جیسے

چائے (یا ہنگامی حالات میں کَوفی) میں ڈبوئے بغیر بسکِٹ کھانا۔۔۔ اس سے زیادہ بد ذوق حرکت شاید ہی کوئ ہو۔۔۔ سوائے اِس کے کہ دال چاول ہاتھ کے بجائے چمچ کانٹے سے کھائے جائیں…

(It’d be hard to imagine anything more uncouth than eating a biscuit not dipped in tea (or coffee, in extremis)… except eating rice and daal, not with the fingers, but with spoon and fork!)

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Self-respect

There’s an amazing bit of dialogue in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. It’s in the scene where Bajrangi is being tortured in a prison cell by Pakistani some un-named “counter-espionage” organisation in order to extract a false confession from him. The officer-in-charge eventually recognises Bajrangi’s innocence and decides that if Bajrangi is consigned to a life in limbo in Pakistani jails on false charges, he would consider it an insult to Pakistan’s honour – something he could not tolerate.

In this video, one brave Pakistani woman reminds us with simplicity and quiet determination of our duty to protect the weak and vulnerable sections of our society – without which we cannot claim to be responsible citizens of an honourable society.

I invite you to stand with those of us who believe, in the words of V, that “while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning and, for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.”

Fighter

The following is an ode in prose in memory of one of the major influences on my life. What he faced, what he faced down, were far far greater challenges than I am ever likely to face. The writer is my beloved uncle[1][2] who passed away the same year in the autumn of 2009.

Iqbal Bali
A tribute

My dear friend and a great revolutionary, Mohammed Iqbal, affectionately
known by all his friends and admirers as Bali, died on 19 June in
Rawalpindi following complications after major heart surgery.
How does one talk of this man so full of energy? For me it is impossible
to imagine Pindi without him. For the last forty years he was the moving
force in all the demonstrations and meetings held in Pindi to promote
democracy in Pakistan. In this article I will talk about how I knew him
and about some of his political ideas. The activities that I will
highlight pertain basically to the period from 1969 to 1989 when I
worked closely with him. I left Pakistan in 1989 and withdrew from
taking active part in the democratic movement because of personal
reasons and because of the collapse of the left and the trade union
movement.

Bali’’s political activism goes back to the days in the sixties when he
was a radar technician in the Pakistan Air Force. He got into a lot of
scrapes while in the air force as he stood up to officers who mistreated
ordinary airmen and fought for the rights of the latter. Several times
he was punished for this.

He moved to Pindi in the late sixties when he was immediately involved
in the 1968-69 student movement against the Ayub Khan dictatorship. At
this time there was a rebirth throughout Pakistan of socialist and
Marxist ideas inspired by the great Vietnamese resistance and the
student movements in Europe and America against the war and for greater
democracy. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was also riding this wave with his
slogans of “roti, kapra, makan”. In Pindi too there were many people
discussing the concept of reviving a communist movement. Bali was part
of a group of young idealistic people wanting to overthrow the
oppressive capitalist social order in Pakistan. There were such groups
consisting of intellectuals, students and workers springing up in all
the major cities.

He worked with the People’s Labour Front (PLF), newly founded in Pindi
by Riffat Hussain Baba (now at PILER in Karachi) and Nazir Masih
(Secretary-General of the Municipal Worker’s Union of Rawalpindi).
(Sadly Nazir Masih, another great figure in the workers’ movement in
Pindi, died many years ago). In its heyday the PLF was the main trade
union federation for the major industries of Pindi and Islamabad,
including the large Kohinoor Textiles Mills on Peshawar Road. The PLF
played a leading role in negotiations for workers rights. There was many
a heroic battle that should be recounted by others. During his PLF years
Bali ran study circles with workers and wrote pamphlets and helped to
distribute them and to paste them on walls around the city. He was
always an activist who did not like long theoretical discussions and he
wanted to immediately get into action.

On 25 March 1971 Yahya Khan postponed, under pressure from Bhutto, the
Army and sections of the ruling class, the inaugural session of the
newly elected Parliament in which Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League had a
clear majority. Bali never forgave Bhutto for his role in this clearly
undemocratic move by Yahya. The group in Pindi (this included Bali) was
one of the few on the left who opposed the subsequent army action after
Mujib declared the independence of Bangladesh on 26 March 1971. I
remember that he and I were in Commercial Market, Satellite Town, on the
evening of that fateful 25th of March when we heard Yahya’s announcement
on the radio and we turned to each other and whispered: “This is the end
of Pakistan”. The consequences were obvious. Pakistan broke up and
Bangladesh was finally liberated in December 1971 but not before the
Pakistan Army perpetrated genocide in Bangladesh with probably millions
of deaths of innocent Bengalis. Bali opposed the army action and helped
to print and distribute leaflets against the military action. He also
took part in wall chalking against the army action in Bangladesh. This
was dangerous work but he was never afraid of being arrested.

