Thursday, January 14, 2010

Imran Khan, Wrong On The Taliban War Again

Imran Khan is at it again. In a talk in London, he advocates the end of military operations in the tribal areas, and the resumption of talks.

“The solution is to hold a dialogue with the militants,” he told an audience at the Chatham House foreign policy thinktank in London.

“The solution is to win them onto our side, not to bomb them with airstrikes.” Otherwise, he warned: “If we continue with this military operation we are facing a catastrophe.”

The militants operating in the tribal areas did not share the beliefs of the Afghan Taliban, who wanted to create an Islamist state, he said.

“In my opinion, they are political Taliban, they are not religious Taliban."

“They will fade away as soon as the Pakistan army moves back and dialogue is held,” he added.

This is nonsense. The Pakistani state -- whether under military governments or civilian -- has held talks with the Taliban. The government has granted local Taliban and their affiliates exactly what they want on at least three different occasions (between 2006 and 2009) and withdrawn forces. Each time, the Taliban and their local affiliates have not observed the terms of the treaty, and extended their political control with intimidation and wiping out local elites (tribal maliks, politicians from the ANP, targeting the police, etc).

Let me say this again: deals have been made in the past. They have failed in the past. If you are arguing for deals in the present and future, you must have a theory of why the future will not be different from the past. Failure to acknowledge this simple fact ensures that I treat such opinions without any seriousness. In other words, when you say "they will fade away as soon as the Pakistan army moves back and dialogue is held" I know you are either lying or ignorant or stupid or all of the above. Does Imran Khan not remember how the military operations actually got underway last May? The Taliban broke the Swat peace deal, and ended up in Buner, and kickstarted a political and military response from the country.

Let me also say for the record: dialogue and negotiations are an inherent part of any war. There cannot be any other way. Military, diplomatic, political, economic, and legal mechanisms must be employed in this war, indeed in all wars. In what combination, and in what order, are tactical questions that only leaders and military commanders can answer. Occasionally, the answers to such tactical questions will be wrong. But they are worth trying in conjunction with all other methods, because war is ugly and exerts a tremendous human toll for locals, and any tactics that can minimize the loss of innocent human life have to be tried. But to assert, contrary to easily verifiable recent history, that the Taliban and their local allies will sit quietly and be satisfied with the concessions you grant them is just wrong.


Readers of this post may like a post I wrote almost two years ago, perhaps-too-provocatively titled "Why doesn't Imran Khan just shut up and go away?"


greywolf said...

well said, and i wish every imran khan supporter understood this very simple point. imran khan likes to compare what happened in 1971 to what is happening now in FATA. however, a cursory understanding of what happened then will make it clear that what is happening in FATA is very different because the taliban have never had the majority with them. yes, they have had support over the years, and at one point they perhaps were an appealing option. but that all changed when they changed their tone and tenor, and suddenly beheaded corpses began showing up in swat and the flogging video surfaced. the alienation of the bengalis in 71 had to do with local apathy from much of west pakistan and the way that yahya and his coterie handled it. luckily the army (first under musharraf and now under kiyani) have done a reasonably good job of keeping the local population away from these murderous scum. imran khan doesnt seem to get that. its clear to me now that he's pandering to a very specific constituency and believes that they will ultimately get him his 1 NA seat.

Ahsan said...

One seat in three elections, lest it be forgotten. With more name recognition and money than most candidates can dream of.

takhalus said...

I dunno about the money part..anyway I agree he's mostly wrong in his argument about terrorism..have you seen his interview one to one with Bashir Bilour on off the record?

Anyway I agree with the argument that political problems ultimately have political solutions. But it's a process that involves power and control..what's been learnt (most painfully for the Army and the ANP in particular) is that you simply can't negotiate with ideological groups that have linked up with criminal gangs from a position of weakness.

And as Bashir Bilour asked..what would the agenda for negotiations? In Swat you could argue i was about inexpensive justice a la shariah but that's not true for Mahsud and co?

Umair Javed said...

