When you criticize us,these centres of power start bashing the government,especially a political government. They never do it when a military dictator is there and that’s because our political leadership is not trained,it has never been through the political process your leadership has undergone. Your leaders know how to sit at a table and hold a dialogue; our leaders know how to sit at a table and disrupt the table. Our Prime Ministers,even those who got a two-third majority in Parliament,can’t survive for more than two years. This has to be realised in Washington and in New Delhi: when you are bashing a political leadership of Pakistan,you are pulling us down.

You should pressurise your government to allow Pakistani news channels to be broadcast in India. We are saying we should watch Indian news channels,too. We know your culture,through your movies,etc. But unfortunately your new generation doesn’t know much about Pakistan and the new generation is very much the face of your new media. New media is the showbiz media and in showbiz media you are more quickly capturing the minds and sights of the people It is very important that your youth or the face of your new media should understand Pakistan more fully.

Muniba Kamaal: While I have been here,all I have been asked about is the Taliban threat. Pakistan has been through worse. The media has just amplified problems which have existed for years. As Rahimullah sahib pointed out,the Swat deal has happened before. Militants have been there for years. Religious hardliners have been there for years but it’s just that when you focus on them with the intensity of the new media,they turn into monsters when actually they are just a part and parcel of the country and have been for a very long time.

Saeed: The media has blown up these problems but the media has also had the power to take that lawyer’s movement to the ultimate conclusion of bringing positive change for the first time in the history of Pakistan. The Chief Justice,riding on the media’s shoulders,has come back to the office,twice. So to some extent,the media channel or the showbiz power of media has played a huge role.

&#149;Muzamil Jaleel: Is there fear in people of Pakistan?

Muniba Kamaal: Let me recount an incident. I visited the Benauri town and university which are really hardcore. I went there in a proper salwar-kameez with my head covered. I was sitting with this maulvi at Banauri town. I asked him if I could smoke a cigarette. He said go ahead. When I was leaving he asked me with a twinkle in his eyes if I drank liquor too. I replied that I did.

They are just people with long beards,with ideologies that I don’t believe in. So it’s not that I looked at him and thought,’O my God! What’s going to happen to Pakistan now?’

Beena Sarwar: I think there is a fear to some extent but I think that fear is also exaggerated to some extent in the media. We dress casually in Karachi,I don’t always wear a dupatta. In Lahore I used to wear sarees to work which is considered very politically incorrect because it is considered Hindu. I drive alone. I come back late at night,sometimes at 2 or 3 am. I think a lot of it is a law and order problem more than a Taliban problem. You can be mugged,your phone can be snatched.

If I am driving,I do make sure that I have a dupatta or something. But it is not as if we covering up and waiting for Taliban to come and get us. Threats are there; schools in Islamabad and Lahore have been told to shut down co-educational school. But we have very large cities. Karachi is a city of 16-18 million. Lahore is a city of 10-12 million. There are co-education schools in every nook and cranny of Karachi,Lahore,Islamabad. How many will they threaten? They are creating a climate of fear. But I think right now the state has to deal with it as a law and order situation. You catch the people who are giving these threats,you charge them,you try them. We have laws to deal with these things. This is not a military war. It’s not even a war. They are basically criminal elements and a lot of the punishments they hand out have to do with money,extortion. So there are a lot of issues mixed up here.

Yousufzai: I think we should also understand the way the madarsas function. The people who are educated there are mostly poor people. In these madarsas they are given shelter,food and education. Madarsas have been called the biggest NGOs in Pakistan,which is true in a way. They are providing free education,shelter and food. They are all run on donations. The way the children are brought up is very basic. They can’t go home for months. They have to live in very austere,very difficult conditions. And that is their worldview. When they grow up and come out of madarsas,they want to impose whatever they have been taught in the madarsa — no television,no women on the streets,every one must be covered up,every male should have a beard. They cannot be faulted — that is how they were educated and brought up. Now,after having tasting power in Afghanistan,for six years from 1994-2001,they won’t give it up easily. They will try to come back into power in Afghanistan. And the Pakistani Taliban is basically an extension of the Afghan Taliban — same worldview,same people. When the Afghan Taliban was fighting in Afghanistan,the Pakistani Taliban was helping them. Now when the Afghan Taliban need protection and sanctuary,the Pakistani Taliban is providing that sanctuary. It is as simple as that. The border between the two countries doesn’t really exist. You don’t need a visa or a passport to cross the border,especially for the people living in the border areas.