Bali was not only active in pro-democracy and anti-dictatorship
movements but he was also a convinced anti-imperialist. He was
particularly incensed by the US war on the Vietnamese people and took
part in concrete actions against US interests in Pindi in the early 70s.
He also took part in an action to protest a particularly savage bombing
of a school in Vietnam and later in another action to protest the
bombing of Cambodia in the spring of 1970.

When Bhutto became President in December 1971 many on the left were
taken in by his rhetoric and had hopes that now Pakistan would be moving
towards socialism. Bali however was very clear about this. He did not
take the easy route of either joining or supporting the populist
movement represented by the People’s Party. He saw immediately that
Bhutto, although popular, represented the landlord class of Pakistan and
could not be relied upon to solve the problems of workers and peasants.
He believed that there should be an autonomous workers’ and peasants’
movement and that one should be working towards setting up a genuine
communist party. His seeing through the slogans of Bhutto was a
characteristic of Bali. A self-educated Marxist he could immediately see
through the rhetoric and could get to the core of an issue.

Although Bhutto talked about workers’ rights his government soon ran
into conflict with trade unions. He sent in police to break up strikes
and to evict workers who had taken over factories when owners tried to
do a lockout. In Multan several workers were killed when police fired on
them. The conflict with the Bhutto government intensified when Bhutto
introduced his labour laws, which were clearly not in the interests of
the working class. Trade union leaders were harassed and arrested and
this included, Riffat Baba, in 1973. The new labour laws and the
crackdown of labour unions by Bhutto and later Zia-ul-Haq led to the
collapse of the workers’ and trade union movement in the middle and late
70s.

Bali was one of the few on the left who supported the Baluchistan
insurgency between 1973 and 1977 not only by the usual propaganda
efforts but also by concrete material aid, which was not very large and
was mostly symbolic to show our comrades in Baluchistan that not all
Punjabis supported the army action there. Bali and his comrades were
isolated on this issue in the Punjab. Bali was instrumental in finding a
safe house for a Baluch comrade who had to go into hiding in 1973. This
was all highly risky work but again Bali did not hold back.

After 1977 when Gen. Zia-ul-Haq took over as dictator, Bali was as usual
at the heart of protests and propaganda against the dictatorship during
these long dark years which cast their ominous shadow on us even now. He
was an enthusiastic participant in the election boycott movement
proposed by the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in 1981.
At one point the MRD offered mass arrests in Rawalpindi. This turned out
into a farce because of the cowardice of the parties allied in the MRD.
The plan was to offer mass arrests voluntarily at a certain point in
Raja Bazar at a certain time. At this time the area was full of police
as expected. At the appointed time Bali issued forth with a placard
raising slogans against dictatorship and for democracy but not a single
worker from any party followed him. Of course he was immediately
arrested. First he was taken to a local thana and then taken to the
infamous dungeons at the Lahore Fort.

This was his longest period in jail. While in the Lahore Fort he was
beaten up and tortured with cigarette burns. He was interrogated both by
the police and the military intelligence services. But he was courageous
under this torture and did not name a single one of his companions. He
flaunted the fact that he was a communist and would remain so. They
asked him specifically about me. He laughed it off by saying that Dr.
Faheem was one of these intellectual leftists who came around to trade
unions and took part in demonstrations but did not do much and was not
taken seriously by the workers. He also told them that we were family
friends, which was true. I think he saved me from being arrested at that
time by laughing me off. Actually he was afraid at one point in his stay
at Lahore Fort that I had been arrested. While he was in the Fort he
heard one evening that they were bringing in three prisoners from
Islamabad, all of whom were professors. He inquired whether one of these
had a beard and the answer was yes. He thought this is it. Faheem has
been arrested. It turned out not to be true. The three brought to the
Fort that day were Jamil Omar and two other teachers from Quaid-i-Azam
University who were arrested for pasting pro-democracy leaflets on walls
in Islamabad. Jamil had a beard at that time. Iqbal told me that
although he was sad that these three had been arrested but that he was
relieved that I was not one of them.