Imran Khan is a reactionary idiot who's pathetic attempts at finding a 'new' solution to this problem has made him look very much like a closet Jamaatia or if i daresay, a Taliban far as i'm concerned, the war will do little to actually stop the insurgency, what it requires is a lot more than just bombs and requires a complete understanding of why these people have taken up arms against the state of Pakistan. if it really is as simple as our army supporting the NATO troops then i want to put my head on a chopping board by stating that perhaps the best way to get rid of this problem is to press for an American withdrawal from Afghanistan....the facts are quite simple...the army still hasnt managed to clear itself from its association with fundamentalist groups...hafiz saeed is still roaming around somewhere in have an entire university preaching anti-imperialism near Muridke and its going about its business unchecked...the so-called Pakistani taliban are well armed and continue to exhibit a tactical acumen that would belie the sense of siege that they're supposed to be under....who're we kidding here...whatever the army's gameplan is..its besieged with contradictions...but what else would you expect from an insulated institution acting as an imperialist lackey

greywolf said...

i dont think what you're saying is entirely correct umair. sorry, but the pakistan army does not live in a vacuum, and must make policy decisions based on ground realities. after 9/11, the army has been anything but insulated, and when compared with our 'elected' idiot sitting in the PM house and president house, i dont think the army can be counted as being 'insulated.' in any case, its clear that the pakistan army has been putting a clampdown on the pakistani taliban now for 2 years. the war inside pakistan has much to do with the afghan war. the problem inside our border is a direct result of NATO and american action inside afghanistan. so the army has to ensure that it does not harm whatever associations it may have inside afghanistan. any political science idiot will tell you that you never want to be surrounded by hostile neighbors.

as for hafiz saeed, his case was quashed by our 'ultra liberated' judiciary and the LHC dismissed his case brought by the pakistan government. he's been detained before and been under watch for several years now. jamaat ul dawa is a banned organization and its operations have been severely curtailed. if you think this is the same organization it was 8 years ago, you're wrong. certainly, it may be that the pakistani government and military has to go one step further to stop him and his followers, but that requires prudence. time will tell, but to blame the army for what his happening inside with our jihadi organizations is wrong. the gameplan must come from the political representatives. when they are too busy attending mujras and making trips to imaginary meetings abroad, then well, what do you expect.

Umair Javed said...

@greywolf: You admit to the fact that our problem is largely connected to the NATO excursion into Afghanistan yet nobody is willing to point the finger at them in an effort to at least obtain some semblance of a time-frame for their withdrawal. More importantly, the lack of independent verification from the ground itself, leaves a lot under question...all we know is that the ISPR spews numbers every now and then about how many militants have been apprehended and killed....

Secondly, as far as the Jihadi organizations are concerned, you only need to take a trip to Lahore's Hafeez Center to any of the software shops and see the Jihadi literature and CD's on sale there....Regardless, we might want to put on our blinders or stick our head under the sand but the consistent invocation of jihad as a necessity by the Army in Punjab has made it part of the public imagination and discourse...and i stil maintain that blaming the army for this entire mess is completely logical...after all these so called fundamentalists were at one time General Akhtar's 'Boyzz'...What i fail to understand, that an Army which boasts an intelligence network (that Kamran Shafi calls the Mother of all Agencies) and has the support of the Grandmother of All Agencies (CIA) has been unable to clamp down on the financing or the weapons availability for these guys....fine Pakistan has had a rampant gun culture for nearly 3 decades (the army is to blame for that too) but if they were really serious about getting rid of these people they'd be working to isolate them from their far as i know the track record in that department has been fairly negligible as what that leaves us with is to conclude either the army is horribly inept at their job or they still dont want to get rid of these elements...heres an army that up till half a year ago was still considering a distinction between the Good Taliban and the Bad Taliban...more so it was willing to arm even more people in an effort to fight the 'Bad' Taliban....and if they're that concerned about being surrounded by hostile neighbors...well they should have thought about that when they were drafting the plans for Afghanistan's colonization

As for a gameplan coming from the political representatives...please find some sympathy deep down in your heart for them...they're new to the job and they're working under a cognitive framework in which a single step out of line could mean curtains for their time in power, i really dont expect any independent policy making from the political class primarily because they dont know how that works and secondly the 'establishment' will never let them do such a thing.....and please refrain from making such blatantly apathetic/classic middle class statements such as 'attending mujras' and 'making trips' would make greater sense to ask our generals to stop worrying about that piece of land near bahawalnagar that he's due to get at retirement and that he really shouldnt be concerned if he wasnt put on the board of directors for Fauji Fertilizer.

