If we choose to believe our media, the shock which Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) initially delivered to the state of Pakistan and its people since it first struck in 2007, targeting the urban cities, has evaporated. The narrative moved swiftly from rage and anger to the point of calling the Taliban an ‘anti-imperialist’ power and issuing a call for ‘decolonisation’. This discourse is blended with and explained by tribal people’s nature, norms and propensity.
An example of this being PUKHTUNWALI, a code practised in the Pashtun area supporting violence along with their AZAD QABAIL Status (the area was never under occupation and the people are free to follow their own traditions and customs).
One such article appeared March 2, 2014, in The News on Sunday (TNS). This article entitled, ‘Pakhtun ethos for Ghamidi’ suggests that ‘Taliban, too, ostensibly are fighting for decolonisation not only from America but more so from the Pakistani state, which they deem un-Islamic, therefore condemnable’. The writer follows by saying, ‘Taliban in contra-distinction to Foucault, to some extent, fit in well with Franz Fanon’s ideas in which he considers violence as a necessary and inevitable tool for decolonisation’.
Now let’s look at the terms anti-imperialism and decolonisation in light of the TTP intellectual framework, its goals and objectives. What sort of anti-imperialist and decolonisation agenda are they pursuing?
Anti-imperialism can be roughly defined as a movement in which all efforts are made to destroy imperialism as a system where the oppressor subjugates the indigenous population, their resources, labour, capital and uses instruments of domination like arms and a well-equipped army to keep the people oppressed and obedient. Decolonisation was a movement based in calls and demands for independence on the part of the colonies of the imperialist powers.
The TTP ostensibly was formed in 2007 in reaction to the American occupation of Afghanistan and the Pakistan army operation against the Taliban in FATA. FATA, as a special status of political, social and economic isolation, provided the perfect sanctuary to Taliban who, along with remnants of Pakistani jihadist organizations present in the area, were fleeing Afghanistan after the American occupation. From the start the Taliban agenda, if they had an agenda, has been to provide support to the Afghan Taliban against NATO forces, jihad against the Pakistan army’s ‘occupation’, demand a withdrawal of the Pakistan army from tribal areas, abolish all army check posts in FATA and ultimately to implement Sharia Law not only in FATA but throughout Pakistan.
With their strict Deobandi version of Islam and a ‘decolonisation’ agenda, which some of our right-wing intellectual commentators attribute to them, the TTP themselves acknowledge the presence and influence of Arab funds and Arab fighters as well as a drawing of ideological strength from Islam as practised by a monarchy like the house of Saud.
To date, there is no discussion of the cultural realm in the TTP debate on Sharia. Their demands for Sharia show no concern for the religious minorities, sects or social classes or what this might imply under their version of Sharia. Based on their actions it seems the only philosophy they believe in is that of violence and militancy. That may be because they are trained by the jihadi fighters of 1979 and no leaders at present have any substantial Islamic education or training. This is apparent in the Shia-killings in Kurram Agency, the targeting of Christians in the Peshawar church blast, as well as their recent statement regarding Kailash and Ismaili communities in Chitral and the rest of Pakistan. How does the targeting of religious minorities achieve ‘anti-imperialist’ or ‘anti-colonial’ objectives?
Another prerequisite which the TTP as a national decolonizing movement lacks is the crucial support of the ordinary people of the area. According to some estimates, since 2009, more than 2.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes in areas under their domination/occupation. These are mainly people from Bajaur, Mohmand, South Waziristan, Khyber and Kurram agencies in FATA and the Swat Valley. While many internally displaced people (IDPs) from Swat and areas rescued from the Taliban have returned, significant numbers still remain as IDPS. One internally displaced person spoke to Al Jazeera TV in these words ‘we fled our homes because of [the Taliban] – there is no point in sending us back to them’. This must be a very strange version of ‘anti-colonialism’ whereby ‘liberated’ people prefer escape the decolonised spaces. Ironically, the theoretician behind the theory of Taliban-as-anti-colonial-force himself works at Cambridge University.
The withdrawal of American forces in December 2014 should now see the end of TTP ‘anti-imperialist’ policy since it will be an all Afghan affair in the coming months. If opposition to the presence of the Pakistan army in the tribal area is one of their goals and if under this context people are attributing their rise as ‘anti-colonial’ power, then probably some fact checking is required in this regard. Tribal areas were always effectively under government control with Frontier Corps border forces operating in these areas since 1907 with more than 21 forts under their control. The interesting detail which most of us choose to ignore is that this border force ensuring the territorial integrity of Pakistani state is mostly manned and recruited from the tribal and Pashtun belt.
Furthermore, the TTP has made no demands of abolition of this set up under the Frontier Crime Regulation, 1901 – a crude instrument of historic British imperialist power. Perhaps they want the FCR and its oppression to continue because it suits their needs, and to get the requisite right-wing support without talking about poverty, deprivation in FATA or other unresolved issues since 1947.
Their philosophy seems to stem from slavery, forced recruitments in the tribal areas, violence and savagery. In fact they are the coloniser who has played havoc with the system operating in tribal areas, by targeting the Jirga, a local population, with throat slitting, occupying their land, targeting the locals Aman Lashkar and holding them hostage in a situation not of the majority’s doing.
No matter how much Frantz Fanon is quoted by the Cambridge professor, or others justifying TTP’s violence as having a therapeutic effect on the colonised. The fact remains that their wanton violence has terrorised the very people they wish to represent and made them hate these so-called ‘anti-imperialists’. I would rather put TTP in the bracket of colonisers by referring to Aimé Césaire here, ‘societies drained of their essence, cultures trampled underfoot, institutions undermined (Jirga system), lands confiscated, religions smashed (they pursue a violent ideology in the name of Islam), magnificent artistic creations destroyed (artist killed or banished), extraordinary possibilities wiped out (schools destroyed and girls education banned)’.