On his release from jail after many months he continued to be active.
Even in his darkest years in the nineties when he was in severe
financial difficulties he never lost hope. To overcome financial
difficulties he went as far as Baluchistan to earn money doing physical
labour. On his return he plunged into his pro-democracy activities again.

Not only was he involved in demonstrating, writing pamphlets but he was
also very keen in promoting enlightenment and secular, rational thinking
in his neighbourhood. He set up several local educational committees
under whose aegis scientific lectures were delivered to local
townspeople. He even had the astrophysicist, Prof. Asghar Qadir, give a
talk on the origin of the universe, the big bang, black holes and all
that. His living room in Angadpura, off Saidpur Road, near the thana was
the meeting place for progressives of Pindi and was an obligatory halt
for visiting leftists. I remember long evenings discussing revolutionary
practice and theory, Punjabi and Sikh history, poetry, world affairs
with Bali and his friends. These evenings were spiced by the excellent
food served by his wife, Salma, and by liberal drinks of the fermented
kind.

On my return to Pakistan in 2005 I found Bali to be as active and
enthusiastic in the struggle for democracy as before. He was
particularly happy to note that there was a new crop of young people in
Islamabad and Rawalpindi who were imbued with Marxist ideas and were
beginning to organise workers and peasants for a democratic,
anti-capitalist struggle. The 2005 earthquake found him in the forefront
of mobilising aid for the affected people. With funds raised in
Islamabad and abroad he helped establish a school in the Siran River
Valley near Nawazabad, north of Mansehra. I remember climbing up to 3000
metres to survey a badly hit village and later carrying aid up to this
village, both of us unaware of having bad hearts at that time! We were
both struggling with our breathing and we could have popped off at any
time! Anyway we survived. All the time that we were in the mountains he
would keep up his democratic and anti-mullah propaganda and try to
convince people that the best response to the disaster was not to become
dependent on outside help but to rely on self-help. Sometimes his
anti-religious jokes were so strong that I was worried that this might
incite the local people to whom he was talking.

This brings me to another aspect of Bali’’s character. He was above all a
committed, life-long Marxist. He often said, “I was born a Marxist and
will die a Marxist”. But beyond that he was a democrat and a militant
atheist. He was always carrying out propaganda against religion and
mullahs in whatever company he found himself in. One of his favourite
texts was Bhagat Singh’’s article “Why I am an atheist”. But there was an
interesting contradiction in him and that was that he had a soft spot
for Sikhism. According to him, his forebears were Sikhs. He would often
quote from the Sikh gurus and would even sometimes give the Sikh
greeting “Sat Sri Akal”. In his later years he always wore a Sikh
“kara”. Once he explained to me that he did not regard Sikhism as a
religion but as something pointing out the “dharma”, one’’s righteous duty.

Bali’’s revolutionary Marxism was not based on some abstract ideas and
was not imported from outside. His views were deeply rooted in the soil
where he was born and that is Punjab. His inspiration for revolution in
Pakistan was not so much the Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cuban
revolutions as the Ghadar Party in India and particularly the Punjab and
its revolutionary activities in the early years of the twentieth
century. He knew everything about that armed struggle in the Punjab
against British imperialism and would talk about that often. More than
Lenin, Che, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, his revolutionary hero and example were
Bhagat Singh and his comrades. He was also exceptionally well informed
about India’’s First War of Independence in 1857. Surprisingly he was
also a keen student of Sufi philosophy and history. In this sense he was
a real son of the soil, although he had read many of the classic texts
of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao. But this does not mean that he was
parochial in any sense. He was a keen observer of the revolutionary
movements around the world.

Like most of us, at that time in the late 60s and early 70s, inspired by
Mao, Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara, Bali believed in the revolutionary
armed struggle and the imminent arrival of the socialist revolution. We
were all idealists but we soon realised that the revolution was a long
way away. Some lost heart at this point and dropped out of the struggle
but Bali never lost hope in the ultimate victory of the workers and
peasants. He, however, realised that the short-term goal in Pakistan was
the establishment of democracy and the end of military dictatorship. In
the last years of his life he came to the belief that armed struggle was
not appropriate at the moment in Pakistan and what we needed was a
peaceful mass struggle for democracy. In this regard he was impressed
and inspired by the recent victories of the democratic movements in
Latin America.