Butterscotch said...

Umair pretty much on spot!!
I call it establishment :)

Read this article if you possibly can. It was a guest article on Kalsoom's blog and a great one
and dont forget to read the

Umair Javed said...

@Butterscotch....Brilliant post and the comments were amazing...its always good to meet another fauj-dushman hahaha

As far as the post is concerned....i'd like to add a bit to my previous rant by stating the difference between an army for a nation and an army for a state...the difference is quite easily comprehensible...the former implies a duty towards the population that lies within a territorial confine...that pretty much means the people of Pakistan...the Latter however is a little more complicated..duty towards the state implies not only acting as the protector of state-institutions and its functionaries but more importantly acting as the guardian of the state since the civilian leadership has never been given the chance to actually construct a state ideology/identity, the army has taken this task up and now acts as the protector of its own self-conceived ideology of Pakistan...(whatever that is)

For all the dirt thats normally thrown at Sammy Huntington by scholars in the Orient, his notion of military professionalism (as articulated in his work titled The Soldier and the State) especially in the context of transitioning societies is spot on. They operate in an insulated bubble...largely unmoved by public opinion...shaped by institutionalized indoctrination...and in our case subservient to an imperialist cause (please excuse my rampant use of pseudo-Lenninist terminology)...add to that our alienated, apathetic upper classes and their distaste for 'feudal/corrupt/vile/uneducated' democracy..and you have a recipe for Pakistani History...just to think that the army has to give permission to the civilian government to make a public announcement in support of the military operation is enough to suggest that the democratic prospects under the current configuration are pretty dim

rk said...

I can almost NFP glowing with glee :)

Rabia said...

"And as Bashir Bilour asked..what would the agenda for negotiations?"

exactly. there's nothing the govt of pakistan can bring to the table except the fact that it doesn't really want to wage a long war in waziristan and isn't really sure it could win such a war. not exactly a great incentive for compromise for hakeemullah & co.

Shahab Riazi said...

Who is Asim Butt?

Anonymous said...

The writer writes down "The Pakistani state -- whether under military governments or civilian -- has held talks with the Taliban. The government has granted local Taliban and their affiliates exactly what they want on at least three different occasions (between 2006 and 2009) and withdrawn force".
What writer wrote,the the governer of NWFP says opposite.
As the writer doesn't knwo anything so he is bound to come up with some thing which is not factual.
There has always been dialogue between military and militants but there has never been dialougue between politicians and militants.Give me just one example?
Dialogues are supposed to be held betwen Talibans and politicians.

First accord signed by Militay and militants was breached due to the drone attack on a madressa in Bajaur which led killings of childrens and teachers at Madresa.

The writer desperately needs to be knowledagble and stop living in Fool's paradise

Captain said...

imran khan is a confused individual who is wasting his power

greywolf said...

umair...i'm not sure i entirely agree again. this notion that the army or the ISI is all powerful seems to dwell in the mind of many confused pakistanis. the ISI is not all powerful, and certainly for a third world country has its limitations. if the CIA cant prevent attacks in iraq then what chance does the ISI have against deeply entrenched militants? this by itself however does not mean that these groups have official patronage or cover. the problem is that our people support these jihadi groups. most pakistanis are still unwilling to accept that the mumbai attacks were carried out by pakistanis, or atleast had some pakistani support. jamaat ul dawa and LeJ are not going to disappear overnight, nor will there supporters stop falling for their propaganda. this is pakistan. we've been a jihadi state for 20 years now. reversing that will take more than a few years.

