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Of absurdity and tragedy

Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s sudden gush of ‘peace-mongering’ and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the PML-N’s support for the same is one of those absurdities of life that are too deep for tears and too shallow for laughter.

Politicians throughout the world become alert prior to general elections. It should, therefore, come as no surprise if our political leaders (sometimes I think that’s an oxymoron) are out to resolve all our problems in a matter of weeks – after all it is the digital age and even those with fake or no educational degrees know all about Twitter.

Under such opportune circumstances the Maulana’s following pearls of wisdom are fit for a queen’s necklace: “The resolution of militancy is not an easy task. It is like going into the fire to extinguish it.” Obviously, he is a great literary person who often spends his spare time reciting poetry – the time that he can spare from supporting the Taliban, that is.

His love affair with the Taliban that emerged in the mid-1990s continues unabated. He began with falling head over heels with the Afghan Taliban and remains enamoured with their step-children, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Yes, I know there is a difference between the Afghan Taliban and the TTP. The Afghan Taliban, in their ultimate compassion and magnanimity, spare our lives while their sidekicks don’t.

The fact however remains that it was the establishment of the great Emirate of Afghanistan, with its criminal neglect of human rights that provided inspiration to the extremist children of a lesser god. The connection between the Afghan Taliban and other local militant groups like the TTP and the LeJ is the instrument employed by them for the achievement of objectives. This tool is the use of religious ideology to attain political and financial power; no business is as lucrative or as empowering as war-making.

Maulana Sahib and his friends would of course know the true nature of the Taliban because of their long association. The JI played a great role in furthering Maudoodi’s version of jihad as perceived through the mind of Ziaul Haq and which eventually found its true reflection in Al-Qaeda. And who can forget the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam’s (JUI) contributions? Remember the ‘transport mafia’ of the 1990s that wanted access to Central Asia for trade and profit-making and who also dealt in narcotics? Remember the extended network of madressahs built with Saudi funds and donations from the ‘transport mafia’? Remember how this network was controlled by the JUI as they churned out leaders and fodder for the Taliban war machine?

Remember how imported ideological concepts were shamefully manipulated to distort and displace the traditional Afghan and Pakistani world view? And how can we ignore the Afghan perception that “the emergence of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate and its association with the JUI seemed to fit with what Al-Qaeda leaders hoped to see in Afghanistan.”

The fruits of sectarianism, intolerance and violence are a testimony to the great services rendered by the JUI and the JI to their military masters and their joint protégés, the Taliban. The PML-N’s contribution cannot be ignored either – by Nawaz Sharif’s loyalty to the Ziaist ideology, his meetings with Osama bin Laden and his contribution to the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI). And of course, lest the PPP gloat, Maulana Sahib during those heady days of the 1990s was the ardent coalition partner in Benazir Bhutto’s government.

Is it not absurd that these people are still the so-called religious and/or political leaders? That instead of trying most of them for violating the constitution of Pakistan and for crimes against humanity, we allow them to take part in the elections. Articles 62-63, anyone? Munawar Hasan Sahib?

At the same time, there is nothing absurd about the TTP naming them as guarantors of the proposed peace talks. Who else can they trust if not their own? The greatest supporter of all things Islamic, the army, is no longer part of the equation and that does not auger well for the likes of Maulana and his ilk. Now is the time to show independence from fears of the military, love for democratic principles and in the same breath shout “Islam Zindabad!” and hope they are listening in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and also hope that nobody is really paying attention in Pakistan.

The security establishment is quick to point out the fundamental difference between the Afghan Taliban as a political movement and the Pakistani Taliban as Al-Qaeda-linked non-state actors at war against the state of Pakistan. One has difficulty in grasping some of the nuances here. Politics after all is about negotiations, bargaining and peaceful resolution of conflicts in which difference of opinion is meant to be tolerated and even accommodated.

Was the Taliban movement political? Did it seek political means to resolve the Afghan imbroglio in the 1990s? Was the Afghan Taliban government ever political in nature? Or was it a purely military machine untrained in anything political and hand in glove with Bin Laden at least from 1997 onwards?

And if it has matured over the years and become a political entity, then does it have a strong constituency in Afghanistan? Do the Taliban really represent the Afghan people including the Pakhtun? Would they actually win in a free and fair election in which all Afghans – in the country or abroad – are allowed to vote? The truth is that the only difference between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban is that the former is still considered a strategic asset.

One thing is missing in this entire discourse and that is the voice of the Pakistani people, especially the families of the hundreds killed by the TTP and its related/affiliated sectarian organisations. Aren’t they the only ones who have the right to decide whether to forgive the murderers of their near and dear ones or not? Or whether they should be forgiven without surrendering? Have Maulana and Co consulted them?

Where are all these families, by the way? How have they fared after tragedy struck? Is the state taking care of them? Okay, sorry, I’ll take that back. Are there any NGOs or civil society welfare organisations which have taken up the cause of those left behind? What about the physical and emotional rehabilitation of the wounded? And if there are such organisations devoted to this noble cause then how come they do not receive sustained media attention?

They are our Pakistani brothers and sisters and children and elders. How many of us really reach out to them? Is there a list of names somewhere of the affected children, especially those hailing from poor families? It is sad that the absurdity of our times tends to hide the real heroes while allowing overwhelming media time to political court jesters.

Those left behind are the silent actors in this sordid drama of political and strategic ambitions. The tragedy is that they were neither scriptwriters nor directors but they got lead-roles in the play. A play in which their role depicts the dumb in the midst of a chattering crowd. Absurdity and tragedy are two sides of the same coin.

The writer is a PhD student at Leicester, UK. Email: talatfarooq11@gmail.com

Talat Farooq, "Of absurdity and tragedy," The News. 2013-03-09.
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