Bali was sceptical of NGOs. He never trusted them. He thought that they
took away young people from the real democratic struggle and corrupted
them by paying them high salaries. He would proudly proclaim that he had
never joined an NGO.

The lawyers’’ struggle of 2007 for justice and democracy against the
Musharraf regime found Bali in the forefront of the demonstrations. He
was to be seen every day in front of the Supreme Court carrying banners
and raising slogans. He printed and distributed pamphlets and organised
the demonstrations. The struggle seemed to have rejuvenated him. In
spite of the fact that by this time Bali had discovered that he had
serious heart problems he continued to be present at the demonstrations
carrying his water bottle and pills. In fact although his heart
condition was quite serious he went on a hunger strike in favour of the
Chief Justice in March 2008 outside the Judges Colony. When I reproached
him for not taking care of his health, his reply was that he was a
revolutionary and had to do his duty and that he was already more than
75 years old so it did not matter if he died.

He was particularly happy to see that there were so many new young
people involved in these demonstrations. In return young people
discovered in him an example of a dedicated revolutionary to follow and
he inspired all those who met him. During the lawyers movement he became
close to the young members of the Rawalpindi branch of the Communist
Mazdoor Kisan Party, CMKP. As far as I know, Bali had never joined a
party before, but these young dedicated workers of the CMKP finally
persuaded him to join the party, which he did in March 2008, at a
restaurant in Islamabad where I was also present. This move gave a boost
to the CMKP in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. His house became the meeting
place for the CMKP. In June 2009 he was elected as the Chairman of the
CMKP Pindi District Committee. Because of his militancy, revolutionary
enthusiasm and untiring work ethic he was also elected as Chairman of
the Awami Jamhoori Ittehad in Islamabad.

During the last year Bali came to the conclusion that Islamic extremism
and the Taliban were the greatest danger to Pakistan. He was quite clear
about this. He, like many others on the left, supported the recent
military action against the Taliban in Swat and Waziristan. However at
the same time he continued to be a staunch anti-imperialist and did not
waver in his stand that the US and NATO should withdraw from Afghanistan.

Bali continued to be active to the end. We will miss his enthusiasm, his
hard work and revolutionary zeal. He will live in our hearts as an
example of a true revolutionary.

Faheem Hussain
The author is Professor of Physics in the School of Science and
Engineering, Lahore University of Management Sciences.

Corporate Social Responsibility

There were campaigns, massive ones, for greater accountability of the giants of globalisation. These were sparked off by terrible scandals, raising serious concerns about the psychological health of C-level executives. Some people wondered if our world wasn’t being run by psychopaths. Not, for example, some pinko public health institution or the ILO, but one of the global meccas of business administration, INSEAD, Paris: The Psychopath in the C-Suite.

But let’s not get carried away by all these good-for-nothing academic types. It was all paranoia as borne out by subsequent events. Who needed “big government”, why revive the spectre of people power when we can simply draw up perfectly pragmatic, ethically sound policies on corporate social responsibility (CSR as it is often called)?

So, as the brave new post-Y2Kalypse world got going and the global “business community” still faced huge protests from the global justice people every time they gathered, whether in Genoa or Copenhagen, the CSR idea really took off – almost a fashion in terms of how seriously large corporations started to take it. It was no longer a question of that cute little email footer reminding the recipient to think of the environment before printing it. No, this time, business was seriously going to reform itself.

Really.

For example, the latest episode from Taylor Farms, California, a McDonald’s supplier:

golden veneer“Multiple reports have documented the failures of voluntary corporate social responsibility (CSR) codes in global supply chains, but less attention has been paid to how they have been implemented in the United States. This report is a case study of how McDonald’s Corporation implemented its Supplier Code of Conduct when it was alerted to violations of workers’ rights to freedom of association at one of its suppliers, Taylor Fresh Foods, commonly known as Taylor Farms. The report documents systematic and serious violations of workers’ fundamental rights protected under international labor standards and McDonald’s own Supplier Code of Conduct to freely associate and bargain collectively at Taylor Farms. Further, it finds that McDonald’s approach not only failed to prevent or remediate grave violations of workers’ rights, it helped undermine workers’ free exercise of their rights.”