&#149;Shekhar Gupta: But Pakistan is not about to roll over and soon Taliban will come crossing the Wagah border without passports.

Yousufzai: Everyone here asks us the same question: when are Taliban coming to attack India?

&#149;Seema Chisti: What is your answer?

Yousufzai: Taliban is right now busy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. When they are free with that project,then they will come to India!

&#149;Shubhojit Roy: After the 26/11 attacks,the Indian leadership,especially the external affairs minister Pranab Mukharjee,whenever asked about India’s options,has said that all options are open. Does this sound like war-mongering to you in Pakistan and did it strengthen the hands of those who had planned the attacks?

Saeed: We knew that war is not an option for either country but still this kind of remark strengthened all the jehadi elements because it gave them a good cause to spread their message and that is what they wanted. The normalisation of ties is not in their interest because once we settle down,once we start having peaceful neighbours,we are not going to give them any space at all. And that is why leaders of both countries should avoid engaging in the blame game.

Beena: It was a hostile statement and then you had some Taliban leaders saying that they would stand by Pakistan in this — they were even called patriots,when actually they are our common enemy. Taliban is a common enemy of India,Pakistan and the world.

&#149;Coomi Kapoor: How would you compare the role of Indian media to the Pakistani media in taking cudgels against the establishment?

Beena: On the whole,Indian journalists tend to be lot more nationalistic then the Pakistani journalist. I think the Pakistani media on the whole,even the Urdu press,tends to be anti-establishment. When I see Indian journalists taking a nationalist or anti-Pakistan or a belligerent line,a lot of the time they are doing it as citizens. Here,among journalists,there is a genuine sense of nationalism,a general outrage after Mumbai 26/11. Journalist friends,people I have known for years and years took a very hardline against Pakistan as if the Pakistani people are responsible in some way for what happened.

Muniba: I think because of the military boots trampling us,a lot of us journalists tend to more militant in Pakistan. Historically,we have been anti-establishment. If you look at the crème de la crème of journalism,they have all been journalists throughout the Zia era. — that was when blank newspapers were coming out at night because army personnel would stand there and tell them what to publish.

Beena: In 1979,four journalists were flogged for protesting against the closure of a newspaper. People ask me about Pakistani women: how come Pakistani women are so outspoken? My answer is,we have to fight so much more.

&#149;Anubhuti Vishnoi: After the Mumbai attacks,there was a heated debate on whether the media should be regulated,especially the electronic media. Was there a similar debate in Pakistan?

Muniba: We have a fairly bad history with regulations. Pakistani media does not like the word regulation because it brings back those military controls. I worked for the Jang Group. Our own Shaqeel-ur-Rehman??? has taken the army head on. We are basically anti-controls. We do not like being regulated and we fight it at every step of the way.

&#149;Anubhuti Vishnoi: What are the constraints of a practising woman journalist?

Muniba: When you enter a profession,everybody faces hurdles. I have faced hurdles but every professional does and you deal with it. There have been instances,when working at an Urdu channel,Beena and I were discriminated against because we are women but that is because the guys who are managing you are men with no experience of working with woman like us. But there is nothing you can’t overcome really. Otherwise,you become a victim and that is dangerous. It just becomes a horribly self-perpetuating,demoralising syndrome.

Beena: Being a woman anywhere you face the same issues: it’s all about marriage,kids and how to juggle the housework,the kids’ demands and the family’s demands. Maybe we have to fight more. There are young women working in media,even in Peshawar and Multan which are socially more conservative. But is a part of the evolution of the society. It is a process.

Yousufzai: The media is now discussing every issue and people are getting enlightened — they are getting politically aware which is very good. All these talk shows on Pakistan TV are very popular and they are aired in prime time.

&#149;Suanshu Khurana: We have had complicated debates here on how the media sets the agenda. Does television set an agenda there as well?

Beena: I think there is a bit of irresponsibility on the part of the media. Real issues of the people still don’t get addressed—health,education,poor drainage,pregnant women. We don’t get that 24 hours because it is not sexy enough. So I think sensationalizing is an issue,I think there is a kind of consensus-building on certain issues like the Swat flogging of a young woman which I think was completely taken out of context and overdone and overplayed. The electronic media is really powerful: the four big anchors who sit there,they do slant things.

Transcribed by Suanshu Khurana

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