Kalsoom said...


I heard through a friend that Asim Butt was your brother. I am so sorry for your loss and deepest condolences to you and your family. He truly was a talented artist.

M. said...

Not a fauj enthusiast and yes, too much interference in civil matters on part of the army has greatly hindered the democratic process in Pakistan but at this moment in time there needs to be collaboration between the two to best work out a way of riding pakistan from the taliban altogether.

No point in allotting blame and pandering on about HOW the Taliban came to exist. That can be done later. Not that Mr Khan doesn't re hatch it in his everyday of week TV appearances.....Have to respect his work in Mianwali though and the fact that he invited the PM as the Chief guest in the opening ceremony for Namal. Maybe, he's 'chillin' out a bit.


Ahsan, condolences on your brother's death. I love his work and will be making time for the exhibit at T2F. Be well.

takhalus said...

my condolences on your loss ab

Butterscotch said...

Ahsan my sincerest condolences. May his soul rest in peace!!

Rabia said...

Ahsan, I'm very sorry to hear about your loss

Tilsim said...

Imran Khan, an enigma, as always. However like other commentators, I agree that he is wrong in his thinking, if not going as far as to say, a very soft corner for militants. Taliban et al believe they are absolutely right and carrying out divine will and thereby on the right side of history. Call it brainwashing or whatever but they cannot be reasoned with. When they start to take up arms, there is regretably no alternative but action by the Pakistan Army. In my view, it's wishful to think that their ideology is limited to a particular territory or cause e.g US presence in Afghanistan. The only difference with other manifestations of rhetorical Islamic politics (e.g Jamaat) is that they have taken up an armed struggle for their utopia. The US invasions provided the impetus but the genie was steadily coming out of the bottle anyway.

Ammar said...

Both a Taliban and Al-Qaida are not a political entity whose grievances are rooted in socio-political injustice, so they cannot be appeased by giving a larger chunk in resources or by surrendering more autonomy. They strive for an entirely different model of governance which is unfamiliar and unacceptable to the public in general. In such a case how can we hold a meaningful dialogue with such elements???

Anonymous said...

the current form of governance is unfamiliar and unaccepted by the people and we've had it for over 50 years...

about time something different came along - it's likely that a revolution will make the average pakistani better off. those in power and the elite will be worse off inevitably as their exploitation of the system can no longer continue if the system itself is gone...

worth a try i'd say. not like pakistan's status quo is fair or functioning or just in any way shape or form...

Nabeel said...

Ahsan,I am very sorry to hear of your loss. Asim Butt was an inspiration amongst Karachi artists.

About the post:

A lot of people think that if America were to leave Afghanistan (which they can't for the next few years at least) the Taliban would die down as they would have no basis on which to motivate new soldiers and remain active. To an extent that's true but the implication of making that cause-effect relationship is that the Taliban (and extremism) exist because of American atrocities and meddling. Unfortunately the Taliban existed before that, atrocities against 'Muslims' will continue no matter what around the world (in some form or shape) and there is simply no basis whatsoever to attack PAKISTANIS if AMERICANS are the object of anger.

Also, if the Taliban's purpose is to help Muslims, why do they need political negotiations? Ahsan has frequently made the point that this is now a POLITICAL movement and thus you cannot defend their actions by saying that they are simply reacting to provocation. Taliban atrocities have also created extremists like Ann Coulter.

Koi farishta nahin hai (aur ho bhi nahin sakta.)

Anon213,a revolution would be most likely to kill the average pakistani and ruin the average pakistani's chances of a normal life.yes,current circumstances are unacceptable,but anarchy would be disastrous for the country.a few hours of anarchy in karachi are enough to ruin tens of thousands of lives - consider what a revolution would bring!
oh,and those advocating a revolution should study the french revolution first.

Umair Javed said...

Ahsan, extremely sorry to hear about your loss...i will refrain from adding further comments to this post, Asim's tragic demise was surely a loss for the cultural movement in Pakistan that was beginning to gain momentum after the dreary decades of the 80's and the 90's.

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