The Namal Model-D

Namal Model-D
The Namal Model-D, Mr. Masood’s creation for his son Danish

Last Saturday, Namal announced itself to the software and electrical and electronics engineering industry via a surprisingly big Open House that, frankly, took me by surprise – both in terms of the number of participating organisations and their diversity. We hosted a variety of very intrigued visitors from huge organisations like the Chashma Power Project and the Heavy Mechanical Complex, Taxila all the way to highly innovative start-ups like Groopic where the entire tightly-knit team came up to find out what the fuss was all about.

The other very pleasant surprise were the innovative solutions to everyday issues of fuel and water conservation developed by the EE department as well as the advanced products in computer vision, machine learning and computer networks presented by computer science students.

Of course, I can’t end this post without mentioning the projects presented by my own students as part of their year-long software engineering course 😉 It’s been a long time since I felt such satisfaction as seeing visitors interacting with my students and coming away impressed with their work and their products. I just have to mention them: an inventory tracking system for the Namal EE lab equipment; Discover Pakistan, a mobile app to enrich one’s touring experience; a solution to facilitate the final year project effort of Namal faculty and students; Serendipity, a distributed, redundant file storage system for deployment in organisations concerned about data security and privacy issues. Each project has a client and a mentor and it was thanks to these fine people that the projects have that pizzazz.

Still, the most impressive product was a surprise entry: a children’s toy car complete with pedals, steering wheel, grill, front and back bumpers, headlights and rear reflectors and a comfortable driving seat. Total cost of materials: Rs. 2,500, all sourced from within Mianwali district, most of them re-cycled. Mr. Masood, a member of the support staff at Namal, designed and fabricated the car for his son Danish, collecting the materials and working on his project in his spare time. When he found out about the Open House and its purpose, he turned up in the morning with his baby. We immediately adopted it as our showpiece/mascot as a kind of concrete realisation of our approach to product engineering: passion, reusability, a no-frills approach to technology – and colour, lots of colour!

North Waziristan 2014, Swat 2009, déjà vu

Willing to forget our history, we are condemned to repeat it. So, the least we can do is read through this report from July 2009, two months into the previous major anti-Taliban military operation and ask ourselves a few questions:

  1. are we seeing similar patterns of opacity of information and censorship this time around?
  2. how come, five years later, we once again need to conduct a similar military operation?

A Swati Political Activist Discusses His Homeland

August 2, 2009 at 12:24pm

A talk on the current situation in Malakand & Swat was organized by the Amn Tehreek on 23rd July, 2009 at Nehrghar. The speaker Izhar (pseudonym) is a political and social worker from Madyan, Swat.

An initiative of Institute For Peace & Secular Studies (www.peaceandsecularstudies.org)

After appreciating the efforts of volunteers and in general all Lahoris, who have contributed towards lessening the misery of people in this man-made disaster, Izhar refused to categorize refugees as IDPs. He argued that 2-3 million Swatis have been evicted from their homes because 150,000 soldiers deployed in Swat wanted to handle a few thousand Taliban. Izhar started with the history and culture of Swat stating that he considered Swat as only second to Lahore in cultural standing in the country. In 1974, about 2,000 foreigners lived there with expired passports as part of the great wave of “hippies” who came from Europe, but were so taken by the beauty and culture of Swat that they never left. Giving an analogy to describe traditional Swati culture, he argued that Swatis were so mild that it would sometimes be hard to find a strong hearted person to slaughter a chicken for cooking but now there were men who slaughter human beings and ‘zibah’ had become a part of the people’s vocabulary.

The Current Situation:

On the current situation, he said that people wanted a ‘Logical Conclusion’ to this military action, meaning an elimination of Taliban Leadership but out of the 38 member Swat Taliban Shura, no confirmed death/capture of any has been made. A couple may have died accidentally as a result of the ongoing operation.

Further reinforcing his argument that the military has yet to change its dubious policy, he gave the example of “Jarho Banda” (a pasture) where he stated that the top Taliban leadership was assembled yesterday including other adjacent Bandas (pastures) such as Fazal Banda. The Army gets close to them but never shells these pastures.

 

Similarly the hills of “Eelam” (Shahi Dasar, Badre) that separate Swat, Buner and Shangla, were surrounded by the Army with a checkpoint every kilometer or so but the Taliban who were camped in these mountains had not yet been attacked by the Army. Instead as a result of these checkpoints it now takes ten hours to cover a 6km distance (Khwaza Khela -> Matta).

