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The enemy within

The change in the military’s stance on who represents the biggest threat to our nation is hugely significant. Under the altered doctrine decided on by army leaders at a key meeting, militant forces based at home constitute the gravest challenge to the country’s security. Of course, many of us have essentially known this for years – even decades. After all, it doesn’t take much of a genius to figure out that people who bomb markets, check posts, official buildings and promote hatred of all kinds are doing our nation no good at all. They are, in fact, obviously inflicting on it an enormous amount of harm.

However, even so, the open acknowledgment of this from the top military brass is important. For decades, course material taught at military institutions has promoted India as the worst enemy, and urged ‘jihad’ to overcome it.

This philosophy has seeped through to civil society as well, with animosity to India surprisingly high. Even small children – born decades after the awful bloodshed of Partition – echo it, and similar sentiments can be found on the other side of the border.

Most recently, this was reflected in the astonishingly vitriolic attacks made by Indian television channels on the Indian cricket team for losing the One-day International series to Pakistan.

We have seen losing teams facing shoes and jibes hurled at them; but even so the degree of anger churned up by some Indian analysts and then the fans who had called in, exceeds anything seen at home.

But let’s move back to our own side of that hastily drawn Radcliffe Line. The military has sensibly begun discussing what it needs to do in technical terms to switch from a focus on conventional warfare to the irregular battles that constitute a typical guerilla war.

This is what it needs to do to defeat the Taliban, based in mountain valleys and able to mingle with the locals there. We must of course also hope this change in thinking extends to all militants – including those based in south Punjab – and that the hazy distinction grouping outfits as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ extremist fighters is now over.

This was a dangerous grouping, with Maulvi Nazir of South Waziristan, who was killed in a recent US drone attack, classified among the ‘good guys’. This was so mainly because he had apparently reached an agreement to help maintain peace in his area of control.

The fact that he had stopped polio drops from being delivered to children there and, much like his mentor Mullah Omar of the Afghan Taliban, mistrusted modern technology ( to the extent of banning mobile phones with cameras), appears not to have raised any eyebrows.

We must now hope that the military, with its sudden change in heart regarding who the real threat is, now also ends this distinction between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ militants. We need to go after all the militants, rather than favouring some while casting others as villains. They have all done us great harm.

It is also true that the military alone cannot overcome the “biggest threat”. However, the new definition of this threat by the army should play a part in making people think a bit more seriously about the Taliban. Till now, too much confusion has existed about them, with even perfectly rational people uncertain as to how to judge them. The US involvement in the whole regional quagmire further confounds the matter, though it is hard to see why people are unwilling to accept that two evil forces can exist simultaneously.

For this reason, people will need to be convinced that in the scenario we face today it is vital to wipe out the Taliban. Unless this happens, our own survival is under threat. So many features of our lives have changed because of their presence.

The degree of violence, and the fear that exists with it, has increased dramatically in society. Things can simply not be allowed to continue in this manner, and in this the civilian government needs to play its due role. Just as the military has re-thought strategy in terms of action on the ground to overcome an unconventional force, the government needs to think about other areas of life.

These include education – and what we teach our children at schools. We need to clearly state what damage the Taliban have inflicted. The focus of the media too needs to move on from drones to the havoc wreaked by the Taliban.

The deaths of civilians, including children, can never be condoned – whether they result from missiles hurtling down from skies or bombs that target public places. The number of people who have died in these attacks has not been sufficiently publicised.

One wonders if it has even been accurately calculated, so that realities people can be shown the glaring realities of this war against militancy. There is also more. Beyond the bombs, beyond the guns, beyond the ceaseless fighting, the presence of the Taliban has also created an environment of hatred. There is an almost tangible air of mistrust that exists everywhere.

It is this factor that may be the hardest to remove from people’s minds. The sectarianism, the bigotry, the many biases and prejudices we live with today were unheard of at one time in this very country.

A way has to be found to achieve this and create a mindset that turns the Taliban into real outcasts in our midst. The task is definitely not easy; we have waited too long to achieve it – and the manner in which thinking has been warped over this period means it will be more difficult to straighten it out once again.

This requires us to look in the right direction – one that gazes forward, rather than back into medieval obscurantism. The lead of course had to come from somewhere. In some ways, it is a pity that the government did not set the course for the future, instead leaving it to the military to do so. But every player in the state will need to do their respective bit to truly eliminate the Taliban, and the mindset they have created, from our society.

The effort must begin now and there must be no going back from where we stand at the present time. A step backwards at this stage would amount to disaster, which is certainly not something we can afford. We must instead ready ourselves for a long, hard battle.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

Kamila Hyat, "The enemy within," The News. 2013-01-10.