 

He was sure that the Army had good intelligence including photos and records of the Taliban as they had even picked up local people who had served the Taliban, giving an example of a person picked up yesterday whose only crime was that he had prepared some food for the Taliban. He claimed that the main target of the operation was not Taliban leadership, as they were not targeted and Fazlullah’s radio station was still operating every two to three days. He speculated that the army would secure Mingora and let the Taliban menace continue in the surrounding areas in the name of guerilla war thus saving face with the international community while keeping their Taliban assets intact.

 

Mingora was still under curfew with a dire shortage of food items. Refugees who have gone back are demanding to know why they have been sent back when the place is clearly not yet fit for habitation.

 

The Army’s operational methods sow the seeds of a bigger disaster

 

The army uses indiscriminate firing when wanting to “flush out” Taliban from a village. First they establish a front some distance away from the village. Then they use heavy artillery to shell the village usually destroying it completely, not caring for civilians. Meanwhile, the people they are supposed to be attacking, the Taliban, have already run away by the time the shelling starts. Thus it is the ordinary people who get caught and now they too have learned to flee their villages when they see the Taliban leaving.

 

He was especially disturbed because of the burning and destroying of “Taliban” property and houses because the concept of collective punishment did not exist in Swat. The burning of property has never been part of Swati culture and one can’t find examples of it in the last 100 years. Swat is not like Waziristan where a tribal jirga can decide to destroy someone’s property. Even in the time of Wali of Swat, the worst punishment for those who rose up against the Wali was exile while their families were allowed to stay. Only in the Gujjar community of Swat, one group may burn the grass of the other group’s pasture during the course of a vendetta.

 

The Army is completely uneducated about Swati customs and can’t different between Swat and Waziristan. This tactic of burning down property, rendering people homeless would only further increase resentment and hostility towards the Army & the State. It will only create militants out of ordinary people. He gave an example of a man who had fathered 30 to 40 children and the Army claiming that he was a Taliban sympathizer burnt down all his houses and shops. He argued that women in Swat even those related to Taliban are peaceful & only want to raise their children in security, while these tactics would only lead people towards the Taliban, towards another disaster.

 

People of Swat are getting further alienated from the Army & the State especially when they see these injustices while the Taliban leadership is untouched. These policies will only give rise to sympathy for the Taliban, because the Taliban did not bother those people who went their own way while current State policies were causing injury to every citizen of Malakand. Recently, the Army went to a series of villages, made fine speeches and asked the people to nominate ten people from each village who would provide information about the Taliban. No one stepped forward because of the earlier history that whoever gave information about the Taliban to the military met a bad end.

 

The rise of the Swat Taliban

 

According to his & friend’s analysis, it is the failure of the state in the political, economic and social arenas that has led to the rise of the Taliban. Swat does not have a tradition of active politics (in terms of popular participation in decision-making). Instead, it is the elite that has controlled Swati society.

 

Swat existed as a princely state from 1915 to 1969, when the police was known as naukar (servant) of the big Khans, primarily used to keep the ordinary people in check. The common people resented the power of the Khans who controlled and repressed people using the police as well as criminal elements. After the state’s merger with Pakistan, revenue records were used as a means to take common land away from villages and communities and assign it to influential people, generally the Khans. This expropriation led to cases in courts and then to repression of poor people by the Khans. This resentment and hostility towards the unjust social order allowed an entry point for the Taliban. This thesis can be corroborated by the fact that Taliban are the strongest in areas (eg. Matta, Qabal and Charbagh) where Khans have traditionally been very strong while in areas where people had resisted revenue officials keeping their collective ownership of land, there has

been very little support for the Taliban.

 

Furthering elaborating on social context, he gave the example of Bakht Farzand, a Taliban commander in Matta, whose father & brother had been killed by some criminals. These criminals were given protection (panah) by the local khan Afzal Khan Lala (earlier a minister & recently honored for his bravery), who refused Bakht’s pleas and used his influence to prevent the registration of a police case. Thus when the Taliban arrived, Bakht joined them wholeheartedly to get justice – his revenge.

 

The first targets of the Taliban were the police. The people stayed quiet and did not protest as they considered police to be on the payroll of the Khans. The next target was the Khans and again the people remained silent because they had no sympathy for their traditional oppressors. Thus the field became open for the Taliban who were then joined by criminal elements. But more importantly Izhar saw the State’s active role in strengthening the Taliban.

 

Though examples of State complicity exist aplenty, including years of running an illegal radio station, he cited a specific 2-Dec-2006 news report published in the Jang newpaper’s Islamabad edition, when Amir Zaman, an SHO from Saidu Sharif who had intercepted a truck carrying arms, was directed by his DIG to escort the truck safely to Imam Deri (Fazlullah’s Head Quarter). Additionally, any SP who arrested Taliban-linked personnel would be transferred out of the area & the captured persons released. Further, in the 2007 army operation, whoever provided information about the Taliban were mysteriously killed during the curfew hours, including many political activists such as Ahmad Khan and Bakht Baidar. Thus most activists left Swat under death threats while those who stayed were killed.

 

Additionally it was the mushrooming of madrassas in Swat in the Zia era, the Afghan Jihad and associated jihadi training camps that prepared the ground work for the acceptance of Taliban ideas in Swati society. He argued that the Pakistani State had never developed the culture of its own people. It has not taught Pukhtun, Punjabi, Sindhi & other cultures to its citizens instead terming Arabs & invaders as heroes, thus creating a space for Wahabism. Although Sindhis, Balochis & Pukhtuns complain about their national rights, the established powers have not even accepted the existence of Punjabi identity. Further, it was the State’s anti-India fixation, its ”strategic depth” policy (which had yet to change), which then inducted Wahabism in our society. He said that what he sees in Lahore today (in contrast with what he saw a decade ago) reminds him of Swati culture a few years ago, in terms of how the culture became more accommodating to Taliban

ideology.

 

He said that it was hard to estimate the number of the Taliban. Pervez Musharraf had estimated the Swati Taliban to be 500 – 600, while other figures ranged from 4000 – 10,000. He said that other than a few strong holds, there may be 1-2 Taliban in villages comprising 200 houses. It was peculiar that the strength of the Taliban arose and declined in quick intervals as if they were being supported by a shadow army. Though their numbers are limited, the only reason one saw white flags on houses was because people did not want to attract the ire of the Taliban.

 

Conspiracy Theories, Myths & the Domestic Power Nexus

 

Answering a question regarding the much-hyped presence of foreigners, especially non-Muslims assumed to be Indian agents among the Taliban.

 

He explained the concept of “local” vs. “non-local” that has gained currency in discussions on the issue. He said that all Taliban in Swat were locals i.e. Pakistanis. If taken in the context of local villages, then it could be claimed that there were “non-locals” in Swat but the reporting such as ‘non-locals killed in the operation’ was wrong and misleading. Only 1 member of the Swat Taliban Shura of 38, Khan Agha was from Afghanistan. In Swat’s case, non-locals meant people from adjoining valleys, from FATA or from Punjab. In fact, the Taliban movement gained momentum only after Punjabis started participating in it, contributing their resources and manpower. He said that in fact the leadership of these groups supporting the Taliban was in Central & Southern Punjab.

 

Regarding news stories of Taliban, militants and mullahs found with no circumcision (khatnas – required in Islam), he argued that traditionally people from Waziristan did not perform khatnas and thus those captured could be from Waziristan. He however did not deny the possibility of the presence of foreign agents saying that it was always possible.

 

He disagreed that secular parties had played their part arguing that the Peace Agreement was not done by political parties but by the ISI. All the seats in the 2008 elections from Swat were either won by ANP or PPP, thus there was no question left of the popular will of the Swatis. He did not have much hope from the ANP or traditional leadership of Swat arguing that even before the peace agreement, ordinary people came together to fight the Taliban in the form of a lashkar only to be disappointed when traditional leaders – Khans (including Afzal Khan Lala) refused to lead them. Additionally, there were examples when a current MPA went to Swat under military security and pointed out houses of his opponents who were not Taliban to be destroyed by the army.

 

Regarding the Army-Jihadi nexus, he called the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the non-state military wing of the ISI while terming the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) the political wing of the ISI. He argued that from Shehrghar to the entry of Swat where no one was allowed to setup relief camps, Al-Khidmat (Relief wing of JI) had a camp at almost every kilometer. While at the same time, Jamaat-e-Islami had played hosts to the fleeing Taliban in Dir and Buner.

 

Izhar’s final words were: ‘Will Strategic Depth improve the lives of the people? Will enmity with India sustain Pakistan? Will making enemy of Afghanistan help the people? These policies have only made things worse since Zia’s time. We only plead with the army, politicians and media to come to a Logical Conclusion in these policies and please forgive the people.’

 

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— shared on the Facebook page of one of the members of IPSS.